For his devastatingly critical book on the South Asian Subcontinent and its peoples, Nirad Chaudhari chose an intriguing title: The Continent of Circe. Who or what was or is Circe? When I bought the book many years ago, I found Circe was an enchantress who lived on the island of Aeaea in the Aegean Sea. When fog and storm took Odysseus to her island lair, she caused his companions to lose their human form, and thus began one more of the many ordeals of Odysseus. This is Greek mythology and, for Nirad Chaudhari, an interesting allegory for the subject of his book.
Myths and allegories apart, even a cursory survey of the major political events of South Asia during this century does suggest in one’s mind an image of a Subcontinent that is, indeed, under some kind of spell that inhibits good and promotes evil. It is, however, not a spell cast by an enchantress. It happens to be wholly self-induced and fostered by a kind of death-wish such as the one that drives lemmings to the sea.
Only in February this year Indians and Pakistanis were seen sobbing on each other’s shoulders like long-lost cousins. In that fitful fever of friendship they signed as many as three documents, and found no less than 20 points of agreement. But good things are not meant to last for long in the Continent of Circe. Now, only four months later, they are foaming at the mouth and scraping the ground under their feet like two ill-tempered bulls, moments before charging at each other.
All the ingredients of a full-scale war fell into place: a long-festering dispute, apparently not amenable to resolution through peaceful means; failure and suspension of diplomatic efforts to remove the immediate cause of an ongoing localised armed conflict; the two armed forces moving closer to each other and to the expected battlefields; and, worst of all, an ever-worsening hate campaign in the media.
We have been there before, time and again, during the last 52 years, for we keep vacillating vigorously from the threshold of peace to the brink of disaster with equal zeal and ease. This time round, however, the brink is much higher and more hazardous, both literally and figuratively. Conscious of the consequences of a wider conflagration, the Pakistani media has, for a change, shown greater sense of responsibility as all the leading dailies, with one exception, have counselled restraint and caution.
The Indian media, no less conscious of the consequences, has chosen to give free rein to its ability to incite the people and encourage the government to solve the problem of Pakistan once and for all. The consequences are acceptable on the assumption (The Times of India, 16 June) that “escalation will impose additional costs for both India and Pakistan but the burden will be proportionately much higher for the latter”. Hindustan Times, in its editorial of 14 June, has given an advice that expresses the dominant view today in India. Without mincing words, it advised: “It is important that India not fight on Pakistan’s terms that could make Indian soldiers fodder for the Pakistani cannons. The Indian military should be allowed to pursue a strategy to fight on its own terms with the goal of not only recovering the lost territory but proving the Pakistani aggression to be a highly costly misadventure unsuitable for replication in the future.” The editorial concludes with these ominous words: “Kargil has left India with no choice but to do what it failed to do in the past.”
Meanwhile, public sentiments are also being aroused against Pakistan almost on a daily basis. Writing under a provocative caption, “Jackal’s Trap”, on 14 June, The Times of India editorialised thus: “The G-8 will have to be enlightened about Pakistan’s mindset: a mixture of militarism, tribalism and religious fundamentalism which leads to barbaric practices like mutilating bodies of captured soldiers.” Again, in the editorial of 17 June, it reverted to the same theme with lurid details: “In an act of savagery with few parallels, the Pakistan army tortured six Indian soldiers, including a young lieutenant, gouged out their eyeballs, burnt them with cigarette butts, and chopped off noses, ears and their genitals.” The editorial also claimed that the “International Red Cross has independently confirmed signs of injuries and torture on the bodies, obviously while in Pakistani custody.”
Since the allegation about the torture of six Indian soldiers has opened a floodgate of hatred against Pakistan in India, and is disturbing if true, I looked for its confirmation by independent sources. In the first place, I have not come across a single eyewitness account of those bodies by even an Indian reporter. Second, Pamela Constable, reporting for Washington Post from Delhi, did quote (12 June) Jaswant Singh’s allegations about the torture of six Indian soldiers, but went on to add: “Although India’s accusations could not be corroborated independently, they seemed to all but ensure failure for talks scheduled here Saturday between Singh and Pakistani Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz aimed at defusing tensions in Kashmir.”
Finally, I contacted the office of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) itself. What the ICRC has confirmed is that it has issued no statement, report, or finding regarding the alleged torture of Indian soldiers, nor is it the practice or function of the ICRC to do so under such circumstances. The story is, thus, obviously false, but it has achieved the purpose for which it was fabricated; the enraged Indian public is now demanding revenge.
In a situation where mass hatred is about to reach a critical point, talking sense can be very risky. George Fernandes tried to play it cool by exonerating the government of Pakistan, to keep the doors of negotiations open, and by talking about safe passage for the infiltrators, to bring about a quick end to the conflict. The media and the politicians promptly condemned him for being a fool, if not a spy, and demanded his resignation.
In Pakistan too something similar is going on. While the hate campaign is getting into high gear here as well, a ‘heretic’ has also been discovered: none other than the prime minister himself. While talking to newsmen on 19 June, he was reported to have said that Kargil-like situation would be repeated elsewhere so long as the Kashmir dispute was not resolved. He, therefore, stressed the need for a negotiated settlement of the Kashmir dispute, and went on to say that Pakistan would be prepared to look even at proposals falling outside its ‘stated position’ of the past 52 years. This was a constructive, pragmatic and a courageous statement for a Pakistani prime minister to make. However, while the Indians have raised the roof over the Kargil part of the statement, the Pakistani super-patriots are trying to howl him down for having considered even the possibility of going outside the ‘stated position’.
Now, what is the stated position that the prime minister is willing to deviate from? The stated position is that the question of accession of the State of Jammu and Kashmir to India or Pakistan be decided through a free and impartial plebiscite conducted under the auspices of the United Nations in accordance with the Resolution 47 of 1948 of the Security Council, and the Resolution of 13 August 1948, of the United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan. Both India and Pakistan had agreed to what was proposed in those resolutions. All this sounds very simple so long as we do not bother to know the modalities of implementation laid down in those resolutions whose compliance we insist upon. It is time to remind ourselves of those modalities that we tend to ignore while arguing for the implementation of those resolutions.
Under both the resolutions the first step was demilitarisation of Kashmir. The process of demilitarisation as laid down by the Security Council and, later, by the commission on India and Pakistan required that:
* Tribesmen and other Pakistani nationals who had entered the State for the purpose of fighting, and Pakistani troops would be withdrawn; and
* On being notified by the commission that the tribesmen and other Pakistani nationals have withdrawn, and the Pakistani forces are being withdrawn, the Government of India would begin to withdraw the bulk of their forces in stages to be agreed upon with the commission. (Emphasis added)
Now, would any of the critics of the prime minister favour the idea of vacation of Azad Kashmir by the Pakistan Army and of entire Jammu and Kashmir by all non-Kashmiri militants, while India withdraws only the bulk of its forces and that too in stages and within a time-frame that the resolutions do not specify? And what does bulk mean, if anything? No wonder, therefore, that the resolutions could not be implemented despite half a century long process of negotiations, advice and well-meaning interventions.
It should be obvious by now that the search for a feasible solution of the dispute over Kashmir has to begin with the acceptance of two self-evident assumptions: one, the dispute cannot be solved by use of overt or covert force; two, the will of the people being the decisive factor, neither Pakistan nor India can claim whole of the State of Jammu and Kashmir as it is divided into Muslim and non-Muslim majority areas that are historically, culturally and administratively separate and identifiable.
What the prime minister has said now should have been said long ago, and now that it has been said, the Indian leadership should respond in a constructive manner, instead of basking in the warmth of hate and revenge. Unfortunately, however, Nawaz Sharif is not likely to get a positive response under the present circumstances.
The Continent of Circe has its own rules of the game where right things happen at the wrong time and the wrong things happen at the right time. For the present, we the South Asians would rather go to war first, with our ‘ultimate’ weapons, and talk later. We certainly would like to talk later, but to whom, one may ask.
(Reprinted from Dawn.)