These angry neighbors
By: Bikram Vohra
Cry havoc, and let loose the dogs of war.
There have been many interpretations of the Modi statement of intent to Pakistan. The wreckage of the foreign secretary-level meet scheduled for 72 hours from now is the final result and it is a stand off. The vacant spot has the makings of extended hostility.
Will things get worse or shall sanity prevail? India’s problem is that it seriously has no idea whom it should talk to. Pakistan’s three-pronged command system has New Delhi confused.
The mindset of the Wild Geese might well be validated as the war cry for soldiers of fortune who make their money fighting without cause. But for the one million Indian and Pakistani soldiers by profession the call to arms is a curious admix of misplaced patriotism, a Pavlovian response to half a century of hearing the gospel of hatred and a peculiar belief that in the possible annihilation of one lies the salvation of the other.
That 1.4 billion people can mindlessly follow the foolish spiral at great cost to themselves and their exchequer defies all logic and yet, continues to perpetuate itself.
The war clouds we see occasionally but malevolently hanging over the subcontinent currently may stay unleashed, beaten into submission not by the incandescent brilliance of a sudden shell-burst of mutual genius but by Nature itself. The advent of the monsoon, the inundation of the rivers, the turning of terrain into soggy marshland, churning seas and low level cloud will make the logistics of the conflict on land, sea and air well nigh impossible as well as turn the sustenance and supply of frontline troops into a nightmare.
All the right things happening for the wrong reasons. Before we gambol off to the political dimensions of the Indo-Pak equation over half a century and churn out the standard sermons and soda water there are a couple of other considerations that manifest themselves into the scenario. There is no battle inoculation on either side. This is a lot more serious a condition than one would imagine. From Generals right down the rank hierarchy to foot soldiers, the two armies have never seen action beyond localized skirmishes. The battalion commanders of 1971 have retired years ago and all battle plans on both sides of the border are plans on paper. Consequently, the exchange of fire in isolated spots has been the only inadequate test for battle.
By that very token if the manpower is untried, so, too, is the weaponry. How efficiently will it actually work in a prolonged state of combat? As much as the Americans don’t really know what will happen if they ever activate their nuclear silos, Indian and Pakistani forces have no idea what will work under the stress of war and how high will be the efficiency levels of man and his machine. It could be ludicrous.
Though neither will acknowledge it , this greenhorn factor does impact upon the decision to press the red button. For India, the 1962,1965 and 1971 series of wars was a militant phase and her rank and file had exposure while her high command still had enough acumen and experience from WW II. Again, the hardware content used in the great war had not changed substantially. Except for the clumsy and shortsighted operation in Sri Lanka, it has now gone 30 odd years without war experience.
For Pakistan the situation is even more delicate. Her Generals engage periodically in civil administrative duties and running the country. They are currently in that phase. This dichotomy of power must, ipso facto, have a negative fallout on professional soldiering despite heated denials to the contrary. In its chase for the elusive fleece of democracy, the armed forces’ dual roles clash with each other and contribute to a snarling of the command structure. Can you be a governor and an army commander at the same time?
Ergo, we have two unready and untried forces, a fair degree of unfamiliarity with rapidly changing sophistication levels in armament facing each other with a quixotic bravado and little else. Technology is under such a rapid transformation that the ‘glass cockpit’ effect seen in civil aviation as aircraft moved into computerized instrumentation and were unable to grasp the methods easily is now an ongoing reality in training procedures. The machines often leave the human factor lagging behind. To add a further dimension of absurdity to the standoff, neither side can win a war. Victory with any texture would not only be pyrrhic it would be disastrous in financial terms.
So then, what spurs them on to maintain this bulldoggish attitude?
Is it something as simplistic as 50 years of brainwashing by subsequent governments, nothing more laudable or noble than the mass hysteria created by choreographing the creation of an alien cause for our own states of deprivation.
The culprit lies across the border. If we are wretched and backward and poor and illiterate and progress and prosperity has given us the bypass, at least we know why, we have an enemy.
And that provides us comfort. This insidious philosophy has worked for 50 years. It is a sobering thought that it now stands poised to escalate its dispensation. Not only are there extremists on both sides of the border who feed their insecure publics the diatribe of hostility but time has destroyed one vat of goodwill that often calmed the craziness. The generations of the pre-partition days have all but gone. And the legacy of fond memories, of togetherness, of sharing childhoods are now faded grandparental stories to a new breed of Indian and Pakistanis who don’t even register that this was historically one country and care even less. The two nations could be a million miles apart for all they are concerned, all they know is this is the enemy and that factor must be exploited. Most regrettably, in two nations where poverty is a matter of course and frustration orchestrates the mind, whenever these warmongers wriggle out of the woodwork, they get listeners.
It is an incontrovertible fact that soapbox oratory steeped in anti Indian and anti Pakistani sentiments shores up politicians and keeps them in power as much as does the saber rattling process deflect from the ills on the domestic front. These gambits have been used for five decades and used effectively.
Against this backdrop it is relatively understandable why neither country has the capacity or the sagacity to live in peace. The present Modi rhetoric aside in which both lay grand claims to peace in our times (so did Britain’s Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, and we know what happened there) the two countries continue to take pride in an undergraduate and immature thought process. We can beat you, we will beat you, we are more powerful than you. Even Modi could not resist a jibe.
This sentiment increasingly forms an integral part of national pride and patriotic fervor. It began in the aftermath of 1971, grew through the Simla agreement of 1972, survived eleven high level meetings and sixteen summits, was sanctified in Agra last year and now is well alive And thriving in Islamabad, Delhi and every city, town and hamlet in both countries.
On this canvas those that espouse peace or seek to advocate a long overdue return to good sense are lynched as anti-nationals and marginalized. Their opinions are ignored and they have to suffer the wrath of the masses. Again, the social fabric demands equating hostility with moral courage and peace with cowardice. So insidiously has this been woven into the subcontinental psyche that it now nourishes the divide rather than bridge it. Not just that but the evil tide now laps at the intellectual urban class with much the same message and the drawing room conversations in Delhi and Karachi and Mumbai and Lahore echo common sentiments: Get the enemy.
Is it any wonder than, that in this vortex of violent thought even a sport like cricket has been elevated to a gladiatorial contest, with glee towards the loser reaching an ugly point.
As the chasm widens and it must be said that it is widening at an alarming rate the fear of nuclear options becomes very real. There has been enough trading off insults and bullets, ample across the table meets and even fluffy handshakes.
Nothing substantial … it is not politically expedient.