The Drums of War

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Those of us who will be alive after the war being forced on us by India will lament the sheer helplessness of the lack of cogent reason for India to consign millions of Pakistanis and Indians to their death. Even as war hysteria engulfs India, or at least that part of India where BJP’s Hindu chauvinism is very much manifest, Pakistan remains a sea of calm. With war seemingly imminent people are going about their business unbelieving that death from the skies may rain down on them at any moment. To a great extent this epitomizes the absolute calm within the present Pakistan government, belied even by the headlong fall of the stock market. If there is fury in Pakistan at the Indian obduracy it is displayed in resigned disappointment rather than equivalent belligerent rhetoric. Exhorted to prepare the Pakistani public for war by at least initiating visible civil-defence measures, the President demurred. He was not going to initiate panic, that would be dancing to the Indian tune. While Mr Majid Nizami and a couple of senior media personalities have always maintained a constant principled stand through the years without any fear or favour, some others suddenly found their voices and went over the fail-safe line due to his position and person, mistaking the President’s calm approach as a sign of weakness. Unlike some of his predecessors, khaki-clad and mufti alike, Pervez Musharraf readily accepts objective criticism if it is made without motivation, his patience defines the measure of his persona, calm in the face of danger. Not everyone remains cool under fire.

The briefing by the Director General Military Operations (DGMO) Pakistan Army made the hitherto “possible” war into a real-time issue. Hoping that it would be limited to Indian action across the LOC in Kashmir, the military hierarchy are quite prepared for a worst-case scenario, an all-out attack across the international border. Into his 80s and with one foot visibly in the grave, Indian PM Atal Behari Vajpayee exhorted the Indian Armed Forces, mostly in their 20s and 30s to “fight a decisive war and win victory” (sic against Pakistan). In any conventional war between India and Pakistan there will certainly be many more civilian casualties than military ones but in case of nuclear exchange, and there is no guarantee that any limited war will not escalate into a general all-out war and than into a nuclear one, there will be hundreds and thousand times more civilian casualties than military ones, innocents caught in the crossfire of unnecessary conflict. The number of dead and wounded in a nuclear exchange in densely populated South Asia may exceed in one day that equivalent to the number of casualties in the entire Second World War.

The Jammu incident is as suspect as was the Dec 13 Parliament attack in New Delhi. With five months out in the field the Indian Armed Forces had become somewhat restive, it is no secret that even senior commanders were questioning the BJP-led Government’s motives at keeping them out in the sun for so long. When any major foreign dignitary came visiting, very coincidentally there is a “terrorist” incident in India or Occupied Kashmir. With US Assistant Secretary of State Christine Rocca visiting New Delhi, three gunmen got off a bus near an Army Camp in Jammu and started shooting women and children. Apart from the timing, this attack on families was a first for the indigenous guerilla movement. What it did do was to inflame passions of Indian servicemen and citizens alike, against Pakistan. It served another purpose, putting a stop to the growing cacophony among the Indian military for return to peace-time locations.

The President seemed satisfied with our defence effort in the south, the fact is that the military remains in the same Ravi-Chenab corridor mindset that prevailed pre-1971, the defence of the east lies in the west, this time around it is of the south that lies in the north. Strange that two leaders from major political parties of Sindh, Ms Benazir and Altaf Hussain, have not come out for the past six months in either open condemnation of the Indian Armed Forces on our borders or giving unstinted support to our Armed Forces in their hour of greatest trial. A couple of my Sindhi friends took exception to my mentioning a 1971-like situation. No one was questioning the patriotism of Sindhis, particularly with the experience of very brave and effective Hur companies attached with the rifle company (of 44 Punjab now 4 Sindh) I had the honour of commanding in the desert in the vicinity of Umarkot and Chor in Dec 1971. The silence of these two leaders is rather deafening, one would like to hear patriotic rhetoric with some fervour from the daughter of the man who had vowed to fight India for a thousand years if need be! Or was that rhetoric just for public consumption? It is disappointing to see Altaf Hussain walking to a different beat of the drum than that which brought his immediate ancestors to the land of their dreams. If my perceptions are wrong, I very happily render an unconditional apology.

India is poised to attack Pakistan, it is not holding back because of any restraint from the US and other world powers. While it is true that China has excellent relations with India, they are always sensitive to very subtle and unexplained Chinese “troop movements”. India knows that India is no Israel and Pakistan is not Palestine, Pakistan Armed Forces will not only exact a heavy toll, there will be no surety of even a face-saving “victory” for India. Unlike previous years when Pakistan matched India’s bellicose rhetoric, this time there is the absolute calm of self-confidence in and around the rank and file of the Pakistan Armed Forces (and the government). This calm is contagious as it has shored up national confidence. We are David to India’s Goliath! India is the bully on the block, we are the underdogs.

What would a military campaign be like? Expert world opinion predicts a limited war in Kashmir across the LOC. We can hold any Indian offensive all along the front, and even if temporarily we give ground locally in some area, it will be quickly regained. Moreover we have “home-side advantage” all over Kashmir. If the Indians come across the international border, our forces are well balanced in having a defense and offense capability in almost equal numbers all along the line. Motivation will play a part, our soldiers will be fighting to preserve the freedom of their hearth and home. What will be the motivation of the Indians to fight Pakistan? Because of overwhelming numbers in combat aircraft, India may be able to inflict some economic damage in the short time it takes for PAF to establish air superiority over Pakistan’s air space, not to say we will not exact our pound of flesh. The Pakistan Navy has shed itself of its 1971 memories and a half dozen plus submarines alongwith shore-based aircraft having Exocet and Tomahawk missiles will inflict serious damage on any Indian naval vessels trying to enforce a blockade on Karachi. In short India will be biting more than it can safely chew.

War is no solution, dialogue is. The Kashmir problem remains between us and economic emancipation for South Asia’s masses, we need to come to grips with it. For the moment the geriatric Indian leadership is hell-bent on destroying the lives of the youth of the sub-continent to achieve their-own narrow-minded vision of Indian hegemony over the region, this as a prelude to becoming a credible world power. One has news for the Indian leadership, nations seldom become world powers by going to war. The legitimacy of a Superpower lies in preventing conflict, in the region and in the world. One hopes, without much optimism, that better sense will prevail.

Mr. Ikram Sehgal is Publisher and Managing Editor of Defence Journal (Pakistan).

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