Most Indians believe that any debate on the Kargil war is unpatriotic or simply anti-national. Most Pakistanis believe that their prime minister is fighting a brave war, not only against India but also against the rest of the world. Both sides want to teach the other side “a lesson”. Jingoism is lucrative. Patriotism, like the World Cup, is sold through cable.
What is lost is reasoned debate, criticism of what brought the two nations here, the role of the armies, innocent lives, and most importantly, how do we prevent South Asia from careening to the brink like this again. In Pakistan, they will not discuss the misplaced military derring-do which ignited this little war. And in India, they will not talk of the Kashmir problem, which provided the larger backdrop to the entire crisis.
This is nationalism with blinkers, a fever that blinds you to the injustices of the past, and the failures of the present. It is the last refuge of those that have failed in every way to command the respect and support of the people of their own countries. Vulgar propaganda to whip up passions so that local lapses are lost. This must be exposed because it involves the lives of hundreds of soldiers and thousands of civilians on both sides.
When the momentum of war unsheathes the big guns, and boys start coming home in coffins, talk of reconciliation is branded treachery. If you are not with us, you are against us. Us and them. Denounce jingoism in New Delhi or Islamabad today and in all likelihood, they will pounce and pronounce you anti-national. “Not jingoism,” they will say, “this has united the country. Our people are one again, why are you against that?” True, but is getting all worked up to demonise the brother as the enemy the only way to national unity?
People will show you a photograph of a dead soldier’s mother and ask how you cannot do anything but cry. As pictures pour into the hysterical media, the fervour grows. (There is no such thing as a truly free press after the first soldier dies.) The bodies are flown back home, and their funerals covered live by sniffling corespondents, so patriotics spreads. On the streets of Lahore, demonstrators believe that Pakistan can financially and militarily survive this war, and that the question of Kashmir must be resolved now, with complete accession of course. In India, extremists bay for blood and a final nuclear solution.
Consider for a moment the convenience of all this to the ruling parties. Nawaz Sharif–probably the most powerful democratic leader in Pakistan since 1947–has been able to get away with censorship, profligacy and crackdowns on dissent. Voices that ask for an explanation for the increasing role of the military and the Taliban are silenced.
On the other side in India, a caretaker minority government conducts the war without any interference from the Opposition. Even the people feel that a Rajya Sabha debate would be anti-national and bad for soldier morale. This is the way the world ends: in the symmetrical din of united hysteria when you will not notice the finger creeping up to the nuclear trigger until it is too late.
Leaders of the two countries have an unenviable task ahead. Any solution must first show victory for both sides, Vajpayee and Sharif must at least show that they have negotiated from a position of strength. This will take a lot of doing and some more blatant lying. Vajpayee goes into this with elections filling up his mind. He has to show that he stopped at the LoC only because he wanted to. People will want to know why he did not go ahead and just “finish them off”. He must be ready with an answer.
Sharif must have some explanation for his agitated people about why he agreed to pullback after meeting Clinton, and he can’t admit the truth that the country is financially ruined. If all this goes without some serious rebellion, and when the dust from this fiery self-generated rhetoric settles, they must both start at the beginning to detoxify minds of the people they poisoned.
And what of the rest of South Asia, the little countries that watch apprehensively from the sidelines, as well as those regions within Pakistan and India who feel so remote from Islamabad and New Delhi? For the first time, the direction of prevailing winds is a factor in deciding where to buy a home in this newly-nuclear subcontinent. The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is supposed to meet in Kathmandu in November. Will India and Pakistan have stopped trying to strangle each other by then?