Blinkered View Of War In South Asia
Historically, the Pakistani intellectuals have always romanticized war and revolution – war by the right-wing intellectuals and revolution by those representing the left. In the ideological ferment of 60s and 70s, the right-wing intellectuals didn’t make any distinction between war of the medieval period — which had clear romantic aspect with individual bravado as the main feature of those hand-to-hand conflicts – and modern wars with their concept of mass instant killings. The right-wingers continued to link the two and continued to apply the idea of personal bravery and gallantry to the modern warfare, even to nuclear exchange, both of which can kill thousands and millions in an instant without those people even consenting to be or not to be part of that particular conflict.
Similarly, the intellectuals from the left romanticized the concept of revolution with the October Revolution as the archetype. Romanticizing war proved to be much more damaging for the collective social psychology of Pakistani society as compared to romanticizing revolution. Revolution has never been a real possibility in the political history of the country. We never even came close. On the other hand, we have fought three full-fledged wars with India and a limited war with the same country after two of us declared nuclear status. The earlier three full-fledged wars with India took place in a non-nuclear environment. However, the Kargil conflict in 1999 witnessed fighting between two nuclear states for the first time in history.
Pakistan and India also had close calls in 1987 and 1990 — when the two countries’ militaries were in an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation along international borders — in a recessed nuclear environment. On both occasions, international diplomacy played a crucial role in avoiding conflict.
Pakistani public, somehow, behave in a very weird manner whenever there is a euphoria about war coming from the government quarters or more precisely from some clownish officials. I would say that the Pakistani public — or a segment of them which is visible and vocal — have a highly blinkered view of war in South Asia. They somehow only celebrate the destructive capacity or firepower of Pakistan armed forces, as if there would be no response from the other side. They seem to only celebrate the fact that Pakistan has nuclear weapons, which, in their opinion or in the famous words of the clownish federal minister, can extinguish Indian civilization from the face of earth.
In the public discourse in Pakistan, war is not seen as destructive for both Pakistan and India. It is seen as an event in which Pakistani armed forces’ bravery and gallantry and Pakistan’s nuclear power would play havoc with Indian cities and towns.
This blinkered view of war is a natural culmination of the process of romanticizing the institution of war by the right-wing intellectuals, literary figures and politicians that went on unabated during the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s. War, in right wing literature, is seen as a one-sided affair in which opponents are reduced to mere passive recipients of Muslims’ wrath. In the same vein, in popular media debate in Pakistan, the Indians are mere passive receivers of whatever damage the Pakistani nation would inflict upon them in case of war. The destructive capacity of Indian armed forces are never taken into account in these debates— which make this debate highly non-serious and dangerous for the sanity of Pakistani people.
What made me engage in this tirade against the Pakistani public opinion? This crossed my mind while reading a tweet of Pakistan’s military spokesman, Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor, who reported the visit of our army chief army, Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, to the headquarters of strike crops of Pakistan Army. “COAS visited formations of Strike Corps. Briefed on state of operational preparedness. Strike corps has critical and decisive role in war, your state of preparedness training standards and high morale are very encouraging which enhance the confidence” says COAS” reads the tweet of military spokesman.
Any military expert will pick this tweet as a signalling to the other side that the Pakistani armed forces are ready and prepared to meet any threat from across the border. Especially after more than one senior government officials have hinted about the possibility of war between Pakistan and India in coming November or December. Tensions are already running high as situation in Kashmir is deteriorating every day.
The jargon used in ISPR press releases doesn’t normally quote the army chief or any of the services chiefs on war. Though they are often quoted on the issue of military preparedness of the military formations, these don’t normally mention the word war in their statements. Even if we take this tweet to be a signal to the other side, we simply cannot ignore its impact on the already euphoric public mood in Pakistan over the possibility of a conflict or a war with India.
Leave the nuclear weapons aside as even without them, the Pakistani and Indian militaries have enough firepower to destroy the cities and towns close to the border without much difficulty. Many of the war games conducted in the American security departments on possible Pak-India conflict have determined that the full-scale war in South Asia would leave much of northern India totally destroyed and (god forbid) Pakistan would cease to exist as a functioning state. This simple reality is not part of the public debate about possible Pak-India conflict in Pakistani society. I am sure the situation is no better on other side of the border.
In case of a nuclear exchange between Pakistan and India, the region of Punjab (both eastern and western) will become uninhabitable for the next 50 years. This is the opinion determined by the scientists from around the world. Assume for a moment that India will not respond to Pakistan’s nuclear strike on Indian mainland – as many macho men of Pakistan extremist right tend to believe in their strategic calculations – even then the wind patterns in this region will bring the radioactivity back to the Pakistani territory and make human life impossible in this part of the world. So the war, and especially nuclear war, is not about inflicting destruction on your opponent, it is as much about complete self-destruction.
It makes my skin cold to read the jingoistic statements about war in conventional media as well as in social media especially during the last two years after the Indian army chief talked about punishing Pakistan or inflicting pain on Pakistan and the Pakistan’s official spokesman retorted by stating its readiness to go war with India in case it is imposed on Pakistan.
One social media comment stated that the Pakistani school children, after the war, would be taught a chapter, which will be titled, “Once upon a time there was an India”. It is very common to read on social media the boast that Pakistan has the nuclear capacity to wipe India out of existence.
The reality is either it is peaceful coexistence or no existence.
Umer Farooq is an Islamabad-based freelance journalist. He writes on security, foreign policy and domestic political issues.