It is astonishing how our Pakistan policy oscillates between inanity and belligerence. The government recently said that if Islamabad was sincere in tackling terror, it should at least hand us over Dawood Ibrahim, Sayeed Salahudeen, and other terrorists who are Indian citizens and residing in that country. As if the Pakistan generals have suddenly become followers of Mahatma Gandhi and the deep state in Pakistan has become dysfunctional! The demand was in line with the pre-Balakot pro-forma outbursts of ‘strong condemnation’.
Till a few days ago, after Balakot, the mood in the government and the mainstream media was diametrically opposite to such stupefaction. In fact, many politicians and public figures glorified belligerence and almost propagated war in the aftermath of Balakot. This is not to say that India should unilaterally give up the option of armed conflict with Pakistan, which is simply adamant on its death-by-a-thousand-cuts doctrine vis-à-vis India. But such a conflict should be the last option, not the first one. For war is usually exciting for those who don’t have to fight it. TV news anchors, social media warriors, and garrulous ‘deshbhakts’ need to realise this truth.
Much of war glorification emanates from the lack of knowledge about the past. Consider a few facts: in our history as an independent nation, the total human loss we have suffered is in the region of 10,000. In comparison, in World War I, the victorious Allied and Associated Powers lost 5.14 million lives, whereas the Central Powers suffered the death toll in excess of 3.38 million. France, with a population of 39 million, alone lost over 1.3 million people. Many more were wounded — about 21.2 million on both sides.
Almost every family in Europe was affected by the Great War. This was the reason that Europeans were terrified of going to another war, resulting in the policy of appeasement, which the Nazis under Adolf Hitler capitalised upon. But another war couldn’t be averted; it brought even more death and devastation. The fatalities were between 40- and 50 million.
The point I am trying to drive at is that India, thankfully, did not suffer because of wars as much as the West did in the last century: our wars lasted a few weeks, theirs for years (World War I, four years, and World War II, six years); our casualties were in thousands, theirs in millions, even crores. Practically untouched by the horrors and destruction of war, many of us see it as a heroic enterprise — a Sunny Deol shouting and shooting down bad Pakistanis. In actual fact, it doesn’t happen that way.
Many of the folks — loud anchors, ‘sanskari’ nationalists, et al — may find it easy battling the enemy from television studios, but in the real combat, they will have a tough time. This brings us to the question: why should war be the first resort?
As mentioned earlier, it should be the last resort, taken recourse to in the event of failure of all other options. Unfortunately, the February 26 strike took place without exercising other options. In fact, before that day, India didn’t do anything that could have hurt Pakistan in any manner. New Delhi didn’t even sever diplomatic relations with Islamabad, let alone do anything more substantive. Just notice the preposterousness of our stand: we want the US to declare Pakistan a terrorist state but we don’t do that ourselves.
We didn’t even act on the issue of most favoured nation (MFN) for a long time. India granted Pakistan the MFN status in 1996, but the gesture was never reciprocated. It was only after 23 years, in the wake of Pulwama, that India revoked the MFN status to its neighbour and then increased duties, leading to massive increase in tomato prices over there. Why didn’t we do that earlier?
The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) is the richest cricket board in the world. This affords us huge leverage to make Pakistan a pariah in international cricket. But no government at the Centre has used this to pressurise Islamabad. No cost has ever been imposed on Pakistan for its nefarious proclivity of fomenting trouble in India.
To be fair to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, he has been able to rattle Pakistan, even if Islamabad’s version is accepted that the Balakot strike didn’t cost it anything. The shutdown of its airspace is proving expensive for everybody, including India, but it is hurting Pakistan much more because of its shaky economy and bankrupt government. So, even though the Balakot strike was premature, it has proved successful to the extent that now the Pakistanis realise that their export of terror to India won’t be without any cost.
War, they say, is the continuation of politics, policy, and diplomacy by other means. India ought to persistently and consistently pursue the war by other means — and shouldn’t be dazzled by enchantments like ‘aman ki asha’.
(The author is an editor, Power Corridors. Views expressed are personal)