War or no war, no peace in sight

War and war mongering are cruel devices in the hands of the powerful that not only make the lives of ordinary civilians vulnerable but also reduce poor soldiers and officers manning the borders to mere pawns. Where dialogues can scale down hostility, recourse is taken to brinkmanship that result in skirmishes and casualties of both civilians and soldiers, on whom the war is merely imposed.

India and Pakistan are at their provocative best. If the Indian Army chief took out his missile of “calling off Pakistan’s nuclear bluff”, Pakistan’s foreign minister stuck to the tradition of tit-for-tat and responded with the challenge of “testing our resolve”. There is much speculation over whether this brinkmanship would result in a full-fledged war. The chance cannot be ruled out simply on grounds that senseless bellicose rhetoric has been an old sport for officials on both sides of the borders. In seven decades, India and Pakistan have gone to war thrice and though the last full-scale war was in 1971, the limited war of Kargil happened not too long back; nor are the routine skirmishes that are escalating phenomenally matching the war of words. With exceptional state of politics in India, presently in the hands of a right wing government that thrives on anti-Pakistan rhetoric, and the political instability of Pakistan, there is no telling how this ugly belligerence will pan out and whether or not someone would be stupid enough to press the nuclear button.

But even if the war remains absent, there is no assurance of peace or absence of bloodshed. These are routine matters and remain part of normality for those who only hear about the many ways in which the violent offshoots of India-Pakistan hostility evince themselves on their television screens. Whether there are border skirmishes or the two sides use each other’s conflicts as a ploy to score brownie points, even the absence of a full-fledged war ensures no peace. The present brinkmanship may not eventually lead to as murderous a possibility as war but it does ensure exacerbation of suffering and colossal loss of lives. Last week has seen a spike in the killings of soldiers and civilians on both sides of the borders. These are no trivial matters.

If wars are disastrous, war mongering on its own is not quite a benign evil, even if it does not provoke a war. For seven decades, amidst the many ups and downs of India-Pakistan relations, the people on both sides have suffered in multiple ways. Ordinary lives are impacted a great deal. The most direct consequences are borne by the border people and the soldiers. Loss of lives and damage to property finds a mention in the news columns; and, to a lesser extent displacements which are routine affairs may be noticed. But the daily grind of how excessive militarization and constant insecurity impacts civilian lives, war or no war, remains little discussed. Their world is not at peace since 1947 and is not at peace now.

Jammu and Kashmir becomes the worst stages of this theatre of India-Pakistan hostility, whatever the level of skirmishes with the decades old conflict becoming a booty for the two establishments on the two sides who play mind games with each other by invoking the war mantra or by giving out the marching orders to the troops. The quantum of peace enjoyed by the people finds a new definition which is unknown in other parts of the two respective countries. This cannot be understood without understanding how daily lives of the vulnerable border people differ from the lives of rest of the country. What does it mean for people to be manipulated, on a regular basis, as part of military strategy and relocated, sometimes by forcing them to cross the borders and lose access to their homes and farms, partially or fully? What does it mean to sit amidst fenced gates and have every move monitored or find that your fields can one day become a dangerous site of landmines with not even a compensation? And, what of the constant surveillance and random interrogations, reducing one to a suspect and enemy without an iota of evidence? How vulnerable do the women and children feel? Even by the standards of border villagers, who have not tasted peace in the last over seven decades, these are normal incidents and part of life where development and benefits of technology and economic churnings percolate down as charity doled out once in a while. The problem is not just the constant shape of war at the India-Pakistan borders but also how this is normalised; where loss of lives go unnoticed or merely becomes a pretext for flexing muscles. Is precious human life so cheap as to be happily sacrificed at the altar of misplaced national honour and pride, almost on a daily basis?

War and war mongering are cruel devices in the hands of the powerful that not only make the lives of ordinary civilians vulnerable but also reduce poor soldiers and officers manning the borders to mere pawns. Where dialogues can scale down hostility, recourse is taken to brinkmanship that result in skirmishes and casualties of both civilians and soldiers, on whom the war is merely imposed. Wars, unfortunately, are measured in terms of victories which are often based on a misplaced calculation, even though they often do not result in decisive victories, forget the propaganda of the battling countries. Most wars do no end in decisive victories, even from a military point of view. From a humanitarian point of view, they are simple suicidal missions where frenzied soldiers are treated like sacrificial goats. This bitter truth then is embalmed in paradigms of ‘valour’ and ‘nationalism’ to normalise their loss. Tennyson’s, “…. Theirs not to make reply,/ Theirs not to reason why,/ Theirs but to do and die./ Into the valley of Death/ Rode the six hundred.” invokes a spine chilling imagery of how soldiers get pushed in front of the firing line, without a question and without a thought.

Times have changed since Tennyson’s poetic description of the cruelty of wars. Wars, back then, were simple battles between two states. They now involve participants who may be willing or unwilling non-state actors, worsening the bitter cruelty of war. In more recent decades, questions were raised by the American public after America pushed its soldiers to war – in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq. Notable is the story of Ron Kovic, whose life has been immortalized by his own autobiography and based on that the Oscar winning film ‘Born on the Fourth of July’. Kovic went to war as an enthusiastic teenager, indoctrinated with the belief that the great America was going to liberate Vietnam but returned injured, paralysed and scarred. Disillusioned, he joined the group of war veterans against war and lived to tell the story of how American soldiers were sent into a death trap to kill the innocents of Vietnam and their own in the maddening war frenzy. His story embodies the ugliness of wars and hostility.

Today’s wars, cold wars and hostilities are more complex affairs where armed operations are no longer essentially in the hands of governments but also in the hands of non-state actors involved in insurgency movements in different conflict zones, where both state’s forces and often insurgents obscure the difference between combatants and non-combatants. The various willing participants have nothing in common but the willingness to use violence and perpetuate bloodshed and to use that bloodshed as a trophy or a matter of pride. The dirty, sleazy politics of how states manipulate, if not directly control, the insurgencies is something that remains hidden beneath the façade of this military pride.

We live in a world today where governments would not be fully able to control wars even as they settle their inter-state disputes. That is a sad reality that needs to be accepted, which doesn’t essentially mean that the world’s leaders can twiddle thumbs as violent combats between states and within states become more and more bloodier and complex. The more the political discourse clings on to a military doctrine and views wars and battle valour as a sign of national pride, the more the wars will be forced on the world and the more difficult it would get to have any control over the violence of non-state actors. On the contrary, the more the governments begin to play the statesman like role of transforming conflicts with other states and within states from violent playfields to a dialogue table, the better the chances of taking the sting out of various insurgencies. India and Pakistan need to take that chance. There may be no guarantee of immediate peace that an unconditional dialogue holds. There is, however, a promise of longer lasting peace.

News Updated at : Sunday, January 21, 2018