War is no sport

Posted on October 2, 2016

You wake up one morning to the Indian claims that its soldiers had crossed the Line of Control and carried out attacks on Azad Kashmir soil. What comes to your mind immediately? Yeah, after bloody hell. War. Nuclear war. That is exactly what occurred to me.

As the day passed by and we saw an intelligent and timely rebuttal by the Pakistani state, folks like me heaved a sigh of relief. War, although possible, was not imminent. As the Indian side furnished its version with further details things became clearer. Despite the misapplication of term surgical strikes, the assault, if any, was not very different from past skirmishes in which both sides occasionally were accused of briefly trespassing each other’s controlled territory. More contradictions emerged. It was like a Bollywood movie plot, longwinded, full of drama and quite often utterly implausible. But hey it is their people; they can tell them whatever tall tale they want to, thought I. If a shaky claim can help them control the war hysteria, who am I to judge. My state had already said it had responded in accordance with the rules of engagement and if it chose to act further I would know. So no immediate war.

But then I started paying attention to the Indian electronic media. It was nothing short of a madhouse. I have not seen media men so ecstatic in my life before. Loud, silly and obnoxious. This is supposed to be the crème de la crème of the world’s largest democracy? This lot was not in a rush to de-escalate the situation; it was piling on. But it could be a pretense. An act. To win people’s trust before bringing tensions down. To check I decided to carry out a small experiment. I pressed the mute button and focused on the body language of the participants. This is where you spot the difference between acting and genuine glee. But there they were. The usual tics symptomatic of real excitement. They were happier than they usually are when their cricket team beats Pakistan.

But hang on. War is no sport. Any military confrontation, even when not threatening to spiral out of control, has serious consequences. Even children are aware of certain consequences of their actions. Was this lot even less developed than a child? What can cause such tremendous damage that they don’t mind celebrating something that has a potential to exacerbate human suffering? Answer comes readily in the shape of two men. Narendra Modi and Ajit Doval. The two self-styled strongmen. Modi, the conqueror of Gujarat. Usual disclaimers apply. And Doval. The international man of mystery. The one who boasts of staying undercover in Pakistan for years. Both devoid of compassion. Both full of hate for their next door neighbour. They came to power with the help of corporate India, appealing to people’s basest instincts, conditioned media to their own taste, installed yes men where they found resistance and recipe for disaster was ready. This is how Hitler came to power. This is exactly what he was selling. The world refused to see him for what he was in time. The world refuses to see these gents for what they are now. Consequences? You know better than to ask.

Of course Pakistan is not beyond reproach. We have done things that often come back to haunt us. In doing so we were seldom alone but that is no excuse. Problem is my penitent generation has paid price most of its adult life and wants to a build a modern, progressive future. Among almost 200 million people there must be many like that. Why should anyone then try to dehumanise us? Truth is it took a lot of stupidity to provoke India in the past. Now mere mention of Kashmir provokes them. Rebutting their harebrained narrative provokes them. What form of democracy is that? This brinkmanship was once characteristic of our polity. India used to show maturity. Now it seems both nations have swapped their souls. This is exactly what happens when you bring into power someone who was banned from entering many democratic countries only until two years ago. So this war hysteria is far from over.

And this brings Ghalib’s following verse to mind: Humne maana ke tagaaful na karoge lekin khaak ho jayenge hum, tumko khabar hone tak (Though I believe you may not ignore me, but I will turn into ashes by the time you understand my plight).

Published in The Express Tribune, October 1st, 2016.