Stone Wars and Drone Wars

Mohammad Junaid’s evocative essay “The Stone Wars” was published last week by Guernica Magazine. Taking readers into the strike-afflicted, trash strewn streets of an Anantnag under curfew, Junaid presents the oddity of a war that has become old but whose wounds remain freshly inflicted on every generation.

The boys of today’s Kashmir, like the boys who came before them, are still fighting but the weapons are different, if not new. When night falls on curfew days, they gather stones in large piles. It is with these stones and from a distance that they pelt the Indian forces stationed next to schools and inside bazaars. Stones, instead of rifles or bullets, are the weapon of Kashmir’s newest fighters. They choose stones because stones make their point, pieces of earth fighting for the pieces of earth that are occupied, that must be freed.

When a war is fought for a long time, when it recedes from the memories of others who do not live its realities, it is perhaps this inversion between age and tactic that results. There is no longer a need for an innovative weapon, the groundbreaking technology that will turn the tide of the struggle. There are no new guns that will further a cause, be the inventive measure that carries over to decisive victory. There is a repetitive choreography to old wars; and Junaid reveals it. The boys who throw the stones do not intend to hurt the soldiers, and they rarely do. Their war is against an idea, the idea of domination that persists, that is fought with piles of stones gathered from the valley that cannot be free.

As the random juxtapositions of email would arrange, I read “The Stone Wars” soon after I had concluded reading a press release regarding US Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit to Islamabad. Drones are on the agenda, the news item proclaimed, and the leaders were expected to discuss their future. The drone war is not as old or as complicated as the Kashmir conflict, with its iterations of agreements, counter agreements, cease fires, and lines of control, and its many thousands dead and disappeared. Its choreography of inaction, of either side being cemented into a position of domination and submission, is however beginning to be just as apparent. The Americans know what they are doing; they make paeans and platitudes and affirm support and declare respect. The Pakistanis protest, hem and shrug. Like the occupation in Kashmir, the drones go on. Sometimes they stop, for a week or a month, and then they begin again, unleashing with the slickness of their superior spying, strikes that kill unknown numbers.

The stone wars of Kashmir, and the drone wars in Pakistan have this little bit in common, the vast chasms of power between those that dominate and those that bear domination. As wars become old, the steps in this choreography become important, even more crucial than victory. In the steps and pauses becomes entrenched a moral message that seeks to defeat the powerful, the unthinking, the domineering— not by the force of what is mightier but what is right and fair and just. In the hours before Secretary Kerry landed in Pakistan, where he would be hushed away to one high-level meeting after another, Amnesty International made a call for accountability, for any move forward, and an investigation on the serious allegations of unlawful deaths occurring in the valley. It was like a stone, a small pebble thrown against an edifice of silent, persistent injustice that has not budged much, that seems here to stay. Those who will take up the call sign a petition, write an article, register their protest are those that believe that there are other ways of warfare than only annihilation.