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September 25, 2018

Let sanity prevail


September 25, 2018

Although the recent ‘provocative’ statement by Indian Army Chief Bipin Rawat may have created a ripple of excitement among Hindu zealots, it has frightened all those pacifists in the two nuclear-armed countries who know the horrors of wars and have a clear idea as to what will happen to this region in the event of a conflict.

Some of them have witnessed the catastrophe that was unleashed in the aftermath of Partition. Many of them remember seeing devastated villages, incinerated houses, mutilated bodies, trains full of human corpses, and the rivers of Punjab flowing with human blood. For them, the very idea of war is abominable, sending a shiver down their spine.

The statement has triggered a senseless debate about India and Pakistan’s military might. Indians are confident that they can wipe out the Islamic republic while fanatics in our part of the world believe that we are capable of annihilating Indians. What they all tend to forget is that no side emerges as the victor in modern wars. Instead, it is the people who pay the highest price for any conflict.

World War I wiped out 20 million people and left another 20 million wounded. The second great massacre, known as World War II, annihilated 70 million people. The fire to destroy human beings wasn’t extinguish with these global conflicts. Another three million died in the Korean War, close to seven million in the Vietnam conflict, and over two million others in Afghanistan since 1979. The end of the cold war also didn’t bring much-vaunted peace and prosperity. It killed millions of people in Afghanistan, Iraq, Columbia, Africa and parts of Europe.

In all these conflicts, most of the people who were badly affected were ordinary civilians who loathed the very idea of war and whose struggle was confined to achieving two square meals a day. For instance, the Syrian conflict engulfed around 700,000 people, displacing 11 million people. It destroyed several cities and towns, causing losses worth more than $200 billion to Syria’s economy. But most of Syria’s ruling elite remained unhurt. Their families weren’t targeted either. It was the civilians who had to pay the heavy price for this senseless conflict.

Saddam also survived the First Gulf War that killed or wounded thousands of people. Now with the death toll in Iraq crossing 2.4 million, the ruling elite still enjoys life, leaving civilians at the mercy of the deadly effects of the war.

The conflicts in Iraq and Syria were conventional in nature. No party employed weapons of mass destruction. But the situation in South Asia is different. Pakistan and India are armed with lethal tools of killings and destruction. All Indian cities could become targets of Pakistani missiles while the entire Islamic republic could be under the radar of India’s destructive arms. If New Delhi assumes that it is going to be a conventional war, which Pakistan is likely to lose, then it is a big mistake. No state can imagine losing its territory in modern times and it would go to any extent to protect its geographical integrity.

Since Pakistan cannot match the Indian military might in conventional ways, it has maintained a credible deterrence in the form of nuclear arsenals. Experts believe that Pakistan has more nuclear arms (200) than the largest democracy (150). Some experts are of the view that Pakistan possesses an extensive plutonium production capacity, and is estimated to have between 130 and 140 warheads, that may easily increase to between 220 and 250 in a decade.

The strength of the Pakistan Army’s personnel is said to be 653,000 and while India’s are 1,395,100. We are also outnumbered by Indians when it comes to tanks, fighter jets and other tools of conventional war. But in modern times, conventional strength isn’t the only thing that matter. The non-conventional power of a state is also taken into consideration while analysing the military might of a political entity. For instance, the strength of the Russian army is 831, 000 and that of the US is 1347,300. But even then, Moscow is not considered militarily weak because Russia is equipped with more nuclear arsenal than the US.

Islamabad feels that owing to its strong credible deterrence, New Delhi wouldn’t dare to provoke the Islamic republic because any conventional war could escalate into a nuclear conflict with catastrophic consequences. The world would be horrified and a mere spectre of a war between the two states could send alarm bells to Western capitals that have invested billions of dollars in India and other parts of the region. It is one of the factors, prompting Pakistan not to agree to the ‘no first use of nukes’ policy as it could weaken Islamabad’s position in case of a conflict.

So, there is no chance that a conventional war would remain conventional. It is likely to escalate into a nuclear conflict. Unfortunately, it is New Delhi that is taking a belligerent position at this time. It cancelled the meeting of foreign ministers on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York. Its leaders are spitting venom against Pakistan during election campaigns, turning the Islamic republic into an electoral issue. Its army chief is injecting bellicose military rhetoric into Indo-Pak ties and its leaders are weaponising people with anti-Pakistan feelings, which could be quite catastrophic.

A fanatical government official or a zealot army chief could be terminated by India’s government. But if the people are gripped by anti-Pakistan frenzy, New Delhi will struggle to normalise ties with Islamabad as it is easy to tide over individual insanity but difficult to counter collective insanity.

India has 243 million people officially – and around 600 million people unofficially – living below the poverty line. Millions of poor people in the country have no access to pure drinking water, decent housing, sufficient power supply, quality education, and basic healthcare facilities.

The picture isn’t entirely rosy in Pakistan as well, where more than 60 million people live in abject poverty, over 20 million children are out of school, around 70 percent have no decent housing, and 80 percent of diseases are water-borne because the government cannot supply pure drinking water to the people. Given this situation, any conflict will multiply the problems of the people living in India and Pakistan.

Pakistan has been positive so far, willing to hold dialogues and discuss all problems. It is still amenable to the idea of opening the Kartarpur crossing to facilitate Sikh pilgrims. Therefore, India’s ruling elite should reciprocate these overtures. New Delhi and Islamabad know very well that they cannot change their neighbours. It is time that the governments of both countries sidelined extremist elements and joined hands to ward off the spectre of a violent war that is haunting pacifists in India and Pakistan. The solution of our problem lies in allowing sanity to prevail. So, the leadership of India and Pakistan should demonstrate political sagacity and stop threatening one another with wars and destruction.

The writer is a freelancejournalist.

Email: [email protected]

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