A permanent war


Hina Pervez Butt

Now that the nation has exhausted all the humour that a so-called surgical strike could contain lets spare some time for some critical thinking. Whether the strike happened or not should not even be the question. Firstly, because all the empirical evidence suggests that it most certainly did not take place, and secondly, because Mr Modi himself, in all his saffron glory, has somehow reluctantly admitted at a public gathering that nothing fantastical happened on our side of the LoC.
The main question, however, that no one seems to be asking is whether it is really possible to stage a surgical strike against Pakistan from the eastern side of the border, and then get away with it as well.
The case on our western border is different, the war there is more complex and nothing about it is mainstream. Therefore, even when tacticians all around the world quote the infamous Osama bin Laden incident as a textbook case of surgical strike we are not disturbed. Furious, yes, we were when it happened but only for a fleeting moment. Osama was a world acclaimed bad guy and our state was fighting war against his outfit for years. Furthermore, the raid was carried out by someone we called our partner, even if it was an open lie.
And then it can be also argued that we do not have any sophisticated radar and air defence equipment installed on the western front because we never felt the need to see into our strategic depth electronically, and monitor it round the clock. So when they came to get bin Laden, we were naturally not looking and whatever happened had to happen.
The eastern side of the border is a different ball game. The integrity of that frontier is the raison d’être of our armed forces. We literally pay them at the cost of the health and education of our present as well as our future. So don’t be surprised if you see the DG ISPR doing press conferences from the LoC, and spirited rebuttals coming from every corner stating that the incident was anything but a surgical strike.
Why this obsession with a surgical strike, one may ask. Simple. The very idea of there being a chance of it happening is dangerous. It has the potential to change everything. Literally everything. Maybe that’s why the Indian DGMO came up with this in the first place: to shake up and rattle our establishment. It also created a very good sound bite. But for nuclear-armed neighbours this was a bad idea executed even more badly.
When Kargil happened, apart from proving that half-hearted and ill-planned attempts to change the status quo in Kashmir would not work, especially if all the stakeholders were not invested into the effort, it also proved that Pakistan and India could have a low scale escalation without going mad with their respective ideas of nuclear deterrence.
For both militaries, therefore, Kargil justified the constant need for money. The argument was straightforward. The militaries on both sides needed nuclear arsenal and related sophisticated technology because there was an armed race going on, but at the same time, they needed funds for acquiring conventional weapons, training the troops and all other matters of military routine because they can always be asked to exchange punches without really calling it a fight.
Fast-forward almost two decades and much has changed, but the rationale and the arguments used by both militaries remain the same.
Post-Kargil our army has been involved in operation after an operation against terrorists. Apart from keeping our army in good practice, it also ensured that our focus remained on conventional aspects of our armoury as well. On the other hand, the emergence of the Cold Start Doctrine forced us to publically claim that our nuclear threshold was very low, and that we would not deter from striking first with a nuclear device if we ever felt that our existence was under threat. So we increased the pace of our nuclear programme, developed tactical nuclear weapons, and many short-range missiles to walk this talk.
Add all of this up, and it means that we are spending more money than ever for our defence, primarily to neutralise the threat from our eastern neighbor.
Unfortunately, it also means that nuclear deterrence is not preventing us from doing things that we have been doing since independence. It is only increasing the size of our defence bills. At the same time, it is taking us miles away from any out-of-the-box political solutions of our problems.
When the establishment on both sides of the border is busy playing war games 24 hours a day, seven days a week and 365 days a year, it will always be ahead of the peace brigade.
I am in no way implying that armies don’t want peace between Pakistan and India. Men who are manning the borders share the same flesh and blood like the rest of us. They have families, and almost all of them see military life as one of the ways of earning livelihood to feed the needs and dreams of their wives, parents and children. An event as routine as a cross-border exchange of fire has the potential to take all of this away from the soldiers. So when you ask them directly, you don’t see them advocating jingoism. Its people like you and I, who have the luxury to argue, who are actually playing this deadly game.
We all are responsible for feeding the war machine, one way or another. If you have ever done so little as to go wildly green when Pakistan was playing India at a cricket match, and thought it made sense, you have shown potential. With the right kind of circumstance, and proper high definition propaganda you can be drafted in this war.
And boy o boy, didn’t we all find ourselves willing to be drafted rather easily last few days.