“Every nation seeks to be the most powerful military and economic power and every other attempt to build a violence-free world fails at the altar of self interest.”
This post is part of Law School Policy Review’s Election Series, 2019.
It is a sad precedent in India that every defence deal is embroiled in a controversy, beginning with Bofors. Somehow we never get to the root of the matter because such deals become the subject of electoral gains or losses. This time it is the Rafale aircraft deal which occupies the mindscape of the elite, urban voters, and has been a subject of intense debate and the talking point for the Congress Party for a while. It is unfortunate that the Rafale has even entered the recent controversy vis-à-vis the air strike at Balakot.
And now that the elections are announced the Election Commission of India [“ECI”] has tightened its grip around the behaviour of political parties and their camp followers. A short while ago, Facebook was asked to remove the picture of Wg. Cdr. Abhinandan Vartaman from the Facebook post of a BJP MLA. Post Pulwama and the Balakot air strikes, there were hoardings with the military on one side and the Prime Minister on the other. This is a great disservice to the men in uniform who put their lives on the line to secure this country from external forces and sometimes from internal dissensions manifested by events in Kashmir, triggered by terror outfits based in Pakistan. Thankfully, these days all is quiet in the Eastern front and insurgency has taken a dip although it is not fully uprooted.
The Pulwama incident took the nation by storm. We were angry, distraught and wanted to avenge the bloody attack on our jawans by a suicide bomber. The reactions have ranged from the mature to the radical. Across India, candle-light vigils and solemn tributes were paid to the martyrs whose lives were blown apart due to a ‘major intelligence failure,’ considering that there was enough intelligence inputs about the possibility of such an attack. A dispassionate analysis of the incident by security experts suggests careful planning, infiltration of an Improvised Explosive Device [“IED”] doctor (a technical person capable of fabricating IEDs) and a module fully functional at work with a network of over-ground workers.
Democracy has its downside. It is noisy and cacophonous and every subject is intensely debated over social media by experts and by those with little understanding of security doctrines. As stated above, the acquisition of defence equipments is always a subject of intense debate. The country’s defence capabilities are laid bare before the world. This was brought to the fore at the time when Wg. Cdr Abhinandan was a captive in Pakistan. While he in perfect military discipline refused to divulge anything to the Pakistani interrogators, including his native place, our own TV channels parked right outside his home were giving a running commentary. That’s democracy’s soft underbelly. True democracy gives us the space to dissent and argue out our ideas often to the highest decibels in TV studios but this should on no account be at the expense of national interests. After Pulwama the nation’s pride was hurt. The nation wanted retribution for the 40 or more lives lost in the suicide bomb attack. A cloud of despair hung over the country and people wondered how long India would allow this ‘sense of defeat at the hands of the enemy’ to continue.
For too long India has been playing softball with Pakistan in the hope that that country would end its noteworthy ambition of “bleeding India with a thousand cuts.” Pakistan obviously does not know how to respond because the raison d’etre of its army is built around the narrative of India as the enemy. On India’s part, every terrorist attack from the Pakistan-backed jihadist is followed by knee jerk reactions but we have not been able to come up with a comprehensive and well thought-out policy to contain Pakistan and the terror modules that are bred in that country. The abrogation of the Most Favoured Nation [“MFN”] status by India in its trade relations with Pakistan is just one small step and will not make much impact considering that the balance of trade is in India’s favour. Trying to isolate Pakistan in the international community is also a futile effort considering China’s presence as the bulwark for Pakistan, due to its own geo-political and strategic interests in the region. These are the pitfalls of international diplomacy and strong nations tend to break all the rules of the game. They are interested in pushing their own dominant agenda of conquest and control even in this day and age of peace-building overtures based on economic cooperation. Every nation seeks to be the most powerful military and economic power and every other attempt to build a violence-free world fails at the altar of self interest.
This time India decided to retaliate and how! On February 26, India launched air attacks aimed with clinical precision to hit the Jaish-e-Mohammed training camps cum madrassas at Balakot in the Pakhtunkhwa area in the wee hours. The next day, Pakistan sent its F16 supersonic combat aircrafts to hit at Indian installations inside the LOC. This was thwarted by the Indian Air Force. One MIG-Bison aircraft was shot at by Pakistan and the fighter pilot, Wing Commander Abhinandan Vartaman, now a national hero ejected and was taken into Pakistan’s custody. He was released two days later and continues to remain under treatment for his injuries.
After this incident, there was sort of code across political parties that none should use the surgical strike at Balakot as a political scoring board. This lasted until Wg. Cdr. Abhinandan was safely handed back to India by the Pakistani Government. After that Wg. Cdr Abhinandan’s picture has been used by BJP candidates and Prime Minister Modi’s picture was juxtaposed to that of the Indian army in hoardings across the country. This is like using the military to boost political fortunes for the ruling party. There is no doubt at all that the NDA Government under PM Modi took a decisive step to hit the terror camps inside Pakistan. This is also calls out the lies of Pakistan which unconvincingly denies that such factories inside its territory exist and that they are being nurtured by the Inter-Services Intelligence [“ISI”] which reports directly to the Army Chief and the Prime Minister. This grievous plan to weaken India has been unleashed time and again by preaching the language of jihad in Kashmir and indoctrinating hundreds of its youth. Now that the terror camps in Afghanistan are being demolished courtesy the US intent to pull out of that country, those terror outfits will return to Pakistan and infiltrate across the Indian border to cause havoc here. This is where the Indian Government requires a futuristic, strategic security document to handle the aftermath.
So, initially the attempt to politicise the Pulwama issue and the Balakot air strike was largely muted due to the fear that such stratagem might backfire and alienate even the non-partisan voter. But very soon statesmanship gave way to blatant use of the air strikes to win points for the BJP and to turn this into electoral dividends. This should not be allowed to happen at any cost, least of all by the Party currently running the Government and looking for a triumphant return.
The military belongs to the nation and is dear to every Indian irrespective of political affiliations. We grieve as a country when they are killed in action and rest secure in the thought that our borders are well guarded by women and men dedicated to serving the nation. I, therefore, find it extremely distasteful when retired generals whose view are politically slanted, frothing away on Prime Time television. It’s almost as if the TV anchors are allowed these retired army personnel to vent some unexplained venom against those who hold views different from theirs as far as India’s policy towards Pakistan is concerned. India is a diverse country and there are the doves who believe that wars extract a high cost from any country and that peace is the way forward. But the hawks, most of whom will not be donning the uniform or fly a fighter aircraft or fire a gun that raise shrill war cries inside the TV studious.
And there are TV channels whose anchors are not even apologetic about their compassion for the BJP. How such channels can still claim to be fair and independent is a question the media fraternity should be answering right now.
The elections are at hand and attempts to use those war scenes in the backdrop of TV studios, ostensibly to discuss Balakot again and again on the plea that there are sceptics asking for evidence, is actually an insidious attempt of politicising the recent air strikes. The ECI should not allow this cheap propaganda by the media.
Patricia Mukhim is a writer, social activist, and editor of the Shillong Times.