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Give war a chance

January 30, 2004

After the much publicized Vajpayee trip to Islamabad, and the billing and cooing at the SAARC summit, the usual suspects claim that the Indian subcontinent ('South Asia' to them) is on the verge of becoming a land of milk and honey.

I am a little sceptical based on several historical precedents:

  • 'We have peace in our time,' Neville Chamberlain's irrational optimism about peace between Britain and Nazi Germany
  • al taqiyah (the well known and oft used tactic of lying for the greater good of Islam), and
  • Hudibiyah (the treaty that the Prophet of Islam himself signed; as soon as Muslims gained power, the treaty was unilaterally abrogated).

Therefore I say, 'Beware!', for, Greeks bearing gifts, or in this case Americans 'offering good services,' are not to be trusted. For a detailed case study of why American interests do not necessarily coincide with Indians (and I am putting that mildly) see Seymour Hersh's damning article from the New Yorker.

I can think of several plausible reasons for the charade of Pakistan seeking peace, and none of them does India any good. See also, 'Musharraf's Strategy,' in Bharat Rakshak ( ):

  • India may have given away, in a secret deal, some or all of the Kashmir valley to Pakistan. 'Land for peace' trades have never worked. For, next they will want Hyderabad, Malappuram, and so forth.
  • Musharraf may be under pressure from the Americans because of the daily revelations about nuclear proliferation to Iran, Libya, and North Korea which even Colin Powell can no longer sweep under the rug. 'Peace' with India is a diversionary tactic, especially in an election year for Bush.
  • Musharraf made it clear to his Pakistani audience when he made his U-turn on the Taliban that this was a tactical retreat under duress: he referred in his Urdu speech to Hudibiyah. The SAARC circus may be another Hudibiyah style maneuver
  • The SAARC show may be another piece of theater, like the staged assassination attempts, to show Americans that Musharraf is an invaluable 'front line ally against terrorism' and to extract more concessions out of them. The old scare tactic of 'If Musharraf falls, Islamist extremists will take over the Pakistani nukes!' Strange, considering that Musharraf himself is an Islamist extremist despite his Armani suits and Gucci shoes
  • This may be al taqiyah in action: lulling India into a false sense of security, whereas Pakistan has absolutely no intention of following up on its alleged commitments. After all, when Musharraf says there will be no 'terrorism,' consider his definition: according to him, all Pakistani terrorists are 'freedom fighters.' Therefore they couldn't possibly commit terrorist acts.

One could legitimately contend that in these 'peace' palavers, it is India that has caved in: it is normalizing relations, with none of its pre-conditions fulfilled, viz closing of terror camps in PoK, stopping of infiltration, or delivery of the twenty most wanted Indian criminals harbored in luxury by Pakistan.

The Indian government and a large section of its populace may be deluding themselves that it is possible to buy peace with Pakistan, through negotiation or unilateral concessions (samam and danam). The assumption is that the natural state of affairs is peace. Indians want to be left in peace, and they project this wish onto Pakistanis, assuming the latter desire the same, and indeed that all peoples wish to live in peace.

Alas, nothing could be further from the truth. Unfortunately, it is not axiomatic that all people and communities are interested in peace. I wrote a column on why the 2001 Agra Summit would fail ('Why the Agra Summit is doomed'), citing the example of two Pacific Island societies, the Maori and the Moriori.

In summary, the Maori invaded the Moriori's home, Chatham Island. The poor Moriori assumed that, like themselves, Maori invaders would be willing to live in peace. So they offered a treaty giving away land and other concessions to Maoris. On the contrary, Maoris were only interested in war, and so they promptly massacred the Moriori, and, for good measure, also cooked and ate most of them. I see no reason to believe Pakistanis are any more virtuous than Maoris.

Indeed, it is a sad fact that most of the world is like the Maori. For instance, the entire Muslim world believes that jihad is the normal course of events, and Islam explicitly states so. Although some claim that true jihad is an internal struggle, history is replete with examples of continuous warfare between Muslims and those of other religions and cultures: jihad as war to conquer non Muslims is a popular idea.

Here is a quote from an articulate Muslim: one M A Niazi ('Root remedies'), in Pakistan's The Nation. 'From the American point of view, Jihad is a terrible concept. It glorifies violence against them, and because it offers other-worldly rewards, its practitioners refuse to accept the logic of arms and force. From a rational this-worldly point of view, a suicide bombing, for example, is a total waste. But the would-be Shaheed is not fighting to win, but to obtain direct admission to Heaven. How can you argue with that?… Jihad is a well entrenched Muslim concept. Apart from the various Quranic injunctions, the corpus of Ahadith, not to mention the practice of the Prophet (PBUH) himself, there is a significant body of jurisprudential literature dealing with Jihad.'

This Niazi, by the way, accurately reflects the Pakistani army's perspective, and is therefore worth reading, bizarre as he may be. He recently wrote about Pakistan's goal of creating a vast monolithic Muslim state all the way from West Africa to Indonesia and regretted that only India, Israel and Burma were flies in the ointment.

Similarly, the Christian world traditionally lived in a state of unending war. Jihad-like war figures, for instance, in the Deuteronomy. Just look at the Christian world between the time of the Council of Nicae in the 4th century CE, and the time of the Martin Luther's 95 Theses in 1517 CE: non-stop wars and savagery in Europe. Thereafter, centuries of brutal colonial wars. Finally, two World Wars in a hundred years.

Sadly, Indian history is also replete with war. In the South, Pandyas, Cholas, and Cheras battled continuously for domination. Especially in the interregna between empires in the North, kingdoms practiced ritualized warfare. Ashoka's violent Kalinga campaign is legendary. After the Muslim invasion, medieval India endured unending war.

Even the greatest epics, the Mahabharata, the Ramayana, the Iliad, are full of warfare. Think of the wonderful films about war: All Quiet on the Western Front, Das Boot, Dr Strangelove.

A recent book, Ripples of Battle, by American war historian Victor Davis Hanson suggests with impressive factual support that war is a part of the human condition that no amount of idealistic preaching can will away. Hanson quotes Thucydides; clearly Kautilya must have subscribed to the same notion. Says Hanson, 'Blood must sometimes be shed. Peace, not war, is the historic aberration.'

'The story of the human race is war,' wrote arch imperialist Winston Churchill. 'Except for brief and precarious interludes, there has never been peace in the world; and long before history began murderous strife was universal and unending.'

But Indians seem to labor under the misconception that they are a peaceful people. They are not; this is a canard put about by some Buddhists (and we know what happened to them in Bamiyan and Nalanda and so on) and Gandhi. Pacifism sits awkwardly on Indians. Let me say this categorically, Indians are not peaceful. I have this on authority of all those peace-loving Pakistanis as well as the Old Left Comrades in the Indian media.

So if we are not peaceful, why on earth do we get so upset if the Americans say, "The Indian subcontinent is the most dangerous flashpoint on earth"? We should say, "Yes, that is true. You better be really really careful how you deal with us." Instead, Indians get extremely defensive, and try to prove that the region is not dangerous. Indians become ashamed, although brazenness is what is called for.

Note how much mileage General Musharraf has got out of the same theme: "Pakistan is the most dangerous nuclear-armed Islamist terrorist state in the world. I will start nuclear war with India or anyone else unless you give me lots of things." This works. Americans bend over backward to give him goodies. Ditto for North Korea, which says, "We are about to nuke Seoul." Americans bribe them with handsome handouts.

There is method behind this madness: irrationality as tactic. I think India needs to adopt this as well as the other standard tactic of lying through one's teeth. If you read the Seymour Hersh article I refer to above, you will see that lying is the preferred mechanism of the Americans, as well as the Chinese and the Pakistanis:

  • The Chinese merrily proliferate nukes to Pakistan; Reagan and Bush Sr certify year after year that China is doing no such thing
  • The Pakistanis merrily proliferate nukes to North Korea, Iran, Libya and probably Saudi Arabia; Reagan, Bush Sr and Clinton certify year after year that Pakistan does not have any nukes; so how could they possibly proliferate, the poor dears?
  • The Americans get 'undertaking' after 'undertaking' from Pakistan that they are not supporting terrorists, and will not do so in future. This is not worth the paper it's written on.

Yes, clearly this is what India needs to do to become a great nation. Smile nicely, promise good behavior, and then happily proliferate nukes to Taiwan, Japan, Vietnam and anyone else who has a bone to pick with the Chinese. Turnabout is fair play: surely we should let the Chinese enjoy their own ring of hostile nuclear neighbors.

Furthermore, we need to cultivate believable irra/tionality. This is why we need someone like George Fernandes, who is fairly wild-eyed and unpredictable, and known to harbor certain anarchic instincts. Nobody would believe avuncular Vajpayee if he threatened to nuke someone, but if Fernandes said this, well, you'd surely give it a second thought: for old Saint George might actually do it. And that of course is the essence of deterrence.

American military historian John Keegan says in Intelligence in War: 'Decision in war is always the result of a fight, and in combat, willpower always counts for more than foreknowledge… It is force, not fraud or foresight, that counts… Knowledge of what the enemy can do and of what he intends to do is never enough to ensure security, unless there are also the power and the will to resist and preferably to forestall him.'

In other words, carry a big stick, and be prepared to use it, and make people believe you will use it, too. The fact of the matter is that Pakistan cannot win any war with India, conventional or nuclear. Yet, we let this pathetic little failed state nag us to death. This shows an absence of will to take the necessary pain of war.

In the words of strategic affairs expert Brahma Chellaney, 'Global history testifies to the fact that peace is the outcome of war.  But for peace to prevail for a significant period, the war has to be decisive. The enemy has to be humbled and disarmed.  The peace the West is enjoying for almost 60 years is the outcome of World War II.  Unfortunately, India does not fight or even plan decisive wars.  That is the reason why Pakistan keeps coming back at India.'

The will and capacity to take the hits is something India displayed after Pokhran II. Then the usual suspects moaned that American sanctions would ruin India, so we should rollback our nuclear program. India stood firm, however. And surprise, surprise, this week the Americans entered into a comprehensive engagement with India in space, nuclear technology, and so forth, in effect putting India on par with NATO! Similarly, calling Pakistan's bluff will reduce this pit bull to a poodle in no time.

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Rajeev Srinivasan

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