It was 1965 and I was 17 years old when we got word that my best friend, Vimal, who was 22, had been killed in action in the India-Pakistan war. A Pakistani mine that he had been trying to disarm had exploded and blown him to pieces. Death must have been instantaneous.
Vimal was one of the gentlest of people I’ve ever known. He did not come from a defence services background. Having graduated, he’d been looking for a job when the Indo-Pak war broke out.
He had successfully applied for a short-term commission in the army, much to the surprise of everyone who knew him.
“Why on earth have you done this?” I asked him when he came back from his training course and just before he was sent to the front.Vimal’s reply was simple, with no trace of heroics or chest-thumping jingoism about defending the motherland.
“I needed a job. This is a job,” he said.
I never saw him again. He died less than a month after that.
When I got the news—my first vicarious encounter with violent death—the grief I felt fuelled a searing flame of anger and hatred. Hatred of the enemy—which was not Pakistan but the savage and senseless slaughter that is war.
It was not Pakistan which had killed Vimal. It was war that had killed him. It was war that was the real enemy, not only for India, but for all the countries of the world, including Pakistan.
War is the enemy of all nations; it is the enemy of the very concept of humanity and civilisation.
I didn’t think of Vimal as a brave martyr who had given his life defending his country. I thought of him as a victim of that insane barbarism that we call war. These memories have come back to me in the midst of the storm of war hysteria that is raging on both sides of the India-Pakistan border.
Clausewitz remarked that war was politics conducted by other means. What we are seeing in India and Pakistan right now—as we have seen time and again in all the conflicts the two have engaged in since Partition—is politics as war conducted by other means.
While it has yet to be officially designated by the international community as a rogue state and an unbridled exporter of cross-border terrorism, Pakistan is an economic and ideological wasteland whose politics is nothing more, or less, than a continuation of a surrogate war against India.
Though India has been at the receiving end of Pakistan’s politics of belligerence, we are witnessing the rise of the phenomenon of politics as a continuation of war by other means in this country as well.
While the Prime Minister has urged members of his flock to tone down their bellicosity, the triumphalism displayed by elements within the BJP and the Sangh Parivar has instigated what might be called the politics of competitive warfareism.
Some voices among the Opposition, including at least one belonging to the Congress, have questioned the authenticity of the ‘surgical strike’, thus echoing similar scepticism aired by Pakistani media.
Though the Congress has distanced itself from such conjecture, it has sought to highlight similar offensives conducted during the UPA regime but which, for reasons of diplomacy, were deliberately not given the blitzkrieg publicity being according to the NDA’s ‘surgical strike’.
War once again dominates the political discourse in both countries. Politics has become the continuation of war by other means. Which might be acceptable for a feudal-militaristic polity such as Pakistan’s. But is it acceptable in a country which proudly bills itself as the world’s most populous democracy?
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said the only war India wants to wage is the war against poverty. This is indeed a laudable crusade.
But there is a poverty worse even than the material poverty that the Prime Minister is talking about. And that is the moral and mental poverty of a politics that degenerates into war.
Isaac Asimov said violence is the last resort of the incompetent. The mass murderous violence of war is the last resort of incompetent politics.
There is no glory in war. No heroes, or villains. Only victims. If we recognise that, it’ll be the first step towards waging the only legitimate war: a campaign of conscience against war itself.
If this were ever to happen, Vimal, and all the countless others like him through the ages, will not have died in vain. firstname.lastname@example.org