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War-Mongering Reaches A Fever Pitch

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Sanity must prevail in South Asia and the lessons of history should be digested. Otherwise Armageddon awaits the nearly 2 billion people who call it their home, writes Ahmad Faruqui.

The economies of both countries are faring poorly, and it’s not just because the prospect of a global recession hangs in the air. India is experiencing a growth rate so small that it’s evoking memories of the so-called Hindu Rate of Growth, an appellation that was coined prior to the 1990s to describe its 3% growth rate.

Pakistan is not doing much better. In stark contrast to the grandiose rhetoric about creating an Islamic Welfare State where there would be no one left to receive charitable payments, Pakistan’s economy is in a slump. Despite the promises of locking up the begging bowl in a safe deposit box, it has run up new international loans in the amount of $16 billion in just one year. Loans have been pouring in from the Gulf Arab states and even from the IMF, despite the statement by the prime minister that he would commit suicide rather than knock on IMF’s door.

The budget deficit, often called the primary deficit, is breaking records, the balance of payments continues to be in the red, inflation is rampant, and the Rupee has fallen in value. Dr. Hafeez Pasha, one of the country’s best known economists and one time cabinet minister, recounted the grim reality in a recent conversation with senior journalist Arif Nizami.

History has shown that governments begin searching for international diversions when their domestic prospects are less than sanguine. And nothing provides a better diversion than war. The enemy is vilified and patriotic fervor is aroused by national appeals.

And that’s exactly what we are seeing in India and Pakistan today. War mongering on social media, presumably catalyzed by the intelligence agencies of both countries, has reached a fever pitch.

In India, where the government has suspended all civil and human rights of Kashmiris with the stroke of a pen, there is talk of going the extra step and annexing Pakistani Kashmir. India’s annexation of Jammu and Kashmir has drawn mild international condemnation but not much else. In fact, Prime Minister Modi was invited to attend the G-7 meeting where he had long chats with the French President and the ultimate hand-slapping session with President Trump. Earlier, he was given the highest medal by one of the Gulf Arab states.

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In Pakistan, there is talk of re-initiating hostilities along the Line of Control. There is a sense that the Kashmir issue has been inadvertently internationalised by Modi’s repeal of Article 370 and thus a Pakistani intervention would not be criticised as it has been in the past.

There is also a resurgent sense among the military that Pakistan is now in much better shape to take on India because the PAF was able to shoot down an IAF fighter just a few months ago. The Pakistani media is rife with stories about IAF crashes due to poor maintenance.

Writing in the New York Times, Prime Minister Imran Khan has hinted at the possibility of the two countries being dragged into a nuclear war. When talking about India, he used strong words to evoke memories of fascism and Hitler.

Indian Kashmir is home to 8 million people. Is it worth risking the annihilation of South Asia over Kashmir? The two countries together possess more than 200 nuclear weapons and multiple delivery channels including supersonic aircraft and ballistic missiles for getting them to their target.

India has a population of 1,368 million, Pakistan of 218 million, Bangladesh of 163 million, Nepal of 29 million, Sri Lanka of 54 million, and Afghanistan of 38 million. That adds up to some 1,900 million people. Kashmir represents 0.4 percent of the population of South Asia. Without condoning for a moment India’s harsh treatment of the Kashmiris, is it worth risking the lives of the other 99.6 percent for the 0.4 percent?

Of course, even a conventional war would be disastrous. Both countries are armed to the teeth. Pakistan has 600,000 troops and India has double that number along with all the usual paraphernalia of war. Additionally, both countries have hundreds of thousands of reservists and paramilitary forces.

If a clash occurs, it won’t remain confined to Kashmir. Fifty four years ago in 1965 Pakistan sought to internationalise the Kashmir issue by sending irregular forces into Indian Kashmir. Operation Gibraltar was launched in August and when it failed, Operation Grand Slam was launched on the 1st of September. Feeling the pressure in Kashmir, India attacked Lahore with all its fury on the 6th of September. A full-scale war broke out. A cease-fire followed just a few weeks later. Nothing changed in Kashmir but lives and treasure were lost.

Pakistan’s economy took a big hit and President Field Marshal Ayub was hounded out of office just as he was beginning to celebrate a Decade of Development in 1968. A worse fate awaited his hand-picked successor, President General Yahya Khan, who decided to get into a war with India after annulling the elections which had been won by an East Pakistani party for the first time. Yahya indulged in calling the Indian Prime Minister names and a ‘Crush India’ campaign was launched. Yahya lost half the country in 1971 and was hounded out of office.

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In 1999, the Pakistan army under General Musharraf decided once again to internationalise the issue by attacking Indian positions in Kargil. The mission did not change the status of Kashmir. As Air Marshal Asghar Khan noted it sullied Pakistan’s position on Kashmir. And then Musharraf overthrew the elected government in a coup and seized power.

Professor Stanley Wolpert noted that after Pakistan brutally suppressed its majority population in East Pakistan, it lost the moral ground for supporting the rights of the Kashmir people.

In his 1909 book, Norman Angell called war nothing but a grand illusion. The economic cost of war was so great that no one should think of starting one. War was economically and socially irrational and futile because conquest did not pay. Arms build-up did not secure peace but made war inevitable. That was the great illusion.

Sadly, rational argumentation did not stop the Great War from breaking out. What was supposed to be a short war lasted four years. On its centenary, a movie was released entitled, “They Shall Not Grow Old.” It documents how an entire generation, the flower of Europe, lost their lives.

Let’s hope that sanity will prevail in South Asia, that the lessons of history would be digested, and that the rhetoric will cool down. Otherwise Armageddon awaits the nearly 2 billion people who call it their home.

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