`Peace be with you'
BY the time this short piece appears in print we will know if we have taken one step closer to a war with Pakistan or taken two back from the edge. There cannot be a more depressing note with which a newspaper column ends the year: there can be no certainty about even a few days of "peace" in South Asia. The unfortunate part is that even if better sense prevails and an open war is avoided, this does not mean that India and Pakistan will be any closer to living in peace. It only means that we return to a situation which we seem to have become inured to over the decades: open animosity and permanent low-level conflict.
The strange thing about the widespread anger that has followed the December 13 terrorism is that while most middle or upper middle class Indians are usually contemptuous about politics and politicians, they have lost no time in displaying a hurt pride about the terrorist attack on Parliament. If only such anger was regularly channelled into making our democracy work better, perhaps we would be in much better shape. What we have instead is the frightening ease with which many of the defence (un)thinkers, media commentators and the jingoists have been able to whip up a war hysteria in which all of us are either active participants or silent accomplices.
A day or two after the December 13 attack, there was one of those TV shows in which pundits of different kinds answer questions from an audience. These programmes seem more useful for what they reveal of the minds of the (selected?) audience than for any informed debate. This one was true to form. A college student asked a question which went like this,``If the United States can bomb Afghanistan, if Israel can bomb Palestine, why do we hesitate to bomb Pakistan?''As I have subsequently learnt this is a widespread view. Even our former Prime Minister Mr. V.P. Singh, who these days likes to wear the cap of a wise senior statesman, has posed a similar question. There are many things horrifying about such a query. It takes for granted that the U.S. bombing of Afghanistan is just retribution for the murders of September 11. It says that Palestine deserves to be bombed and that Israel has nothing to answer for. And that all this applies as well to any Indian attack on Pakistan. (If it was disconcerting that a young Indian in his teens could articulate such a view, it was just as worrying that none in that TV panel of pundits even bothered to debate the premises of the question.)
The U.S. war on Afghanistan will henceforth confer legitimacy on the action that any country may take any where in the world in revenge for attacks on itself real, imagined or threatened and irrespective of whether or not the "target" country is guilty. That is the real legacy of the U.S. bombing not the end of the Taliban or the Al-Qaeda network. As an aside, do we know what the civilian casualties in such a war are? A friend recently referred me to a careful compilation of the civilian deaths in the bombing of Afghanistan. (Readers may want to see the site http://www.media-alliance.org/mediafile/20-5/index.html for this compilation.)
On a very conservative basis, the barest minimum number of innocents killed in Afghanistan between October 7 and December 3 was 3,752. The actual toll is likely to have been much more. Nobody is raising any questions about these dead civilians. Not the world media. and certainly not the United Nations. The Secretary-General, Mr. Kofi Annan, may have won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2001, but this year will also go down as one in which the U.N. finally lost its fig leaf of independence.
The civilian dead in Afghanistan number the same as the people murdered in the terrorists attacks in the U.S.. An eye for an eye then, except that we know that this is not going to end terrorism by fundamentalists. In much the same way, we all know that a limited war against Pakistan is not going to bring peace to Kashmir. Even when it comes to destroying training camps, senior Army officers tell us that these camps are little more than squares for drills and target practices. Bombing the camps will not wipe out terrorism. It only makes more likely the possibility of an open war between two nuclear powers and with that the eruption of an Armageddon in South Asia.
There must be something wrong when peace becomes a contrarian theme. But gloomy as such times are, one can only pray for peace in 2002. Miracles may indeed happen.
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