Pulwama Attack

This Overwhelming Itch for War

March 8, 2019

The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.”
Sun Tzu

Bus Damaged in Pulwama Attack

On February 14, 2019, a 22-year old vehicle-borne suicide bomber rammed his explosive laden vehicle into a convoy transporting Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel at Lethpora in the Pulwama district of Jammu & Kashmir. The explosion killed 40 CRPF personnel. After a Pakistan based Islamic terror outfit claimed responsibility, India hit back on February 26, 2019 by bombing the terrorist training camp operating in Pakistani soil. The next day, Pakistan retaliated through an airstrike in Jammu and Kashmir. In the dogfight that followed, India lost a Mig-21 and Pakistan at least one F-16. The Indian pilot, who fell on the wrong side of the line of control, was captured by Pakistan. Pakistan released him on March 1, 2019.

Kashmir had already been turned into an emotional issue. Most people have been intoxicated with the idea that a bloody war to wipe out Pakistan is the final solution to the Kashmir problem. With the Parliament election round the corner, politicians have been milking the Pulwama terror strike to whip up a massive nationalistic frenzy that cries out for the annihilation of Pakistan. As a writer puts it, “The whole country lives from event to event and TV becomes hysterical, not knowing the difference between war and cricket… In this movement of drum-beating, where jingoism as patriotism is the order of the day, a dissenting voice is not welcome…”   

A day after the release of the Indian Pilot by Pakistan, I was watching a TV debate on the question of ‘what next?’  One of the panelists, a former Major General in Indian Army, suggested that since India has demonstrated its capacity to strike Pakistan deep inside its territory, it should respond positively to suggestions by the international community to find a way to avoid an all-out war. We should consider strategies for a long-term political solution to the Kashmir issue. Of course, this was a view contrarian to what had been generally trending on the national media. Towards the end of the debate, the anchor read out a message he received on his mobile from someone watching the debate., It roughly said, ‘we are fortunate that the Major General advocating talks is no more part of the Indian army. Had he been at the border, he would have started talks with the Pakistan army coming to attack India’.

The anchor asked whether the ex-soldier would like to respond. His response went something like this, ‘I have worn the military uniform for 37 years serving for six months in Siachen and 29 months in Kargil. I was commanding a unit in the Kargil war and had been picking up the bodies of fallen soldiers – up to 43 bodies on a single day… A soldier does not stand at the border to enter into talks with anyone. He has only one goal, that of defeating the enemy. Our discussions have been on a strategic level and not on a tactical level. Warmongering and the idea that we can just go and wipe out Pakistan is wrong. It should also be remembered that every soldier who dies leaves a widow and children who have lost their father. You might not be aware of their plight. It is easy to sit in the comfort of our homes and say that India should solve the Kashmir problem through military action….’

Jingoism might serve political interests by flaunting the impression of the muscularity of the leadership. The drama of chest thumping and the ‘Me Tarzan’ cries might impress the electorate and rake in rich dividends in the elections.  But I am not sure it can serve the strategic interests of the nation. Of course, we have killed more terrorists in Kashmir in the recent years. But we have also lost more soldiers and civilians during the period. Violence has been escalating and the number of incursions has been on the rise. We can showcase statistics to claim that we have killed more terrorists in comparison to the number of security personnel martyred. But can we really determine victory and defeat based on body counts? The Kashmir problem is essentially political. Can we really find a military solution to it? The more terrorists we eliminate, the more Kashmiri young men have been joining their ranks. The Kashmiri boy who threw a grenade into the Jammu Bus Stand yesterday (07.03.2019) was reportedly a 16-year-old ninth class student. Will more killing stop further radicalization?

We cry for war because we have not experienced war as a totality, unlike Europe or other countries in Asia such as Vietnam or Afghanistan. For India, “War has always been an activity at the border. It did not engulf our lives the way World War II corroded Germany or Russia… In fact, one wonders whether India as a society has thought through the idea of war. We talk of war as if it is a problem of traffic control… The aridity of the idea of security has done more damage to freedom and democracy than any other modern concept. Security as an official concept needs a genocidal count, an accounting of the number of lives and bodies destroyed in pursuing its logic. The tom-tomming of such words in a bandwagon society destroys the power and pluralism of the idea of India as a society and a democracy.”

People have been sold the delusion that a new and sinewy India would easily blast Pakistan out of existence. Most citizens believe it and have become its votaries, mostly under the mistaken belief that no war would affect them, their families or their future generations. So peace has become anathema and anyone suggesting a de-escalation of tensions an anti-national. The world is facing this Us-Versus-Them mythology. Our nation is also confronted by the same mythology. The corruption of language and the flag-waving patriotism we currently witness are integral to this myth. It seeks war, which may be against outsiders or our own citizens or both. So the tragedy is that the ire of the people itching for war does not spare even the family of the martyred soldiers.

The widow of one of the 40 victims of the suicide attack at Pulwama was viciously trolled for her view that a war should be avoided, as it would snuff out many more lives on both sides of the border, leaving women widowed, mothers without sons and children without fathers. The trolls even questioned her integrity and fidelity as a wife. It reveals the insensitivity of the people competing to scale newer heights on the ladder of ‘patriotism’. They simply cannot pause to think of the emotional state of a hapless woman shocked by the tragic death of her husband. We do not know whether the family received the body of the martyr intact.  If one cannot empathize with a woman whose husband lays down his life in the line of duty, what kind of patriotism are we talking about Sir? Is it not another myth?    

The mythology surrounding wars always speaks of glory, heroism, and self-sacrifice.  But the reality of war is its senseless barbarity and unrelenting savagery. Reports say that in the wars of the twentieth century, not less than 52 million civilians have perished against the death of 43 million military personnel. In other words, civilian death is nearly 20 million more in comparison to the death of combatants. Hopefully, that should put some sense into the skulls of the ultra-nationalistic armchair patriots, who think that the military would fight and die and only the homes of the soldiers will have widowed women, fatherless children and disconsolate parents. As a participant in a media debate the other day suggests, today if someone asks an average Indian whether India should nuke Pakistan, 70-80% are likely to say, ‘of course, we should’. But when they are also told of a likely retaliatory nuking that might kill 50% of the Indian population, devastate the 70% of the land and ruin life for the next 100 years, very few people would favour the idea of nuking Pakistan. There are no free lunches!  

Chris Hedges, a war correspondent, who had covered insurgencies and wars across the world writes in his book, ‘War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning’, “The rush of battle is a potent and often lethal diction, for war is a drug… peddled by mythmakers-historians, war correspondents, filmmakers, novelists, and the state — all of whom endow it with qualities it often does possess: excitement, exoticism, power … and a bizarre and fantastic universe that has a grotesque and dark beauty. It dominates culture, distorts memory, corrupts language, and infects everything around it… War exposes the capacity for evil that lurks not far below the surface within all of us.”

On ethnic conflicts and insurgencies, the author says, “They are manufactured wars, born out of the collapse of civil societies, perpetrated by fear, greed, and paranoia, and they are run by gangsters, who rise up from the bottom of their own societies and terrorize all, including those they purport to protect.” We know from what has been happening in Kashmir, that insurgency is indeed the product of the collapsed civil society of Pakistan. It is run by gangsters, who have risen up from the bottom of the society. India has the power to cause further damages to that failed state. Would it solve our problem in Kashmir? A collapsing society is likely to be more suicidal.

It is easy to convince generations raised on computer games and war movies that war is all thrill. No wonder the movie ‘Uri’ has been busting box-office records. Many tend to believe that the power to annihilate the enemy is at their fingertips. But the world knows better. The experience of a world power like the United States in the wars it fought proves the folly of wars. The wounds of Vietnam would continue to fester; Afghanistan has not been any better. How the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) in Srilanka was taken by surprise is still in the memory of many of us. President Trump did not choose to meet North Korean Chairman Kim Jong-un because the latter was more powerful than the US. Both are eccentric to a level; but both possess enough sense to know that there are no victors in a war. It is a great relief to the world that both have grown beyond their death wishes. Politicians tend to pamper their ego and play to win elections. They have mostly short-term goals. It is easy to make war, but making peace is hard.   

I recently came across an article written by the wife of a serving army man, who calls her soldier-husband her ‘boy’.  Let me conclude by presenting some excerpts.  She writes, “My heart skipped a beat when my father-in-law called up to give the news that there is news of an Air Force operation across the border. I stopped in my tracks and switched on the television. It was an air strike by the Air Force Warriors. I scrolled all the channels for news of any casualties. Negative. Then, I allowed myself a sigh of relief. I was just praying hard that there are no casualties. Amidst the trending hash tags of “not forgotten, not forgiven”, I may be amongst the minority who do not dare utter the dreaded word…

I forget to breathe when I hear him at 2 a.m. with all the noise in the background. I know he is somewhere outdoors, either in the snow or in the winds. His idea of luxury is a tin shed, and music to his ears is the voice of his two-year-old daughter…  The boy has left after living with me for two years out of six years of our marital life… My father has been bed-ridden after a heart attack. So I prefer to keep my terrors to myself…. I am scared to my guts, I am always teary eyed, vulnerable and praying a hundred times a day for the safe return. “We are proud of you,” I am told by a bureaucrat, who was helping me out for a place to live. “Do you think the government is doing enough for the cause of soldiers?” he asked. No one can do enough for the lives that are at stake always and the lives who survive behind with all the focus on the frontiers, I thought – but just murmured something.

I have had sleepless nights thinking of everyone else whose boys are out there. I feel no pride, only horror, when I look at his medals. Yuddhaya krit Nishchayah, the medal says, from the Bhagwad Gita, where Krishna tells Arjuna that, if you get wounded in the war you would attain heaven; if you are victorious you would rule the earth. So, get up and fight the war.

I want no wars. I only want all the boys to be safe.”


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