Endless War

War is not an option for either Pakistan or India’. That was Shehbaz Sharif, Prime Minister of Pakistan. He was talking to a group of students from Harvard University in Islamabad. The delegation consisted of students from diverse origins and academic backgrounds. He emphasised on achieving ‘permanent peace’ in the region through dialogue. What he said to students who are likely to join the ruling elite club in future was anything but nonsense. Lasting peace in South Asia is next to impossible unless both India and Pakistan agree not to disagree on maintaining the status quo along the contested line of control (LoC). The sub-continent remained a flash point in the yester years and it will remain so in future as two parallel perceptions on territorial boundary cannot meet. Ironically in the same meeting Mr Sharif didn’t forget to place a rider saying in no uncertain terms that sustainable peace in South Asia was linked to the resolution of Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK).

India and Pakistan had already fought four wars over the control of territory, and permanent mistrust, not an atmosphere of co-operation and accommodation was created as a result of bloody partition. People in both countries live in a perennial state of animosity, not friendship. The enemy syndrome in both countries is so strong and deep rooted that a single spark can really start a prairie fire. People on both sides of the fence are living dangerously. The on-going argument over the future of what had originally been independent Kashmir before a part of it being absorbed by Pakistan and part by India is not going to end soon. The Kashmir insurgency backed by Pakistan is actually a proxy war. In other words it is an endless war and there is no solution. Diplomatic niceties cannot resolve the vexed question of Kashmir. What is required is political honesty and willingness but the sub-continentals show no urgency to improve their status in that area.

It is the legacy of partition. Around 16 million people made the move at the time of partition or in the years immediately after. The number of dead was about two million, according to a conservative estimate while women abducted or raped numbered 100,000, if not more. With so many people forced to move, and so many killed in the process, it was inevitable that the act of partition would have lasting impact for later generation. Partition triggered a series of events the consequences of which millions are still living with today. They talk of peace for the sake of talking. When it is the issue of Kashmir they would prefer to play with the gallery. At one stage there was hope of settlement when they signed the Shimla agreement but the late Bhutto simply backed out and the Shimla spirit was shelved forever.

Not for nothing both India and Pakistan maintain massive armies that face each other. Both countries are increasing their defence expenditures every year and modernising their armed forces by inducting sophisticated and costly military gadgets, at the expense of the people, poor people. In terms of global parameters both are at the bottom of the list. That is not their concern, what matters most to them is how to boost military budget. As per the report of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute—SIPRI—Pakistan holds about 100-120 atom bombs while India has about 90-100 nuclear weapons. So the fifth war between two most populous nations in Asia is likely to be nuclear. Whether the persons in power will resort to collective suicide is a different matter but once some personnel attached to the military establishment of Pakistan made it clear to Pervez Hudbhoy, the renowned anti-nuke activist that they would not hesitate to use nuclear options in case of a defeat.

For one thing the world is full of wars. War is the permanent scenario, not peace. And war is in reality state business. The global ruling elites cannot allow the people to live in peace and prosper. They will create enemy to justify their action. The military-industrial complex of America and other countries, not excluding Pakistan, will go bankrupt if there is no war. They need war—cold war or hot war. In Pakistan it is military that decides how long a civilian government even if elected through proper adult franchise, can survive. Interestingly, not a single prime minister in Pakistan since 1947 completed full term. The present turmoil in that hapless country illustrates among other things that military is the last word in Pakistani politics. Almost all military generals of Pakistan settle in foreign countries after retirement, with huge fortunes. The military establishment needs escalation, not tranquillity along the LoC. They spend huge amounts on military to keep tensions alive. The people of South Asia have no respite from being haunted by uncertainty and curse of war which may be limited or full-fledged. Then there is the emerging China factor. With the changing geo-strategic equation in the region, as America now backs India and China finds an all weather friend in Pakistan, tensions are likely to mount in the coming days, no matter what Shehbaz Sharif is saying, or not saying for public consumption.

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Vol 55, No. 10, Sep 4 - 10, 2022