AS the tension between India and Pakistan eases, it is time to reflect on the great folly and the horrible catastrophe even a short war between them would have been. It is also necessary to realise that peace cannot be taken for granted; it will have to be secured through a properly planned campaign.
When the two South Asian neighbours embarked on a collision course, the international community became afraid of a nuclear conflict perhaps to a greater extent than the people of the two countries, especially their rulers. This was because the danger of nuclear weapons being used is greater in South Asia than anywhere else in the world.
The reason is, firstly, that unlike older nuclear powers, who could fight with conventional weapons for considerably long periods, the South Asian rivals might exhaust their conventional war capacity soon after the beginning of hostilities and come under pressure to use the ultimate weapon in their respective arsenals.
Secondly, old scenarios of nuclear war involved countries situated long distances away from each other and neither side was likely to be affected by the fallout from its use of nuclear devices. But in South Asia, whoever uses a nuclear bomb against its next-door neighbour will cause its own people almost as much loss and suffering as it might inflict on the rival party. Thus, while extolling the value of nuclear weapons as a deterrent to external aggression, the hazards of possessing them must not be ignored. That the acquisition of nuclear weapons increases a state’s responsibility to contribute towards the maintenance of peace is the first lesson of the recent confrontation.
The world cannot ignore the verdict of history that wars do not solve any problem.
Further, the world cannot ignore the verdict of history that wars do not solve any problem. Instead, they often create problems more intractable than the ones they are supposed to solve.
Fortunately, both countries realise not only the unaffordable cost of a full-scale war but also the fact that neither side is in a position to obliterate the other. This is a more effective insurance against war than anything else. Therefore, the present Indian government is relying on the theory of ‘surgical strikes’ to force Pakistan into submission. An extension of the doctrine of hot pursuit that has considerably subverted the laws of warfare, this theory keeps the danger of war alive, because Pakistan is likely to respond to any Indian intrusion in the same coin.
Even if surgical strikes do not escalate into a wider conflict, they ought to be rejected on moral grounds because of the possible harm to innocent human beings. Further, a surgical strike imposes no additional costs on the aggressor while the cost of the preparedness the victim country must maintain is quite substantial.
The one positive result of the latest spell of tension in relations with India is the beginning of action against the already proscribed militant outfits that should have accompanied the launch of the National Action Plan in 2014, if not earlier. This should reduce Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ability to act on the surgical strike theory because he derives strength for his bellicose posturing from the international community’s uneasiness with Islamabad’s reluctance to deal firmly with militant organisations.
This is particularly true about groups that defy restrictions on them by operating under new banners and continue their anti-Pakistan activities without too much effort at camouflage. The policy of taking the initiative for building peace without wailing for reciprocity by India that the Pakistani prime minister has adopted must be vigorously supported.
The campaign against all organisations suspected of any links with terrorist activities will need to be carried to its logical conclusion. In this regard, it is wrong to attribute the international community’s criticism of Pakistan’s odd relationship with jihadist outfits wholly to Indian instigation. Above all, the people of this country must satisfy their own conscience that they are firmly opposed to every form of terrorism.
The latest round of heightened confrontation between Pakistan and India has again confirmed the view that neither country can pay the cost of suspended hostilities, that is, absence of conflict without peace. Perhaps Pakistan is more vulnerable in this regard than India. There is no doubt that Pakistan will have to meet the cost of the recent vigil by curtailing development and social welfare projects. This drain on the country’s resources can be stopped only by pushing for peace with all the neighbours.
An extremely important lesson from the recent confrontation is that the media in both countries fostered blind jingoism. Unfortunately, the media is no longer strong and honest enough to defy the slogan ‘my country right or wrong’. Yet it should not be unmindful of the disservice it does to its own people by beating the drums of war louder than the national propagandists. At least media persons should not forget that neither Pakistan nor India can alter the fact of geography, and that the peoples of the two countries cannot forever live in mutual hatred and acrimony. National causes can be upheld by journalists without playing second fiddle to warmongers.
Tailpiece: The Pakistani people’s love of hyperbole appears to be boundless. A slogan adorning especially erected gates and arches in Karachi reads ‘Cricket is our first love’. Many Pakistanis might be happy over this discovery about their national character but there may be quite a few who will regret the demise of old slogans. These included ‘Pakistan first’; and ‘Justice first’; and ‘We love governments that govern justly’, and ‘Civil servants that are civil’, ‘Airlines that fly on time’, and so on.
However, they should derive comfort from the nation’s ability to replace the idols in its pantheon without any notice. Who can guarantee that ‘Cricket is our first love’ will not one day be replaced with ‘Grabbing land is our first love’? Or, is that kind of truthfulness not to be countenanced?
Published in Dawn, March 14th, 2019