Hostages of history

March 24,2018

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Can the hawks in India and Pakistan guarantee peace through war? Can India wipe out Pakistan and vice versa? If the US, with the most formidable army and sophisticated technology, has miserably failed to achieve its objectives in Afghanistan and Iraq by using force, how can India and Pakistan expect a different outcome following the same strategy?

Regional stability and socio-economic development demand that leaders in both these countries show sobriety by investing more time and energy in peace initiatives rather than letting rogue elements do irreparable damage to the existing fragile relations.

Whenever I tune into TV channels, I see a plethora of talk shows in which both Indian and Pakistani anchors and their guests struggle to outfox one another in eulogising their own sides. Most often, they even have a hard time finding appropriate words and phrases for expressing their emotions. They keep bragging and brawling without knowing or meaning anything for the lasting good of people on both sides. If one talks about passion and motivation of one’s soldiers, another boasts of his country’s nuclear arsenal including both long- and short-range missiles. Very few, knowing the horrors of war, ever plead restraint and good relations.

In the midst of this uproar, sane voices go unheeded, if not outright rejected. The point is that people do not make or want wars; governments do. No mother can afford to sacrifice her son for territorial gain, economic advantage or ideology. If given a choice, people will always choose peace. Governments create the conditions of war when they are overwhelmed by domestic problems and pressures. Both India and Pakistan have been suffering from formidable social and economic problems since Independence. The Human Development Index (HDI), which ranks countries on the basis of life expectancy, education and per capita income, has recently placed India at 131st and Pakistan at 147th positions.

Since successive governments in both countries promise more than they can deliver, for them the easiest path of salvation from public outrage is to externalise their domestic problems by blaming others and creating enemies. In other words, they want us to believe that war is peace and one should live and die for it. Instead of singing the government song, it is and should be the collective duty of people on both sides of the border to hold their governments accountable for their inability to resolve their differences peacefully within a fixed timeframe. We have been living in abject poverty and rampant ignorance, and under the shadow of war for seventy years. We should no longer be fooled to believe that war is a natural order and our shared destiny.

In the midst of this hustle and bustle all around, I wonder if war is peace for us. Was the independence of India and Pakistan from the British yoke meant perpetual mutual fighting? Since 1947, we have fought three major wars that resulted in heavy losses to both sides. Independence from the British was based on and justified by two promises: economic prosperity and national identity. Using these two goals as criteria for judgement, are we, Indians and Pakistanis, better off or worse off seventy years later?

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has problems mostly of his own making such as developing and living a nostalgic narrative, playing to the gallery to sustain his popularity for winning the next elections and, most importantly, trying to stand out as a dreaded-democratic hero. All this is evident from the way he dresses, walks and talks. A real statesman, which Modi is not, creates conditions for harmony, justice and cooperation. Like a demagogue, Modi is trying to flame emotions, create divisions and spit venom to galvanise naïve people into some bizarre kind of action.

In Pakistan, we have our own hawks who want us to believe that every country is out there to destabilise Pakistan and is doing so by sponsoring terrorism, patronising sectarianism, and spawning separatism. They tell us the half truth. As a matter of fact, it is our own ill-conceived policies to blame for the mess we are in today. We created the so-called Mujahideen in collusion with the US and Saudi Arabia to fight the then USSR in Afghanistan. After the 9/11 attacks, we changed horses in midstream to avoid the frenzied wrath of the US only to bring home an unending war and perpetual misery.

Over the past seven decades of our existence, the hawks in India and Pakistan have prevailed to define who we are and what our destiny is. A provocative statement by someone (who needs not be a responsible person) in India is reciprocated by his friend in Pakistan. The media looks for people who share hawkish vision for this region and promote their line of thinking as the mainstream narrative. The doves, on the other hand, either remain silent out of fear of being labelled anti-state conspirators or depend on some kind of back-channel diplomacy to boil down tensions.

Whatever the history is and whatever dreams we have for the future, India and Pakistan cannot afford a military confrontation. Both countries are equipped to the brim with nuclear arsenal making conventional military superiority almost irrelevant. Europe has learnt lesson the hard way and has learnt to live in peace with others. Pakistan and India have already fought three major wars, besides frequent skirmishes along the border, and have paid heavily in terms of death and destruction. For how long will history keep them as hostages?

The writer teaches at the SarhadUniversity. Email:


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