Kerala’s greatest living poet, K.Satchidanandan burst into poetry after the Pulwama war as many others had done before him after other wars. Pandavas and Kauravas in Kurukshethra eminently suit the description of Indians and Pakistanis in the killing fields of Kashmir.
“At the end of the war
When the counting of dead bodies
began, the Pandavas and the Kauravas
beat their brows together in horror.
“Why did we fight at all?” asked
the Pandavas. “How did
they die?”, asked the Kauravas.
“Whose cruel deed was this?”,
enquired the Pandavas. “Who
was behind it?”, enquired
the Kauravas. “Aren’t we kin?”,
Pandavas wondered. “Aren’t we
neighbours?”, wondered the Kauravas.
“Our rivers are the same,” said
the Pandavas. “Our languages
are the same,” said the Kauravas.
“Our house was on the
other bank of the river,”
remembered the Pandavas.
“Ours too,” echoed the Kauravas.”
(“Then they cleaned their guns and started shooting at each other again”, says the Malayalam version.)
The tragedy and the futility of the war apart, the balance sheet is important for the strategists and thinkers. We cannot be as impartial as the poet as it is fundamental to the survival of our nation as a secular country and we have to win the war one day.
Truth is the first casualty in every war, as in accounts of peace negotiations. The narrator always wins against his opponent. Nobody is good at counting when it comes to war and the Pulwama was no exception. The number of casualties on Valentine’s Day varied from 36 to 44, but it was cruelly rounded off to forty. The terrorists killed in the Indian attack was in the range of 1 to 300, but the Air Force, we were told, was not in the business of counting dead bodies and it was the job of the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), something unheard of before. I thought the job of the MEA was to prevent war, not to count the dead bodies. In the event of war, the MEA merely gave the figures given by the Ministry of Defence to friends and foes. As for aircraft, India lost a MIG 21, while Pakistan lost an F 16. India also lost a helicopter somewhere, but not in action. Another MIG 21 crashed after the war as “flying coffins” do.
After the numbers game remained unresolved the question arose as to who won the war. Of course , according to us, India did as we lost fewer men and planes. We gave a fitting reply to Pakistan and the one pilot taken into custody by Pakistan was received as a hero on the Wagah border. Pakistan said it won because they killed BSF men, shot down an Indian pilot, killed many on the Indian side of the border and launched a peace initiative by returning the pilot. The world thought it was a “draw” between the cricketing and nuclear armed neighbours and asked everybody to stay quiet.
Speculation was that Pakistan planned everything to ensure that PM Modi does not win the election. It seems to have had the opposite effect. He fought F16 with MIG 21 and showed his mettle. He did not even ask for the return of Abhinandan. He went around electioneering with the pictures of Pulwama martyrs as backdrops. Everything was left to the brave soldiers, he said. Rafael appeared to disappear as an election issue. He claimed to have the nation’s business at hand and the opposition did not even have the Parliament to disrupt.
As for Imran Khan, the return of Abhinandan was a back spin which sent the opponents in a tizzy. At least some in India thought he was gracious in defeat and victory."It is just not cricket" is what would be said in English if anything unfair or unjust is done by a person, who is otherwise fair and honest, as cricket is supposedly a gentleman's game. Having to say so to a world famous captain of a leading cricketing country is paradoxical and even painful. But that is what we have to say to Imran Khan in the aftermath of the Valentine's Day gift he presented to India this year. Even if we concede that he is only the Prime Minister of Pakistan, who does not necessarily know all that his country does, he cannot escape the responsibility for providing a mask to the Pakistan army to engage in unlawful activities and to wage aggression after India retaliated to the terrorist attack.
There was some expectation that Imran Khan would be different from other Pakistan leaders because of his basic decency and popularity in India. But those who know how he became Prime Minister will understand that he did not have much of a choice. When he first tried to assume power as a messiah of change and peace, he did not make any headway and it was the compromise he made with the deep state in Pakistan that made him the Prime Minister.
It is India which remains Khan's biggest foreign policy challenge. He cannot move an inch on the Kashmir issue as the army is dependent on it for its very existence. Terrorism is the alternative to war for them. The entire world is aghast at the thought of a nuclear war between two nuclear-armed neighbours and therefore, war is not an option.
Reaching out to New Delhi is a path fraught with risk for civilian leaders in Pakistan, where foreign and defence policies are dominated by the powerful military. Many analysts believe that it was former PM Nawaz Sharif's strong advocacy for better India ties that earned him the wrath of the military. It had also prompted vociferous criticism from Khan, who accused Sharif of trying to please India at the expense of Pakistan's interests. For these reasons, the prediction was that India-Pakistan relations will deteriorate under Khan's watch. The present indications are that the prediction will come true.
"I was a little saddened by the way the Indian media portrayed me, as if I'm a villain in a Bollywood film," the new PM acknowledged in his victory speech. But in an apparent about-turn after his poll victory, Khan has advocated peace as the only way forward. "Pakistan and India must dialogue and resolve their conflicts including Kashmir... and start trading", he tweeted once.
Imran Khan's posture after the terror attack was predictable. He stated that Pakistan would retaliate with full force if India launched an attack and did exactly that when he ordered an air attack on Indian military installations. but given his penchant for "googlies" he surprised everyone by readily returning AbhinandanVarthaman, with a declaration that he had done it for the sake of peace. At the same time, he continued to bombard our borders and ordered no respite to terrorism. It would have been a great gesture if he had announced that he would stop the support to terrorists on Pakistan soil, as his predecessor had promised. Khan did not get any credit for releasing Abhinandan because it was attributed to the pressure exerted on him by the US, Saudi Arabia and China. President Trump had let the cat out of the bag when he announced that he was expecting some good news minutes before the news of the release hit the news waves. India took the position that Pakistan had no choice but to release the prisoner of war as we released the huge number of POWs in 1972. India did not even thank the Pakistan Government for the release of Abhinandan. But the fact is that public opinion in India was grateful to Imran Khan for the gesture, as they had expected worse from him.
The curious thing about the whole episode was that a resolution was submitted to the Pakistan Parliament, recommending Imran Khan for the Nobel Prize for Peace for de-escalating tension with India, even when intensified firing was continuing on the border. Self-serving recommendations for the Nobel Prize for Peace are common in election days. The nominees may never get the Nobel Prize, but the candidates concerned may get some extra votes!
If only Imran Khan had the authority and if he was not indebted to the army and the fundamentalists, Khan would have emerged as a peacemaker. But the best we can hope for is a pre-Valentine’s Day situation, at least till the elections in India are over.
In the meantime, the voice of human grief cries out as the legendary Ayyappa Panikkar wrote in Kurukshethra: “Give us our happiness, O Lord, Give us our happiness.”