November Issue 2015
A Self-defeating Narrative
Military victories are viewed as the crowning jewels of nationalism. No wonder vanquished nation states often develop a collective amnesia to gloss over their monumental failures.
Contesting the legacy of wars seems to be a favourite South Asian pastime. Long after the guns go silent and the brigades return to their barracks, wars continue to rage in history books, national narratives and newspaper columns.
Yet all such grandstanding rings hollow when one considers the failure of both sides in attaining their grand strategic goal in the numerous wars. In Pakistan’s case it is to make India accede to its claims on Kashmir, while in India’s case it is to teach Pakistan a lesson for its interference in Kashmir. Neither side is closer to accomplishing what they set out to do today, than they were on the eve of Independence.
The march of glistening bayonets, the fiery rhetoric and the proud displays of the instruments of death at military day parades, hide an ugly truth about war. And that is: no one actually ever wins a war. Some lose more, some less so.
The wretched state the subcontinent finds itself in today bears testament to that. Both countries boast one of the most advanced military apparatuses on the planet and yet both fail to provide the most basic of services to their citizens. This is primarily because defence spending has always walked away with the lion’s share in budgetary allotments – at the expense of much needed social spending. It is worth mentioning that India, with a defence budget of $40 billion, is the largest military spender in the region and the biggest arms importer in the world today. This only amplifies Pakistan’s fears about its neighbour and induces it to follow suit.
Small wonder then that both Pakistan and India are at the bottom in all measures of the Human Development Index. It wouldn’t take a war historian to deduce that the mutual war hysteria gripping the countries has a lot to do with such misplaced spending priorities.
As a consequence, we have two countries with First World military arsenals and Third World governance. The introduction of nuclear weapons in the equation has only led to further brinkmanship on both sides. The India-Pakistan nuclear proliferation race may only be second to the American-Soviet one during the Cold War. Fortunately for the latter, the Cold War is over, while warmongers on both sides are still pining for more wars here. According to a recent estimate, Pakistan has the third largest number of nuclear stockpiles today. Ironic for a country that possesses the means of eradicating a belligerent country’s cities in a retaliatory strike, but struggles to find the means of eradicating polio. More than a billion people – approximately one in every seven people on the planet – live under the perilous nuclear shadow today.
Is the current leadership also condemned to repeat the mistakes of its predecessors in the past? The recently cancelled diplomatic dialogue between the two countries does not paint an encouraging picture. Lest we forget, wars become inevitable only when diplomatic options have been exhausted. A lot of ink has been spilled on who won or lost the wars between India and Pakistan. But a glorious chapter on who actually won the peace in the region, remains to be written. Till then any claims of victory are self-serving and, ultimately, self-defeating.
This article was originally published in Newsline’s November 2015 issue.