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In search of a few heroes

Published Jan 16, 2013 09:02pm


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WHEN army generals in India and Pakistan, retired and serving, refer to a “spectrum of options” they could use against the adversary, they are crudely gloating over the nuclear stockpiles each side had surreptitiously acquired not too long ago.

When hawkish politicians spice up their nationalist rhetoric with allusions to the number of skulls their army should bring back from the other side, apart from making a few of us cringe at the banality of the quest, they help reinforce Stanley Kubrick’s haunting character of Dr Strangelove — the man who “stopped worrying and learned to love the bomb”.

If this sounds like a far-fetched scenario flowing from recent events, I am quite prepared to be counted among the lily-livered, bleeding heart peaceniks, rather than play the bank guard ready with a grenade and a lighter to stop a potential robber.

Despicable as the alleged beheading of Indian soldiers by the Pakistanis was that led to the present military crisis, the fact is that both armies are or have been in it together. India’s ace TV anchor Barkha Dutt will do the country and the community of journalists a great service by speaking up at this time. She gave the following eyewitness account of the Kargil war to more or less affirm a tradition of beheading the enemy that unfortunately seems to exist on both sides and perhaps straddles other countries too. And I quote from writer-activist Shuddhabrata Sengupta’s web-post for the piece Barkha Dutt published in Himal magazine in June 2001.

“I had to look three times to make sure I was seeing right. Balanced on one knee, in a tiny alley behind the army’s administrative offices, I was peering through a hole in a corrugated tin sheet. At first glance, all I could see were some leaves. I looked harder and amidst all the green, there was a hint of black — it looked like a moustache. ‘Look again,’ said the army colonel, in a tone that betrayed suppressed excitement. This time, I finally saw. It was a head, the disembodied face of a slain soldier nailed onto a tree. ‘The boys got it as a gift for the brigade,’ said the colonel, softly, but proudly.”

As the unfortunate saga unfolded on the heavily militarised Line of Control in Kashmir and threatened to spin out of control last week, and it has not abated, memories of May 2002 came rushing back. I remembered how the diplomatic enclave in Delhi wore a deserted look, its cavernous buildings emptied of most of their diplomats and the spies and the canapé-serving PR personnel amid a nuclear scare.

It was the follow-up to a curiously botched attack on the Indian parliament. India’s prime minister of the day blamed Pakistan and called for a decisive fight. The army was moved to the borders, the warplanes were fuelled and ready on the tarmac and, happily, that was that. Two years later the prime minister was visiting Islamabad. It made a lot more sense than the nerve-wracking ultimatum he had issued.

The world had mounted pressure for the standoff to end, but equally importantly there was realisation among the warring parties that the existence of nuclear weapons on both sides did not bode well for either country to escalate the crisis. Nothing has changed in that equation since those fateful days, barring the fact that India has spent more inordinate sums of money to further beef up its conventional military superiority over Pakistan, while the Pakistani army has invested insanely in developing battlefield nuclear weapons in an effort to neutralise India’s edge. Reliable experts say neither option offers a foolproof sway to the owner.

But nuclear weapons are there in India and Pakistan. All one needs is a Dr Strangelove-like character to set them off. Any of the pseudo-nationalist braggarts on television last week could be him. As one TV channel after another vented their spleen in Delhi at the off again on again enemy last week (after losing a cricket series to it) my mind strayed to the proverbial hair-trigger both sides are known to keep on the ready. That is supposed to be their foil to the other’s potential for the nuclear perfidy both fear.

It is precisely this fear laced with potential miscalculation and its unthinkable consequences that prompts me to seek not just Barkha Dutt’s support to clear the air at this time but also to scout for a hero like Mordechai Vanunu in India and Pakistan, the Israeli nuclear scientist who blew the secret of Israel’s clandestine nuclear weapons plans. Vanunu has suffered hugely for defending his anti-nuclear beliefs and though his long prison term has ended he is still being mysteriously kept out of public view.

Given the precarious margin of error in their nuclear vigil, should India or Pakistan accidentally misconstrue a harmless movement for an enemy launch, it has always been tempting for me to wonder if there is a Stanislav Jewgrafowitsch Petrov lurking in the strategic command alcoves of either country to save us from a catastrophe should one be shaping to surface.

Petrov, a former member of the Soviet military, didn’t actually do anything — but that’s precisely the point. In 1983, as lieutenant colonel, he was in charge of monitoring the Soviet Union’s satellites over the United States, and watching for any sign of unauthorised military action. One day at the height of US-Soviet nuclear mistrust his screen went red to indicate an American missile launch. Petrov kept his cool, didn’t press the nuclear button, and saved the world from an untimely end.

We need a few of those heroes today. Such are the times.

The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in New Delhi.


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The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (28) Closed

anil Jan 17, 2013 08:54am
Your questioning is unjustified . When a citizen like Naqvi can argue for leniency for a terrorist like kasab , what can you do ? This time he is also asking for same , leniency for terrorists . If at all Indian soldiers beheaded anyone , then they were terrorists who initiated kargil war , isn't it ? Pakistan gov says so .
Hrleen Jan 17, 2013 03:32pm
Can Mr Naqvi quote a single example of an official Pakistan complaint or protest registered with India or any international body regarding beheading of any of its soldier ? Call a spade a spade, instead of going in circles, making moutnains out of molehill, advising fellow journalists as to what they should do, telling us things we already know.
Vikas Jan 17, 2013 06:17am
I beg to fully dis-agree with Mr. Naqvi. 1)India has a problem when it's soldiers are beheaded by any other country. 2)Even if one believes, that Indian soldiers be-headed some one in Kargil, then also it did the right thing as it beheaded terrorists. Pakistan did not claim them as their soldiers. More over Pakistani soldiers were buried as per the traditions. Terrorists do not have any human rights. 3) I am not sure as to why Mr. Naqvi fails to mention the inhumane treatment of Captian Saurov Kalia and his team members. Cutting the genitals etc. Is that also a trophy?
Nasah (USA) Jan 17, 2013 11:16am
When the generals become bellicose on both sides of the divide -- it shows the bankruptcy of civilian dispensation on both sides particularly surprising for the more mature civilian ruled democratic India.
John Smaith Jan 18, 2013 02:11am
Pakistan continues to be in a denial mode right from its birth..
Deb Jan 18, 2013 01:34am
Dear Nasah: The general feeling in India, since the Mumbai attacks, has been that there should be at least a strategic assault on Pakistan with conventional weapons. It is only because of the somewhat mature dispensation in India that this did not really happen.
Jagdish Jan 17, 2013 12:27pm
Right. They disclaim their dead in enemy territory and depend on the enemy to give them a decent burial.
MSH Jan 17, 2013 04:49am
Professional Pakistani soldiers do not behead their enemies, period.
andleeb (Canada) Jan 18, 2013 01:06am
I agree with Jawed bhai. In Islam it is allowed. Insha Allah soon entire Canada will be Islamic and we are making progress in India also.
vjaiswal35 Jan 18, 2013 12:37pm
Mr Naqvi is a joke. People in India have given up on him. Wonder why DAWN is holding him.
P Jan 17, 2013 10:54pm
I agree with the article in general. However Petrov did not do anything because he saw exactly one missile being fired by Americans and knew that's no way to start a first strike. That was just his analytical mind playing its part. Had he seen a 50 missile launch warning there is no doubt as to what he would have done. So my short point being your needless and plain wrong analogies only weakens your case. There is no long term gain to be had by fitting data to beliefs. People trained under systems built up on secular traditions will always make decisions similar to Petrov because they understand that whatever good there is, it is right here in this world. So rest assured Indian CnC are filled with Petrovs. Pakistani Pertovs are probably all fighting blasphemy cases against them.
Kris Murthy Jan 17, 2013 03:35am
On the Indian side they are not kidding about options. It has already begin. Now the Indian Army is fighting force with force across the LOC. The visa on arrival has been suspended by India and sports teams have been sent back.
kris Jan 17, 2013 09:41pm
These days I have given up Naqvi's columns. But i certainly read the comments which gives me more information.
Allaisa Jan 17, 2013 09:30pm
Professional armies DO NOT overthrow elected governments either period!
Shikhar Jan 17, 2013 07:05pm
I stopped reading after 'alleged beheading'.. Sadly, people like you are responsible for the persistence of distrust of Indian Muslims - and allegations about their inner desires to see nothing wrong happen to Pakistani interests -when you use your journalistic freedom to wilfully ignore the truth seen as 'harmful' in your scheme of things... You write well, but not with a 'guiding influence' that would better the relations
Prakash Jan 17, 2013 01:36pm
Mr Naqvi has written volumes on Barkha Dutt as what an evil journalist she is and today for the same Mr Naqvi she has not become an ace journalist but a hero.
Nina Jan 17, 2013 07:51pm
Well done. Great work you guys. Thats really excellent steps you are taking.
Raj Jan 17, 2013 12:48pm
Jawed Naqvi obviously chooses the right words "alleged" . See he gets well paid from " Dawn Magazine". What else would he do!
abhi Jan 17, 2013 01:53pm
So it means pakistan army is trying another Kargil! or trying to revenge kargil! whatever it is doing certainly going to increase hostality.
Yours Truly Jan 17, 2013 07:28pm
However hard Mr Naqvi tries not to show his biases, he unknowingly reveals them. Like he says that the channel was spewing vitriol against Pakistan after losing the cricket series to them. Next he will say that Indian army beheaded their own soldiers so that they can attack Pakistan to take revenge against the cricket series loss. Cmon Mr Naqvi, be a man and say it aloud that you hate India. Then you will also feel better and can openly say whatever you have to say against India
abhi Jan 17, 2013 01:52pm
and there are very few professionals in pak army.
ali Jan 17, 2013 04:47pm
Waste article again. This naqwi needs to be send for reporting on he blind?
Umesh Gupta Jan 17, 2013 10:21am
Have a heart Mr. Naqvi. Do not call it "as the alleged beheading of Indian soldiers by the Pakistanis". You are painting fictions picture and stating that such acts can continue and allegations will never be proved.
Shadman Jan 17, 2013 08:01am
Thank you sir for a sane article. Both of us in India and Pak have to be careful of our politicians but more so of our media.
gopal Jan 18, 2013 09:23am
With multiple wives, and half a dozen children with each woman, muslims will overtake the planet. But then what? They will still be poor, fanatic, ignorant and illiterate.
Najam Haq (@najamhaq) Jan 17, 2013 02:41pm
It is so convenient for the writers to give the impression that present crisis started with a Pakistani action. They will maintain that the alleged beheading of Indian soldiers was the cause of the row before even mentioning the fact that Pakistan has complained of a violation before and its territory was violated and Pakistani solders were killed. From an unbiased view, we can call both of these as alleged violations , but the fact that the writer totally ignored Pakistani assertions that happened BEFORE only asks me to question the real motive behind the article. When you start omitting facts, your whole agenda should be questioned.
Nero Jan 17, 2013 04:21pm
Dear Author, I completely understand that you want to keep the war rhetoric down. Infact most people in your country, inspite of the media, don't prefer that option either. But please don't use half truths to justify what is unjustifiable. First, Kargil war was a declared war. Indian army units were fighting pakistani units, who were holding Indian territory and were fully aware that a war has been declared. To compare that situation with the dastardly act of surreptitiosly crossing boarder during peace time and ambushing a small petrol just to get a trophy head is unethical on your part. Second, there is nothing "alleged" about the beheading. The soldier had to cremated without the head. If you are still not convinced, try calling his family/village. Please stop taking the readers for complete morons. By doing this you seem no better than the bellicose media and ex-generals you abhor. Third, head hunting during war is pretty much a tradition in both Naga and Gurkha regiments. Its not pretty, but thats what it is. But, they don't cross border during peacetime looking for Pakistani heads. All I request that you hold yourself to the same standards to which you are trying to hold rest of your media fraternity. Regards.
Nabarun Dey Jan 17, 2013 04:15pm
Mr Naqvi should stop worrying about the nukes. Kargill happened while those were there. US Navy seals flew inside Pakistan while Kahuta was very much alive. Nukes cant stop war. The conventional military strength and technology is what that matter. Barkha Dutt must now clear air about what Mr Naqvi has to say. India has not initiated any war with its neighbours so far let us put it this way.