Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Cost of war ....

Recent events have once again brought the tumultuous Indo-Pak relationship in the forefront of the World media. On the 18th of September 2016, four heavily armed militants launched a surprise and unprovoked attack on an Indian military camp in Uri, Kashmir. In the ensuing carnage, they were gunned down but not before killing eighteen of India’s brave souls (one more was to succumb to injuries later). After the incident, the usual blame game started. India was quick to gather evidence from the slain terrorists. All the evidence indicated that the attackers were Pakistani sponsored operators. Pakistan on the other hand calmly brushed off all allegations against it as always and claimed that all the so-called evidence has been ‘planted’ by India to falsely implicate it and tarnish its’ reputation in the eyes of the world. It termed India’s accusations as ‘baseless’. Some sections of the Pakistani news media have even brazenly stated that the terrorists were actually of Indian origin and their action was the direct consequence of the dissatisfaction of the local Kashmiri people against the Indian Administration in Indian Administered Kashmir (also known as Indian Held Kashmir – IHK in Pakistan).

But for India, the tolerance threshold had been crossed. Public Anger which had manifested itself on the streets and social media after the attacks of 26/11 and more recently the Pathankot attacks now rose once again. People had for long been clamoring for action against state sponsored terrorists on the other side of the border. And this unprovoked attack on Uri was the tipping point. Under pressure from the people who demanded immediate retribution, and also because he had promised ‘strong’ action to terrorists after he was elected, the Indian Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi clandestinely met the Defence Minister, the NSA advisor Mr. Ajit Doval and the Indian army chief to chalk out a plan of action. That plan manifested itself in the wee hours of the 29th of September 2016 as Indian Army Commandos secretly crossed the LOC into Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) and launched a surprise attack on several terrorist camps or ‘terror launch pads’. These attacks, termed as ‘Surgical Strikes’ by the Indian Army were brutal and swift and gave no chance for the enemy to recover and mount a counter offensive. As abruptly as they began, the attacks ended early morning and the Indian Para commandoes who executed the strikes got back to the Indian side of the LOC. Later in the day, the Indian DGMO made a statement revealing the Surgical Strikes to an anxious media. The DGMO claimed that the Indian army inflicted serious and significant casualties on the terrorists and destroyed several terror ‘launch pads’. Furthermore, the DGMO also claimed that there wasn’t a single Indian casualty.

Now this was a completely different turn of events. Far from the usual blame game, here we had a different turns of events. It was India who claimed to be the aggressor (acting in defence of course). India claimed to have crossed the LOC for the first time since 1971. And this was an infinitely better response to the usual “No Cricket” diplomacy followed by the previous government. What would be Pakistan’s logical reply in this case? Given Pakistan’s position they definitely would have denied it and that’s exactly what they did. They denied that any kind of strikes happened and called the whole thing a propaganda stunt by the Modi government, done with the sole intention of whipping up public fervour and to reduce the immense pressure the ruling government faced after the Uri terror attacks. For Pakistan, to accept that the strikes happened would inadvertently mean accepting that the terror launch pads existed in POK in the first place. It would also mean embarrassment for the Pakistan Military which would have to admit that the Indian army sneaked right under their noses and caused the carnage. Accepting the fact would have also drawn the ire of the Pakistani media and the general public. And this is the last thing which the Pakistani PM, Nawaz Sharif needs at the moment when he is already facing allegations of corruption and illegal assets brought forward by Panama gate. So as expected, they (The Pakistanis) denied it.

But notice a very strange thing about their denial. A few days after the Strikes, the Pakistani army hosted a delegation of foreign media personnel and escorted them to the LOC in POK, to prove that the strikes never happened. Now why would they do that if there was nothing to show? Why bring the world’s attention to an event which they claimed to have never happened? And why was no Indian media personnel invited as part of the delegation? And the tour itself was riddled with inaccuracies leaving behind more questions rather than answers. As one foreign correspondent belonging to a prestigious global news channel aptly put it, “We were shown what we were supposed to see and nothing else”. In other words, the Pakistani army offered no conclusive proof of the strikes not happening. What proof was the Pakistani army intending to show the media? They showed clean villages and no terror camps. But of course they would show that! Which army would show the media that “there used to lie terror camps here but after the surgical strike, they don’t exist anymore hence there were no surgical strikes.” Another point to note is the fact that the Indian DGMO mentioned that there were no causalities on their side. The Pakistani army first categorically denied these strikes and then later said that the Indian side had taken casualties. They also claimed that the Indian soldiers’ bodies were still lying on their side of the LOC and no one from India had come to collect them. Now if the strikes never happened, then where did those bodies come from?

Speaking of hosting international media delegations, I reiterate my earlier point. Why was Pakistan so eager to show the world that the strikes never happened? They could have just laid low, denied it as they do always and let the matter die a natural death (except that India wouldn’t let it be so). I don’t know whether they invited the media delegation of their own accord or were they forced to accommodate them. If the reason is the former, then maybe Pakistan was too eager to show the world that nothing happened. And if the reason is the latter, it shows that Pakistan is under serious pressure. Pressure to bolster it’s tarnished image in the eyes of the world. Recent events have brought some unwanted focus on Pakistan and slowly and steadily the world is losing it’s patience with the 69 year old Islamic Democracy. A senator in the US forwarded a bill to declare Pakistan as a terrorist state, something which India has long been asking for. Another petition to the same effect was raised in UK. At long last the world is listening with new found respect to India. Come to think of it, why didn’t the media visit India to verify Indian claims? Why did they not question India about the authenticity of the strikes? The US, EU and Russia have openly backed India’s actions saying that India has every right to defend itself against terror. Aren’t all these facts sending you a very loud message, Pakistan?

And yet all that Pakistan can do it sit in it’s own isolated world and make pompous denial statements. Statements like these make me question the Pakistani government’s transparency and integrity and do not help it’s fading reputation in any way. Reputation?? What reputation? The day Osama Bin Laden, the global terror mastermind responsible for 9/11 was discovered in hiding in Abbottabad, in Pakistan’s very own backyard was the day the last remnant of the so-called reputation of Pakistan was torn to shreds. India has for long been shouting itself hoarse that Pakistan has become a breeding ground for all types of terrorist groups and extremist activity, but no one paid any heed: until now. The recent attacks on Paris and other cities such as Dhaka seemed to have rudely jolted the Western Superpowers from their slumber. The Paris and Dhaka attacks were modelled similar to the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai. The 1999 Indian Airlines Kandahar Hijacking incident was the blue print for the 9/11 plane hijackings. At least now, the world will sit up and take notice about how bad the situation is deteriorating in Pakistan. As the Indian envoy at UNGA rightly put it, the land of Taxila and Indus valley civilization is now the ‘Ivy League of Terrorism’.

As one thing escalates into another, the tension between both countries is piling up. The strikes have been followed by militant attacks on Indian Army bases in sensitive areas near the LOC, but these have been dented by our soldiers. Armed forces of both countries have been put on high alert. Leaves of soldiers have been cancelled and a huge number of troops have been deployed along the border. If that was not enough, civilians living close to the border areas have been evacuated to safer ground. Both sides are watching each other with eagle eyes, weapons drawn, loaded and ready: waiting for the first stone to be cast. The situation is grim. This is not like the usual cross border firing and infiltration which happens on a regular basis along the LOC. This is totally different. A slightest provocation might lead to a full blown arms conflict directly involving the armed forces of both nations. In other words: WAR! The last ‘official’ war fought between both nations was in 1971 which ended up in the creation of ‘Bangladesh’. But neither India nor Pakistan are the same nations they were back then. They are both nuclear powers for one thing. Both nations have also spent significant amount of money to bolster their armed forces with the latest sophisticated weaponry.
But both nations also know that they want to avoid a war at all costs. War will come at its’ own price for which both nations will have to pay heavily.

War is not a piece of cake. It’s very easy for us (especially those not in the armed forces) to sit in the comfort of our air conditioned offices and vehicles and clamour for war. But how many of us will actually fight it out on the fronts? Our soldiers and officers will be the ones battling it out there, facing hell just for keeping us safe. When our soldiers bleed, we bleed too. Notwithstanding the loss of life and property, war will also set us back economically as well. The cost of sustaining this war will be a huge drain on our wealth reserves. An article in a popular Indian magazine stated that a direct war could cost as much as a staggering five thousand crore rupees per day! India is an emerging Global economic power while the new found democracy in Pakistan and the encouraging stance of the political leadership have brought in a ray of hope for the enlightened masses in the Islamic Democracy. But war will negate all the good work done by our predecessors in strengthening the economy and set us back by a decade or so, if not more. When the surgical strikes were announced, the stock markets in Karachi and Mumbai fell significantly, sending panic waves across all investors in both countries. War will scare off investors who will be hesitant to invest in a nation engaged in armed conflict. And lets’ not forget that both nations are now nuclear powers. Given the numerical and technological strength of the Indian army, the Pakistanis might decide to use the nuclear option (God forbid!) in order to tilt the balance of the conflict. If that happens, India will have to respond tit for tat. And after that, God help the Indian sub-continent! A nuclear war between both nations will not result in victors but in survivors.

So it’ quite obvious that war has to be the very last option left for us to follow. But at the same time, let our enemy not confuse our restraint for cowardice. We simply cannot sit and watch as terrorists cross the LOC with impunity and take pot shots at our forces and attack innocent civilians. It’s pretty obvious to the whole world where these terrorists come from, where they are trained and who supplies them arms and ammunition for carrying out these attacks. And India has given enough warnings to Pakistan. The ball is now in Pakistan’s court. It has to take a tough stand against terror and destroy all prevailing terror mechanisms present and operating on its’ territory. Otherwise, India will have to carry out more attacks similar to the surgical strikes carried out on September 29th. And if Pakistan views these as an act of war, then so be it. No cost is too high to ensure the safety of our people. From India’s point of view, if war does happen then it has to be a war that ends all future wars, proxy or full blown. The Indian response should be swift, brutal and effective: rendering the enemy incapable of launching further significant attacks in the future. Otherwise, there is nothing to be gained.

But let’s not get emotional and get carried away in the heat of the moment. War, as I mentioned earlier is the option which both nations want to and have to avoid. A war would be exactly what the terror mongers in Pakistan want. They know that a full blown war will weaken the armed forces considerably and they will then be able wrest control of the country. A war will also suit the interests of Western Superpowers and China who are only too eager to sell their wares to both nations. This in turn, will only lead to an arms race in the sub-continent. Funds which would have otherwise been used for development purposes will be used for purchasing costly weapons and ammo which can only cause death and destruction. Important projects will be put on hold and economic development in both nations will come to a grinding halt.

Pakistanis should realize that we both are fighting a common enemy. ‘Terrorism’ like love knows no borders and does not discriminate between guilty and innocent, young and old. Both sides have been witness to horrendous terrorist attacks which have claimed many an innocent life. And the writing is clearly written on the wall: If Pakistan does not do it’s bit to uproot the terror mechanisms operating on its’ soil, then attacks similar to Uri, Mumbai, Dhaka and Peshawar will continue to happen. Now is the time for Pakistan to throw away all hatred, a vicious and blinding hatred which has dominated their psyche since independence. Pakistanis should know that this hatred will get them nowhere. In the nineteen thirties, many Germans, though not openly supportive of Hitler’s anti-Semitic and fascist mind-set allowed themselves to get emotionally swayed by his speeches, a fact which took them to their destruction after the Second World War. Pakistani people should avoid the same mistake. They have to stand up and assert themselves instead of being carried away by jingoistic political propaganda. Else they, and they alone will be responsible for their nations’ fate. It’s true that we separated 69 years ago amidst a lot of bloodshed and violence. Partition saw its’ fair share of strife and sorrow on both sides. That enough should have been a lesson. But even today, the hatred continues unabated. Bigots and war mongers continue to fuel this hatred and exploit it for their own narrow minded games. And this hatred will continue from generation to generation until and unless someone puts a stop to this NOW! Your next generation of children have not been exposed to the bitterness of the past. Don’t poison their minds and teach them hatred. Teach them the way of love and progress.

The entire history of Indo-Pak conflicts and disputes have been dominated by only one topic: Kashmir (barring the 1971 war). It’s ironic that a small piece of land has acted as a major barrier for solid relationships between both nations. There are so many other issues which we should be focusing upon. Why should we only clamour over Kashmir? The only worthwhile solution I see for the Kashmir conflict is leave things as they are. Let each side maintain their territory and concentrate on developing it instead of wasting precious resources trying to conquer it. Like Narendra Modi stated, let us jointly declare war on internal enemies like poverty, unemployment, illiteracy, terrorism and other bottlenecks. Let us compete with each other instead of going for each- others’ throats. Let our rivalry by healthy and constructive, rather than bitter and destructive. Let our rivalry be like Singapore-Malaysia, US-Canada, England-France (bitter rivals in sport but co-operative in all other fields). If one nation builds a big tower, let the other build a bigger tower. If one nation builds a big airport let the other nation build a bigger airport. And so on and so forth. That alone is the only way to prosperity and progress. Many nations who have gained independence much later than us have left their issues far behind and are progressing solidly on the path to progress. Why should we be any different?

But all this can only be achieved when Pakistan takes the first step and weeds out terrorist organizations on it’s soil. It takes two hands to clap resoundingly. Until and unless that happens, peace between both nations will remain a dream at best. Attacks will continue on both sides and soldiers and innocent civilians will have to pay the price.  

Let us cast out the weeds of terrorism and hatred. Let us focus on building peace and prosperity instead. There is nothing to be gained by violence.

To end this article, I would like to quote the song “Mere Dushman Mere Bhai!” (My enemy my brother) from the iconic war film ‘Border’.

जंग तो चंद रोज होती है , जिन्दगी बरसों तलक रोती है

बारूद से बोझल सारी फिज़ा, है मोत की बू फैलाती हवा
जख्मों पे है छाई लाचारी, गलियों में है फिरती बीमारी
ये मरते बच्चे हाथों में, ये माओं का रोना रातों में
मुर्दा बस्ती मुर्दा है नगर, चेहरे पत्थर हैं दिल पत्थर
मेरे दुश्मन, मेरे भाई, मेरे हमसाये
मुझे से तुझ से, हम दोनों से, सुन ये पत्थर कुछ कहते हैं
बर्बादी के सारे मंजर कुछ कहते हैं
मेरे दुश्मन, मेरे भाई, मेरे हमसाये

सन्नाटे की गहरी छाँव, ख़ामोशी से जलते गाँव
ये नदियों पर टूटे हुए पुल, धरती घायल और व्याकुल
ये खेत ग़मों से झुलसे हुए, ये खाली रस्ते सहमे हुए
ये मातम करता सारा समां, ये जलते घर ये काला धुआं
मेरे दुश्मन, मेरे भाई, मेरे हमसाये
मुझे से तुझ से, हम दोनों से ये जलते घर कुछ कहते हैं
बर्बादी के सारे मंजर कुछ कहते हैं
मेरे दुश्मन, मेरे भाई, मेरे हमसाए

मेरे दुश्मन, मेरे भाई, मेरे हमसाये
चेहरों के, दिलों के ये पत्थर, ये जलते घर
बर्बादी के सारे मंजर, सब तेरे नगर सब मेरे नगर, ये कहते हैं
इस सरहद पर फुन्कारेगा कब तक नफरत का ये अजगर
हम अपने अपने खेतो में, गेहूँ की जगह चावल की जगह
ये बन्दूके क्यों बोते हैं
जब दोनों ही की गलियों में, कुछ भूखे बच्चे रोते हैं
आ खाएं कसम अब जंग नहीं होने पाए
ओर उस दिन का रस्ता देंखें,
जब खिल उठे तेरा भी चमन, जब खिल उठे मेरा भी चमन
तेरा भी वतन मेरा भी वतन, मेरा भी वतन तेरा भी वतन
मेरे दोस्त, मेरे भाई, मेरे हमसाये


Edit: I heard the shocking news that terrorists have attacked a police camp in Quetta, Pakistan on Monday night. RIP, those who have perished in the attack. The Pakistani establishment should now realize that the very snake they have nurtured against India is biting them as well. As I stated earlier, terrorism knows no boundaries. Pakistan, stop this madness and hatred before it consumes your nation totally.     

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