Saturday, 5 September 2015

Fifty years on

THE 50th anniversary of the Indo-Pak war waged in 1965 is an opportunity to acknowledge and pay thanks for the sacrifices of the men and women who serve in the Pakistani armed forces. Fifty years ago, Pakistan lost nearly 4,000 soldiers. Those staggering losses, however, do not tell the full story. The strategic mistakes of the military leadership aside, the heroism and bravery of the soldiers and pilots who fought to defend Pakistani soil should not be forgotten. To those ordinary armed forces personnel who displayed extraordinary courage, the country will forever owe a debt. Fifty years on, the militant enemy continues to inflict losses on the armed forces. In Operation Zarb-i-Azb alone, several hundred soldiers are believed to have laid down their lives. Rarely has a country called upon its soldiers to sacrifice so much and so often. The determined rank and file, the valiant ordinary soldier — they have been and continue to be Pakistan’s heroes.
How best does a country honour its fallen and injured? By honestly and truthfully reckoning with the past — even as it recalls the courage and sacrifices of its defence forces. Fifty years on, both India and Pakistan appear to be in denial. Unwise and disastrous as operations Gibraltar and Grand Slam proved to be — the extraordinarily reckless attempts by the military leadership to try and unfreeze the Kashmir dispute or even militarily wrest India-held Kashmir from India — they did not occur in a vacuum. Specifically, India had refused to negotiate with Pakistan on Kashmir; it attempted to amalgamate India-held Kashmir via the courts and legal instruments; it attempted to grab territory in the Rann of Kutch in the run-up to the 1965 war; and it embarked on a massive military reorganisation and upgradation after the Sino-Indian war of 1962. All those factors contributed to the anxiety and urgency in Pakistani policy circles. Therein lies a lesson for both countries: when conflicts are allowed to fester, unintended consequences can cause them to reignite. Refusal to learn that lesson had further disastrous consequences: the Indian territory grab in Siachen region in the early 1980s is widely considered to be the genesis of the Kargil conflict a decade and a half later. Unwise decisions tend to have terrible consequences, often years later.
That bi-national failure to learn from history is once again on full display. A jingoistic Indian government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi seems to revel in India’s supposed military prowess. Meanwhile, a military stretched and under threat in Pakistan appears more interested in giving a befitting verbal and visual response to India than focusing on the domestic security challenge. It is a familiar, if distressing, cycle. Fifty years ago, Pakistan and India fought a second war, a thoroughly unnecessary one. Fifty years later, civilians continue to die along the Working Boundary and the Line of Control. If calm does prevail, the real challenge would be to end the cyclical nature of Indo-Pak relations.
Published in Dawn, September 6th, 2015

No comments: