10 lessons from the Pakistan-India standoff

1 Apr, 2019

.. by Raza Muhammad Khan

The Indian attack at Balakot on 26 Feb has underscored numerous lessons for our instruction. Prominent among them are: One; ‘As bilateralism has repeatedly failed in the subcontinent because of the fixated Indian mindset about prior conditions for dialogue, multilateralism is the only choice left for conflict resolution ’. Hence, friends of India, particularly the US and Russia , should counsel it, for their own interests, as follows : That third party mediation and arbitration is a norm in corporate businesses, the world over to settle disputes, that individual disagreements too, are referred to third parties or judicial courts for final pronouncement, that these are proven methods to hear opposing arguments for easing friction, finding harmony, narrowing of differences, providing outside perspective and suggesting ways to break the impasse.

Further, due to the UN’s ineffectiveness, the P5 could ask Pakistan and India to choose mutually agreed neutral arbitrators to build consensus on resolution of contentious issues, failing which, their judgement could be accepted as final and binding. The UNSC could thereafter pass a new resolution to guarantee the implementation of such accords. If the more intricate issue of Kashmir cannot be immediately resolved, it must be managed through the same means and processes, to reduce or control instability in South Asia, with its dangerous nuclear environment. Concomitantly, this matter may need ‘transformation’, which involves modification of perceptions about the futility of using force to settle disputes. Two; ‘we must learn from historical evidence and accept what Thomas Jefferson had realized once: that war is an instrument, entirely inefficient towards redressing wrong, and multiplies instead of indemnifying losses’. While US now seems to be convinced about this aphorism, at least to end the war in Afghanistan, India is stubbornly stuck in Kashmir, for over 7 decades, with no success or end in sight.

Yet, it irrationally rejects impartial investigations of CFL violations by UN military observes , suppresses the wishes of 10 million Kashmiris for freedom , tags them as terrorism, contemptuously rejects the UN and OIC resolutions on the matter and prefers warmongering over negotiations . Three; ‘tell the truth and shame the devil, as even state sponsored lies get exposed’. While India claimed killing hundreds of militants through airstrikes, Reuters and Associated Press, among other international news agencies conclusively stated that these claims weren’t backed by evidence. Senior Indian spokespersons could not rationalize their assertions on the matter either, when questioned by their journalists, about proof of the success of their pre-emptive (read pre-election) raid. Perhaps, like the false US claims of Saddam’s WMDs, which led to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, Indian statements, about presence of terrorists at Balakot, were also based on fake intelligence. Four; ‘Pakistan has demonstrated that it cannot be petrified, so its nemeses must shun their arrogance and shouldn’t dare to mess with it in the future’.

If they do, it will hurt them more, as Pakistan has also displayed its resolve of striking back harder. Five; ‘treating merely the symptoms and not the causes of the violence in Kashmir by India has further complicated and globalized this core issue. Thus, unless it reassesses its Kashmir policy and undertakes internal security and human rights audits, it will face more violence ’. The pre and post Pulwama reprisals have compelled thousands in Kashmir to die for their freedom and target the security forces, particularly the infamous ‘pallet gunners’. Six; ‘give peace through the ballot a fair chance’. As the cost of a future war will be intolerable, people should choose those in elections, who consider peace as a vital national interest that is subservient to their political interests. An enduring peace will be possible if pacific resolution of disputes is included in election manifestoes, which are fulfilled. In case such pledges are breached, the people have an obligation to call loudly for peace and exercise their democratic right to ask for a change. Rulers and the ruled in the sub-continent must have conviction in this maxim. Those who don’t shall gravitate towards wars. Seven; ‘Politicians must exhibit statesmanship and assign the lead role in national security affairs to patience and prudence and not to what is wished by the media or the masses influenced by it’.

This lesson is more relevant in India, due to its many dimwitted and frenzied television anchors. In the present information age, where freedom of expression is mostly assured, media owners, television commentators, news reporters and journalists have a greater responsibility to prevent wars through honest, objective, unbiased and truthful reporting. If this doesn’t happen, more government regulations may be appropriate. Eight; ‘in decisions related to war and peace, the collective will of the masses cannot be entrusted to a few’. War is indeed too important to be left to the military alone, but it cannot be entrusted entirely to politicians either, who tend to mix politics with war and lack the skills to conduct it. Thus, a thorough debate by the cabinet and in Parliament, before opting for war, along with its cost and benefits should be a mandatory constitutional requirement.

Conspicuous violations of these notions by India were noted. Nine; ‘The Indian aggression has set a clear precedence for Pakistan to respond offensively, to deter future Indian terrorism inside Pakistan against the CPEC or elsewhere’. This could have its own dangers and dynamics. Finally; ‘if Pakistan wants peace, it has to prepare for war’. However, since it cannot afford an arms race with India, it will be more important for it, how it uses what it has, than how much it holds. This will include its national unity, though that is always promoted by Indian belligerence. Ultimately, leaders of the sub-continent must accept the responsibility for a better future for their people and work together for amity. By learning from these lessons, they can ensure that the prospects and hopes of peace are aligned and enhanced.

— The writer, a retired Lt Gen, is former President of National Defence University, Islamabad.

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