War games

Need for a reality check

Both India and Pakistan are celebrating golden jubilees of their respective first full-fledged military conflagration in September 1965 as victory parades. The empty boast by the Indian army chief that he will have a ‘Patiala’ at Gymkhana Club Lahore — the same evening the Indian forces declared war on the western front — is interpreted as a victory for Pakistan Army in the ‘65 war.

The fact that the disastrous Operation Gibraltar, which was designed to infiltrate forces into Jammu and Kashmir, was a prequel to the 1965 war is lost somewhere in translation. The Indian forces in order to ease pressure on the Kashmir front declared war on Pakistan.

Understandably a jingoistic BJP regime in New Delhi thinks it is a befitting occasion to do some Pakistan bashing. And of course they find many across the border more than willing to pay in kind.

Indian Army Chief Dalbir Singh accusing Pakistan of using ‘new methods’ of creating unrest in Jammu and Kashmir has boasted that India is prepared for ‘swift and short’ wars in the future. In a tit for tat response, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif has threatened that Pakistan is ready for a small scale or prolonged war if Indian leadership started one.

Nations do remember and honour their war heroes and also display their military might on such occasions. But talking about war undoubtedly is serious business, especially amongst two belligerent neighbours armed to the teeth with nuclear weapons. Hence caution is a better part of valour, literally in this case.

Take the example of China to whose deep-rooted friendship we pay lip service to ad nauseum, but are loath to emulate its example.

Only recently Beijing announced troop cut and showcased its military might at a spectacular World War II military parade held in Beijing. The Chinese President Xi Jinping, while talking on the occasion about the ‘Japanese militarist aggressors’, paid rich tributes to the 15 to 20 million Chinese who died defending their homeland.

The fact that the disastrous Operation Gibraltar, which was designed to infiltrate forces into Jammu and Kashmir, was a prequel to the 1965 war is lost somewhere in translation. The Indian forces in order to ease pressure on the Kashmir front declared war on Pakistan

Unfortunately, golden jubilees of the 1965 war are being celebrated at a time when relations between India and Pakistan are at an all-time low. India’s cross-border shelling has resulted in the loss of innocent lives in villages adjoining the LoC (Line of Control). Despite agreeing to a timeline on the sidelines of recent Ufa (Russia) Summit, peace talks have broken down.

The scheduled meeting in New Delhi between Sartaj Aziz and Ajit Duval, the two national security advisors, was cancelled at the last minute when the Indian side refused to agree to the agenda proposed by Islamabad. It is still unlikely whether Sharif and Narendra Modi will meet on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session later this month.

Pakistan and India have fought two full-fledged wars in 1965 and 1971, both with disastrous consequences. As a result of the 1971 war we lost half the country.

The Kargil misadventure in 1999 was an armed conflict of the scale of a limited war. Its significance however was that it was the only instance of a direct conventional warfare between two nuclear states.

Ironically, despite the blood-letting and teeming millions of the subcontinent living below the absolute poverty line, leadership of both India and Pakistan claim to be battle ready for another conflict. The reality is somewhat different. Fifty years ago neither India nor Pakistan were nuclear powers. Now both of them are armed to the teeth with nuclear warheads.

According to a recently released report by Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Stimson Centre, Pakistan is now competing successfully with — and in some respects is outperforming — India in the nuclear field. According to the report, Pakistan has the capability of producing 20 nuclear warheads annually; India appears to be producing five warheads annually. The report however claims that given its larger economy and sizeable nuclear infrastructure, New Delhi has the capability to outcompete Pakistan in fissile material and warhead production if it chooses to do so.

The report also warns that it is a losing proposition for Pakistan (to maintain its nuclear superiority) just as the Soviet Union’s large nuclear arsenal was of no help whatsoever for its manifold economic and societal weakness. Comparison with the former Soviet Union, no matter how odious, needs to be seriously and dispassionately examined in the light of stark ground realities.

Islamabad, partly owing to its failed foreign policy initiatives and flawed security paradigms, is facing a two-front situation. Both India and Afghanistan, albeit unjustifiably, accuse Islamabad of deliberately fomenting cross-border terrorism and harbouring terrorist groups.

Ironically, while being accused of double dealing by its immediate neighbours, Pakistan simultaneously is fighting an existential war against terrorists and jihadists within its borders.

Despite protestations to the contrary, Washington accuses Islamabad of harbouring the Haqqani Network. Consequently, it wants Pakistan ‘to do more’ to flush out the jihadists allegedly operating within its borders.

Ironically, while being accused of double dealing by its immediate neighbours, Pakistan simultaneously is fighting an existential war against terrorists and jihadists within its borders

Since Zarb-e-Azb a little more than a year ago the military’s footprint on domestic and foreign policy issues is becoming more and more pronounced. Both the MQM and the PPP are on the run in Sindh, it is reckoned that the gauntlet will be thrown at PML-N in Punjab and at the federal level sooner rather than later.

The precarious security and political situation is compounded by a sluggish economy. According to a report just published under the auspices of the London School of Economics, “Pakistan’s continued failures to address the domestic resource mobilisation agenda and meaningfully undertake structural reforms remain its Achilles heel.” The report concludes that it threatens to undo all the positive opportunities that the country has enjoyed over the past year.

It is a stark reality that all the economies in the region, with the sole exception of Afghanistan, are outperforming Pakistan in terms of GDP growth rate. Pakistan’s growth rate is stubbornly stuck in the region of 3.5-4.0 per cent of GDP for the current financial year.

For meaningful economic development the economy must grow by at least 6 per cent annually. Despite this systemic failure, both the finance ministry and the State Bank assiduously continue to paint a rosy picture of the economy.

Partly owing to an unnaturally shored overvalued rupee and partly because of endemic energy shortages, exports remain sluggish. FDI (foreign direct investment) is virtually negligible and tax-to-GDP ratio, already low, has marginally fallen.

Making freeways, motorways, signal-free zones and metro lines at the expense of ignoring vital social sectors, remains a priority of the PML-N government. This is a recipe for disaster.

A weak economic base hardly instils confidence about the country’s long-term security. Hence 50 years down, the anniversary of 1965 war should be a time for introspection to reset course rather than empty jingoistic rhetoric. Or are we inexorably embarked on a suicidal path too late to turn back?



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