Let hostilities end, diplomacy can take over

No one knows the war better than an Indian. His greatest epic is the Mahabharata, a quarter of which describes in vivid detail the war between the Pandavas and the Kauravas. The war did not last long. It lasted just 18 days but it killed 80 per cent of the menfolk in the country. War creates only orphans and widows. We have seen it in Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya and Lebanon. We have also fought our own wars with Pakistan and we also have a fair share of orphans and widows. Can we afford to wage another war?

The answer is clear that we cannot. But in television studios, news anchors were boisterously demanding punishment of Pakistan. No other country has as many television channels as India. There are over 400 of them, some with no viewership at all. Yet, the anchors have been competitively demanding war against Pakistan, as if they are the custodians of public opinion in this nation of 1.3 billion people. Anyone who is against war is portrayed as an anti-national.

I remember the day the AB Vajpayee government tested a nuclear weapon at Pokhran. Without any provocation, a BJP leader of Delhi challenged Pakistan for war at any time and date of its choosing. I dismissed him as a madcap, though he enjoyed a groundswell of support in the Capital.

He did not repeat the needless challenge when, a day after, Pakistan tested its own nuclear weapon at Ras Koh Hills in the Chagai district of Balochistan province. For once, the size of the military, the superiority of the weapons we hold and the nation’s fighting prowess began to look inconsequential, as both claimed to have reached nuclear parity.

On the night when the Indian military aircraft flew across the Line of Control in Kashmir and the border in Punjab and dropped bombs in Pakistan, there was a clamour for war, created essentially by the media. There was suddenly claims that India was safe in the hands of a leader “who does what he promises”.Karnataka BJP chief BS Yediyurappa earned opprobrium when he said that the surgical strike would help the BJP sweep the polls in the state in May.

On the other end was the Samajwadi Party leader and former minister Vinod Kumar claiming that India and Pakistan had a secret deal under which India would drop some bombs in deserted areas without causing any harm to either the military or the civilian population. He pooh-poohed the claim that hundreds of terrorists were killed in the strike.

The Prime Minister also did not conduct himself well, as he gave more importance to garnering votes than to holding an all-party meeting to tell the whole nation that India had no other option but to strike at those harbouring terrorists. Modi could have gained the moral high ground if he had said that India was not against the common people of Pakistan and it only wanted to root out the scourge of terrorism.

One Union minister with prime ministerial ambitions said that India would not give Pakistan its own share of water. India was within its rights to use the Indian share of the river water and nobody prevented it from using it. His statement was interpreted as a warning that India would divert the waters of the Punjab and deny Pakistan even drinking water. Uncontrolled jingoism serves no purpose.

Be that as it may, the situation in 2019 is not the same as in 1962. Technology has made it possible for everyone to crosscheck what he or she hears. We live in times when the student instantly checks on his smartphone what the teacher says in the classroom. This is all the more reason that the government should be truthful. The Indian government proved that its military had the capacity to make deep incursions into Pakistan and it should have ended the
matter there.

On the day Indian aircraft returned unharmed, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan had to hear “shame, shame” from the Opposition MPs. He is also a politician like Narendra Modi and he, too, is conscious of his image. He had to prove Pakistan’s capability to retaliate and that is what
he did.

One very significant move was Khan’s decision to release the Indian pilot, Abhinandan Varthaman, held captive by the Pakistanis. His announcement was greeted with thumping of desks by the Pakistani MPs. To say that Pakistan was not doing a favour but only complying with the Geneva protocol is to miss the woods for the trees. It should be seen as a gesture of de-escalation.

As I write this, what is trending on Twitter is #saynotowar that shot into the number one position. The Delhi School of Journalism students produced a short video that showed young men and women speaking in one voice against the war. In short, the mood of the nation is against the war.

But the Prime Minister is more interested in winning votes. He used even the inauguration of the War Memorial to attack the Opposition. It was a sacred function to honour the martyrs but he became banal. A Prime Minister should rise above petty politics when the nation faces a crisis. We need peace, not war. Let’s remember that we can choose friends but a nation can’t choose neighbours. Let the hostilities end and let the diplomats take over after the IAF has done its job.

A J Philip is a freelance journalist. Views are personal.

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