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War Cries Across the Border

Ziauddin Choudhury

What started as a terrorist attack with a suicide bomb blast in Indian held Kashmir some two weeks ago
now seems to pit two neighbors into a full-scale war between them. Blaming Pakistan for harboring a
terrorist network Jaish-e-Mohammed (JEM) in its domain which claimed responsibility for the attack
India lost no time in retaliating against Pakistan with an aerial attack purportedly aimed to destroy JEM
hideout in Pakistan territory (Balakot) and claimed success in destroying it.

For any sovereign country to have its air space invaded by foreign military aircraft and dropping bombs
in its territory for whatever reason it may have this would be an act of aggression. Under normal
circumstances the first act of suicide attack would have been tackled from a law and order perspective
and terrorists identified would have been pursued accordingly. But these are not normal times, and the
Prime Minister of India was in no mood to pursue that route, because he and his political party, BJP, are
in an election campaign. He did not want to appear weak before his populace. He said in a public
statement that he had asked his Military to take any action that they felt appropriate to take to deter
the terrorist group wherever it may be hiding. So, Modi’s Military took to sending a squadron of aircraft
to have a “surgical” strike against the suspected militant hideout far inside Pakistan territory. The self-
declared success of this air campaign boosted a politically faltering Modi and his image rose according to
Indian press. He was portrayed a hero. His supporters crowed and declared imminent victory in the
upcoming elections.

Unfortunately, this euphoria in Modi and his political supporters evaporated in 24 hours as a surprised
Pakistan took a swift retaliatory action launching its own air attack inside Indian territory (Kashmir) and
dropped its own bombs (purportedly on blank targets). In an ensuing air battle between the Air Forces
of two countries, reportedly both sides lost two air craft. But the one that drew most attention was
where a downed Indian Jet fell into Pakistan territory and its surviving pilot was captured by Pakistan
Army. As of this writing the Indian pilot is still in Pakistan custody with India demanding his immediate
release.

This tit for tat airstrike, capture of an Indian pilot, and hysteria of war that the episodes have given rise
to bring back the worst memories of three wars that the two countries have fought with each other
since partition of India—two over Kashmir and one over Bangladesh. Countless lives were lost, mostly of
defense forces in these wars, but the mindset that led to these wars does not appear to have changed.
One had hoped that with passage of time and changes in people’s aspirations for a better relationship
with neighbors there would be also changes in the behavior of the politicians. The politicians should
know better than military overlords that hostilities between neighbors do not favor either country.
Unlike military rulers who need to perpetuate their stranglehold over their countries through
intimidation and fear, politicians normally act differently. They demonstrate strength through their
actions in crisis in a more mature away than by inciting passion and hysteria.

This is the first time in the history of belligerence between India and Pakistan that the first spark of a
skirmish has been ignited by India. In all of the past three hostilities the conflict was initiated by Pakistan
Army. Except for the first engagement in Kashmir in 1948 (which was limited to Kashmir), the two other
conflicts were initiated when Pakistan was led by a Military ruler. It could be explained in a way,
therefore, that these wars were caused by a Military junta to divert national attention from a domestic
problem to an artificially created crisis. But this time with both Pakistan and India being ruled by
democratically elected governments the blame cannot be allocated to a self-seeking army establishment
to start another war.

George Orwell once said, “All the war-propaganda, all the screaming and lies and hatred, comes
invariably from people who are not fighting.” It may be that Prime Minister Modi may have an ulterior
motive in indulging in war rhetoric to rally people to his party by railing against Pakistan. But his rhetoric
can have perverse repercussion on the other side of the border where a government is protected and
nurtured by an entity that thrives on war mongering. A pin prick by India will and can cause a much
bigger perforation that will lead both nations to disaster.

It is now close to fifty years that Pakistan and India had their last battle. That was a battle of yester
years, fought on land mostly with conventional rifles, mortars, and tanks. The air battle was fought with
aircraft that belong to museum now. Both countries have now nuclear arsenal, with warheads that can
go from 1200 to 2000 miles causing massive destruction to property and lives. Both countries are sitting
on piles of such nuclear weapons that can be launched in seconds.

Although in one way this is a balance of terror, but it is sheer terror that cannot be ignored by either
side. Politics apart, a war cry to rally people to one’s support will not lead to any good for any country.
For India, it will be bringing to an end years of democratic growth and international standing as an
economic power house. For Pakistan, it will accelerate its descent into economic disaster bringing untold
suffering to its burgeoning population. Neither country can afford a military confrontation.

Let good sense prevail and let leaders of both countries enter into a dialogue to end the pernicious
presence of militant and terror groups in their respective countries. Militancy and terrorism are curses
for both countries, in fact the entire subcontinent. Pakistan has suffered more than any other country
from militancy and terrorism. Let India and Pakistan jointly launch war against terrorism, not against one
another.