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July 22, 1999
Admiral J G Nadkarni (retd)
Kargil: After victory, let us be magnanimous
Bar the shouting, the Kargil crisis is practically over. Whichever way you look at it, India has emerged both strong and victorious. No doubt victory has been achieved at a great cost; an estimated 600 killed and many more wounded on the Indian side alone. Economically, the cost has yet to be calculated, but apart from the actual expenses of the battle, post-Kargil action to strengthen the defences of the border will easily set us back Rs 100 billion.
Yet, let us look at the bright side. There have been many advantageous side effects to the conflict. First, the country has never been as united as it is today. The instinctive outpouring of patriotism was similar to 1971. The armed forces finally got the attention they deserved. It is cynical to say so, but a war or action every few years keeps the armed forces on their toes. Long periods of peace, unfortunately, breed complacency and inefficiency in the fighting forces. War or near war is the occasional touchstone against which the combat efficiency of an army is tested.
Secondly, the war, ironically, gave the people of this country a long needed respite from politics and politicians. Non-BJP parties were reduced to making feeble noises in the background. Not sure of what they should do in the situation, the Congress made pathetic efforts to take credit for the Bofors gun, the mainstay of the artillery in Kargil. There was not even a squeak from Jayalalitha for over a month.
Inter-service cooperation was another highlight of the Kargil operation. Even though the Navy had little or not part to play in Kargil, it was good to see frequent pictures of all the three chiefs with the Raksha Mantri. Here too, India's luck held strong. In 1971, by a stroke of fortune the country found three outstanding chiefs, Manekshaw, Lal and Nanda at the helm of affairs, and history repeated itself in 1999. Just in time Malik, Tipnis and Sushil Kumar arrived on the scene to form an excellent team with George Fernandes, who is proving to be a fine Raksha Mantri. One just cannot imagine similar cooperation during the Bhagwat/Sareen era.
For Pakistan, this must have been a traumatic experience. In retrospect, it is obvious that Nawaz Sharief made the biggest blunder of his life. It is difficult to say whether he was a party to the plan or was an accessory after the act. It hardly makes any difference. He has had to eat humble pie and will now have to face the wrath of the people, the army and the Mujahideen. One cannot help but feel sorry for his predicament and his feeble efforts to salvage some credit out of his action.
The most important question now facing the Indian government is, what next. It is easy to gloat over Sharief's misfortune in the euphoria of a victory. A large section of our population would like nothing better than to rub Pakistan's nose in the mud and finish it off as a serious threat. Yes, the loss of precious Indian blood rankles, but nothing is more shortsighted than a vindictive policy after Kargil.
History is a great teacher and those who refuse to learn the lessons of history are condemned to repeat its tragedies. Winston Churchill was not only an outstanding politician but also a great student of history. The theme of his magnum opus, the History of the Second World War: in defeat -- defiance, in victory -- magnanimity.
The First World War was touted as 'the war to end all war." After the Allied victory in 1918, one of the most drastic and one-sided treaties was imposed on Germany, the defeated nation. The war reparations demanded were so enormous as to make Germany a bankrupt nation within a decade. It is now generally agreed that the rise of Nazism and of Hitler was the direct result of the Treaty of Versailles. Far from an end to all wars, the vengeful act of the Allies brought them into an even bigger conflict within 20 years.
The Allies learnt their lessons well. Although they lost more than a million men in the War, they desisted from seeking revenge after it was over. Apart from trying a handful of top ranking Nazi officers as war criminals, they did not take any action against Germany. In fact, within a few years they assisted in the economic rebirth of that country by bringing out the Marshal Plan. In the east too, despite the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, Americans satisfied themselves by imposing democracy and 'the American way of life' on the Japanese people. Of course, some may argue that introduction of rock music, baseball and McDonald's was punishment enough on Japan.
Today, both Germany and Japan are affluent members of the G8. Their people enjoy a high standard of living and respect all over the world. History has indicated time and again that magnanimity pays in the long run. Vengeance results in bitterness and a determination by the other side for revenge. Sadly, in India no one is in a mood for 'forgive and forget' in today's environment. For the political parties there is an election to be won. Any conciliatory gesture will be seen as a sign of weakness for the Opposition to jump upon. Thundering speeches, asking revenge for every drop of blood spilled by the jawans, go down well with the public.
For a worked up people, fed on scenes of bodies of soldiers returning home in coffins, the question of magnanimity does not arise. 'An eye for an eye' is the most common refrain. Magnanimity? Forgiveness? Ask the wife of Squadron Leader Ahuja, ask the mother of Captain Batra.
The point is, there are bound to be many more Ahujas and Batras, not to speak of Khans and Quereshis, in the future if we ignore the voice of reason after our victory today. We may indeed take a few moments to enjoy the embarrassment of Nawaz Sharief, but once that is over we must do everything to forget the past and once again build the broken bridges across our two lands. Is it really in our interest to see Nawaz Sharief fall? And what is the guarantee that he will not be replaced by an even more militant and ruthless government across the border? Lasting, or at least fairly durable, peace can only be achieved if both countries are stable and headed by strong governments and we must do everything to help our neighbour achieve that.
By his resolve, dignity and restraint, Atal Bihari Vajpayee has won the war. That was the easy part. Now by magnanimity and generosity let him win the peace.
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