Armageddon of arrogance

The tragedy in the northern-western quarter of South Asia came closer to being converted into a catastrophe for all of South Asia during the month of May. For, let us accept this as fact, the tensions of India and Pakistan have very little to do with life outside of the Hindi-Urdu belt. Two peoples across the borders of Punjab have the deepest dislike for each other because they are so like each other, and this is what gives fuel to the India-Pakistan animosities which could easily turn all of the rest of us into cinder. These two twin peoples, to cover up their visceral dislike, use the cover of religion to defy and denigrate each other. Allah and Ram are exploited for the sake of nationalist pride. The excuse of less than a million Kashmiris in the Vale is considered by Islamabad and New Delhi to be reason enough to drag 1400 million South Asians (counting 1000 million Indians) to the brink of nuclear war. This lack of imagination is stupefying but sadly real. What is the use of going to war over Kashmir, or forever using it as the excuse to call up war, when both Islamabad and New Delhi know that the Kashmiris themselves would prefer to be autonomous from both? Only an imperfect democracy like India would deliver an entity such as the Bharatiya Janata Party, so cynically capable of drumming up war fever to put the naked shame of post-Godhra Gujarat behind it. And only the under-educated strategists who today control all our collective fate would advise raising the rhetoric to such a level that any terrorist group could have the privilege of starting a nuclear war that will kill millions – the room for manoeuvre has been so restricted by loud talk out of New Delhi that India will have to go to war if there is, god forbid, another vicious terrorist attack on innocents or an assassination of a national political personality. Lacking the self-confidence to address the problem of Kashmir and its separateness, even as recognised by Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, the political elite of India find it comforting to dare a smaller neighbour that has a massive inferiority complex. Such is the state of immature democracy that the part of this elite that makes up the media and the political opposition cannot speak up in the face of war hysteria, for fear of being labelled anti-national.

Meanwhile, what of the neighbour that is not even a democracy, which is shack-led by a theocratic state ideology, and nurses an infantile grudge against India that is larger than India itself? Defined by a brittle superstructure which relies on the alertness of one man, a general metamorphising into a politician, Pakistan is an unstable adversary at the best of times. The post-11 September scenario makes it only much more insecure. This is a country which for a long time openly allowed jehadis to operate training camps, and abetted infiltration across the Line of Control to defile the very nature of Kashmiriat, knowing fully well the catastrophic whirlwind this may reap. It is a country which can propound the atavistic principle of first-strike, and which will test three missiles over three days in the middle of the most tense stand-off ever. It is better for New Delhi to talk to such an unstable adversary than to display a bellicosity which can lead to all-out war.

To repeat, this is really a war between similar peoples across the Punjab border. It is time for the Balochi, the Sindhi, the Bengali, the Tamil, the Asamiya and the Nepali to refuse to go along with someone else's angst and agenda. Both New Delhi and Islamabad must get the message – if we should all survive this bout to live another day – that representative and responsible government means speaking for all the people. The firefight between New Delhi and Islamabad will not serve the interests of all the people of India, Pakistan and South Asia. The war of words has come awfully close to being a war of warheads. It is time to come to collective our senses.

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Himal Southasian