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India - Pakistan Pathological Confrontation

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By Dr Ishtiaq Ahmed *

The tragedy is that those forces that wish to derail the normalisation and peace process seem to be able to do it any time they want

For a few days, war clouds had gathered over the subcontinent after Pakistan claimed on January 7, 2013 that one of its soldiers had been killed by firing by the Indian troops on the Line of Control (LoC).

India denied the accusation outright. Next, India claimed that Pakistan had beheaded one of its soldiers and mutilated the body of another. Voices in India were raised for retaliation. The response of the Indian media has been forceful and threatening while that in Pakistan was subdued. Pakistan denied its troops had anything to do with the beheading and mutilation. Later, Pakistan reported that two more of its soldiers had been killed by the Indians. However, saner voices could also be heard calling for calm and restraint. Both sides decided to deescalate the situation. Everybody knows that a war between these upstart nuclear states can get out of hand.

Those who argue that nuclear weapons are the best guarantors of ‘peace’ in South Asia base their complacency on a questionable ‘rational’ calculation: that the costs of a nuclear exchange are too prohibitive and therefore in spite of all the calls for revenge, ultimately neither side would be willing to risk such a war. On the other hand, the counter-argument is that nuclear weapons guarantee peace only as long as they are not used. There is nothing to suggest that in case a conventional war breaks out it would not escalate to a nuclear war. In fact, nuclear weapons on both sides have encouraged greater risk-taking in the form of sudden firing, infiltration, beheading of soldiers and other horrific acts of barbarism because the assumption is that nuclear weapons rule out an all-out war.

In Crossed Swords (2008) Shuja Nawaz quoted the late General Yahya Khan on the partition of India and the British Indian Army. He writes that Major Agha Mohammad Yahya Khan (later president of Pakistan General Mohammad Yahya Khan said at the ‘break-up’ party, at the Staff College, Quetta, to Colonel S D Varma, the chief instructor: “Sir! What are we celebrating? This should be a day or mourning. As a united country, we would have been a strong and powerful nation. Now we will be fighting one another” (page 21). This was prophetic. The partition of India solved neither the so-called Hindu-Muslim problem nor that of abject poverty of the masses on either side of the border. Both these problems were subsumed under the India-Pakistan wars, suspicion and hatred. On the contrary, it created problems that probably would not have existed in the first place. In Pakistan, “Who is a true Muslim?” and in India, “What are Muslims (the same number in India as in Pakistan) doing in India if Pakistan is the state of the Muslim nation?” became menacing questions posed by right-wing forces.

Now let’s consider if a limited war of the type that took place at Kargil is worthwhile. What would it attain? Nothing in terms of any territorial readjustment on the LoC. Sooner or later, both would be forced to go back to the original LoC. However, several hundred or possibly thousands would be killed on both sides. How many widows, how many orphans, how many shattered parents and siblings would such reckless jingoism create, one can only guess. The hatred that would be sowed would be incalculable. Here I must quote the greatest anti-war poem on this theme written in 1965 by Sahir Ludhianvi (1921-1980):

Aye shareef insano

Khoon apna ho ya paraaya ho/Nasl-e-aadam ka khoon hai aakhir/Jang maghrib mein ho ke mashriq mein/Amn-e-aalam ka khoon hai aakhir/Bam gharon par giren ke sarhad par/Rooh-e-taameer zakhm khaati hai/Khet apne jalein ke auron ke

Zeest faaqon mein tilmilaati hai/Tank aage baden ke peeche haten/Kokh dharti ki baanjh hoti hai/Fat-ha ka jashn ho ke haar ka sog/Zindagi mayyaton pe roti hai/Is liye ai shareef insaano/Jang talti rahe to behtar ha/Aap aur hum, sabhi ke aangan mein/Shama jalti rahe to behtar hai

(Dear civilised people, Be this blood ours or theirs/Humanity is bloodied/Be this war in east or west/A peaceful earth is bloodied/Whether the bombs fall on homes or borders/The spirit of construction is wounded/Whether it is our fields that burn or theirs/Life is wracked by starvation/It matters not that tanks advance or retreat/The womb of the earth becomes barren/Be it a celebration of victory or loss’ lament/The living must mourn the corpses/That is why, o civilised people/It is better that war remains postponed/In your homes, and in ours/It is better that lamps continue to flicker).

Even without a war, the damage has been done. The home ministers of the two countries had just signed an historic agreement to relax visa rules for those 65 years of age and above to get a visa for two years to the other country on arrival. Being 65 and a Pakistani-origin Swedish citizen, I thought I would make a good case for it, but given the brutal killings of the soldiers on the LoC, the two-year visa for 65-year olds has been put on hold. The tragedy is that those forces that wish to derail the normalisation and peace process seem to be able to do it any time they want. That is why I consider the India-Pakistan imbroglio pathological.

Many friends wonder if I suggest a reunion between India and Pakistan. I do not. On the other hand, the idea of a porous border not only in Kashmir but also along the entire international border would be desirable. That of course would not happen as long as we have extremists and terrorists have a free hand. The verdict of history is with us and we have to learn to move on and accept each other. As the two major nations of the region we can cooperate and work together and give our people — the largest concentration of poor people in the world is in South Asia, greater even than sub-Saharan Africa — a chance to live and not just exist. This argument pervades my new book, Pakistan: The Garrison State, Origins, Evolution, Consequences (1947-2011), (Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2013), released on January 15, 2013.

* The writer is a PhD (Stockholm University); Professor Emeritus of Political Science, Stockholm University; and Honorary Senior Fellow, Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore. Latest publications: Pakistan: The Garrison State, Origins, Evolution, Consequences (1947-2011), Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2013; The Punjab Bloodied, Partitioned and Cleansed: Unravelling the 1947 Tragedy through Secret British Reports and First-Person Accounts (Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2012; New Delhi: Rupa Books, 2011). He can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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