Arun Jaitley thumps his chest and proclaims that we have given the Pakis a "jaw-breaking reply" (munh tod jawab). Oh yeah? The Pakistanis are still there - with their jaw quite intact and a nuclear arsenal nestling in their pockets. Rajnath Singh adds that the Pakis had best understand that "a new era has dawned". How? Is retaliatory fire a BJP innovation? Or is it that we have we ceased being peace-loving and become a war-mongering nation? And Modi thunders that his guns will do the talking (boli nahin, goli). Yes - and for how long?
The Government struts around as if it has silenced the Pakistani guns. Nothing could be a more dangerous illusion. If the guns have ceased for the present to bark, it is because the Pakistan army has silenced its own guns, even as the Indian army has silenced ours. The idea that we have terrified the Pakistanis into submission by shelling a few homes and killing a few soldiers and several innocents might be a myth that washes here but it is far, far from the truth. The danger is that we will forget the limits that divide peace from war.
If losing half their country in 1971 and leaving 90,000 prisoners of war in Indian hands has not dimmed Pakistan's zeal to protect itself, big words from our end are not going to make them grovel at Modi's feet. Pakistan is a sovereign nation. It makes its own assessment of the threats to its security. And the kind of talk they have heard in recent days from our governmental chiefs only persuades them that they are right in regarding India as the biggest threat to their security. This marginalizes the sane voices across the border and brings Pakistanis of all hues and colours together in the defence of their homeland. The language of the akhara is not the language of statesmen. And war is not a continuation of diplomacy by other means; it is a confession of the breakdown of diplomacy.
Dr. Manmohan Singh showed, especially during the first three years of his government, how much could be achieved by talking to Pakistan instead of shooting at them. Even Kashmir was tackled on the back-channel. It was agreed that territories could not be changed nor populations exchanged. What was needed was fostering exchanges of all kinds between Kashmiris on both sides of the LoC - the restoration of Kashmiriyat by fostering exchanges between people, relatives, friends, media, goods and services across the LoC in a two-way traffic. Pakistan has repeatedly - even with the change of regime in India - shown that it is ready to talk with India. It is we who are stalling the dialogue. But as the history of the last 20 years has shown, proxy war in Kashmir did not come in the way of Vajpayee's bus journey to the Shaheed Minar in Lahore; Kargil and the Parliament attack did not stop the invitation to Musharraf to come to Agra; nor did it prevent Vajpayee from going to Islamabad to sign a joint declaration that presaged the resumption of dialogue. 26/11 certainly threw the spanner in the works but was not enough to forestall the invitation to Nawaz Sharif to the forecourt of Rashtrapati Bhawan. So, a "munh thod jawab" is for domestic consumption, a pathetic attempt at proving the breadth of the Prime Minister's chest.
The bigger danger is that overblown rhetoric can tip the subcontinent over the precipice. That is what we must remind ourselves in this centenary year of the commencement of the First World War. The parallels between the events that sparked WWI and the contemporary India-Pakistan situation are striking. The Austro-Hungarian Empire and Serbia were neighbours, much as India and Pakistan are neighbours. There was no comparison between the military power, the economic strength and the political clout of the two neighbours: Austro-Hungary, like India vis-a-vis Pakistan, was undoubtedly superior. Nevertheless, tension between the two neighbours was rife, as in the case of India and Pakistan. Serbia-based non-State actors were secretly readying for a major terrorist strike against the Empire, backed by powerful forces within Serbia but out of government control, much as Pakistan-based non-State terrorists are constantly preparing for terror strikes against key Indian targets, backed by powerful forces within Pakistan, but outside government control.
When a young band of Serbian terrorists slipped into Bosnia to kill Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the Government of Serbia did not know, even as it is entirely likely that the Government of Pakistan did not know that Ajmal Kasab and his gang had slipped into Mumbai to target the iconic Taj Hotel. But, as in India, so in Austria, the suspicion was so strong that there were rogue elements in the Serbian establishment that were backing the terrorists, no proof was needed: suspicion amounted to conviction. Therefore, when the Serbian terrorists struck, assassinating the heir-apparent to the Austro-Hungarian throne, the Empire needed no conclusive proof that the Serbian government was behind the assassination. It knew, as India "knew", that 26/11 was master-minded by the Government of Pakistan. And even as the Pakistan government denied any involvement in such cross-border terrorism and undertook to set in train an investigation into the dastardly terrorist attack, so also, a hundred years earlier, did Serbia condemn the assassination and offer to investigate and bring to justice those responsible.
But Vienna would not be appeased. An eight-point ultimatum was sent to Serbia demanding full acceptance of the eight conditions within a month. Eventually, after much hemming and hawing, Belgrade accepted seven of the conditions but baulked at the eighth - that a joint Austrian-Serbian investigation be launched into the assassination. That was enough for Vienna to insist that if all conditions were not fulfilled, the far more powerful Austro-Hungarian forces would reduce Serbia to rubble in a matter of days.
The threat was meant to cow the Serbians. The Serbians went as far as they could, but baulked at abject surrender. In consequence, military plans began to roll - to the alarm of both Emperor Franz Joseph of Austro-Hungary as well as the German Kaiser whose belligerence was pushing Vienna further and further down the road to disaster. Their political misgivings were entirely understandable. For Russia had declared that any military action against her Slav cousin would invite Russian retaliation against both Austria and Germany. At the same time, Germany had made it clear that her first target was France. Treaty obligations made it incumbent for France to come to Russia's rescue and vice versa in the event of war. Britain was committed to entering the war in these circumstances. The very balance of power that was supposed to have kept the peace in Europe for a hundred years was now pushing the world to the brink.
To prevent this catastrophe, the two Emperors who had been the loudest in proclaiming a "munh thod jawab" to Serbia tried at the last moment to stop the guns from booming, but were over-ruled by their respective military hierarchies. War was launched. The mighty Austro-Hungarian Empire conquered Serbia but ended up losing the War and disappearing from the map of the world. Germany won the opening rounds but ended in humiliating defeat. Defeat on the battle-field led to the Peace Treaty but contained the seeds of resentment that resulted in WWII breaking out 20 years later. It did not end till nearly a hundred million people - mostly unarmed non-combatant civilians - had been killed the world over. That was the outcome of Vienna saying "Boli nahin, goli".
Let us remind ourselves that it was the Father of the Nation who taught us that "taking an eye for an eye would leave the whole world blind." Shanti! Shanti! Shanti!
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