War bells ringing for India-Pakistan?

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Towheed Feroze
Published : 18:09, Feb 27, 2019 | Updated : 18:22, Feb 27, 2019

Towheed FerozeThe breaking news this morning is about two Indian fighter jets shot within Pakistan border. Earlier, India claimed to have carried-out air strikes against extremist strongholds inside Pakistan.
This time, the tension is not limited to angry rhetoric and troop mobilisation only. In an election year, Indian PM Narendra Modi seems eager to appease the hunger for vengeance among the Indian people after 70 of his soldiers were killed by radicals believed to be operating from within Pakistan.
My heartfelt condolences to the families of the killed soldiers!
Coming to the issue, the media had a role in pumping up adrenaline too because reportedly, the hawkish channels in India are screaming for retribution.
The current tensions can be looked at from two ways — from election-time politics and a bid for regional supremacy.

Jingoism works wonders for falling popularity

A war or, possibility of military conflict at the right time, played with the accurate amount of patriotism, work wonders for sagging polling rates.

We go back to 1981 and the Falkland’s War which made Margaret Thatcher into the ‘Iron Lady’.

When Argentina took over Falklands or Malvinas, as they call them, far away in the UK, the situation politically and socially was a bit precarious for Thatcher.

At such a moment, the forceful taking of an overseas territory revived the hidden imperial hubris. Of course, by 1981 Britain was no longer a colonial power but the ghost of imperialism is hard to get rid of.

And so, the people cried for retaliation, and the political establishment was only too happy to divert attention from the domestic travails.

The bells of war rang, the ships were sent out and Falklands were won back. The pride was restored.

The message sent to the military regime of Argentina, ‘Don’t mess with Britain’ and the message to the world, ‘The Empire, though emaciated, will strike back if attacked.’

Of course, it was not that easy. There was a lot of subterfuge involved and as an unverified story goes, if France, which sold Exocet missiles to Argentina, did not give Britain the codes to successfully counter (deactivate) them, the result of the war would have seen the Union Jack used as a wrapper for Argentine beef.

Did Britain cheat? Well, if they did, then Argentina got even with Maradona’s ‘Hand of God’ goal in 1986!

Anyway, at certain times of history, war bells are like blessings in disguise because they take the attention away from other, more mundane problems.

Downed jets muddy the water

Most India-Pakistan confrontations in recent times have featured sabre- rattling plus movement of forces near the border with sporadic exchange of gunfire.

However, this time there have been incursions into Pakistan and two Indian jets brought down.

Well, the international TV channels have the tendency to raise the alarm quotient by constantly stating that both the countries are nuclear-armed. So what?

The nuclear weapon is needed to show a certain strength which will never be used. India tested its first nuclear device in 1974 because in 1971, during the Bangladesh Liberation War, she had learnt the importance of possessing nukes.

Just to brush your memory: at the end of 1971, with Pakistan’s defeat imminent, the US sent its Seventh Fleet as a show of support to Pakistan but was neutralised by the Soviet Union, which sent a nuclear-armed submarine on the side of India and Bangladesh.

The nuclear deterrent worked, the US practiced restraint with Bangladesh becoming independent.  A third world war was also averted.

So, the nukes are to give a military edge and since both India and Pakistan have them, the war will mainly be with conventional weapons and, most importantly, in the cyber world.

Several weeks ago, there was news of an Indian soldier passing sensitive military information to an online love interest who, in reality, was a Pakistani intelligence officer.

The term used widely is ‘honey-trap’, the oldest and possibly the most effective strategy still.

The modern day term is ‘cat-fishing’ and, usually, someone posing as an attractive woman strikes a relation with a soldier of the other nation posted far away from home and is vulnerable to emotional blackmail.

When the news broke about the soldier being duped, it was revealed that Indian army was facing such traps at different levels.

So, keeping any eye on the adversary and perhaps weakening them mentally are done more efficiently in the cyber world.

The old-fashioned nuke button can gather dust while the actual war will be fought not with guns but through the internet.

Two jets shot down will certainly add more fuel to fire, taking the tension to a new height, but in the end, the conflict will be in the virtual world, where hackers will be the main soldiers.

The real worry is how that war will manifest itself and how much other regional countries will suffer.

South Asia under global spotlight

There is a positive side to having two countries in a region with nuclear capability. Global attention is guaranteed if relations sour for some reason.

At this moment, the eyes are on South Asia and the escalating tensions. How this current imbroglio will resolve is hard to say because there is an elusive extremist body involved.

But then, if Pakistan denies having any knowledge of the radical body, infiltration by India will only make matters worse and take the attention from the militant body.

For a lot of Pakistani people this may be deemed as a breach of their sovereignty and they will also begin to cry for a robust response.

Be that as it may, the current confrontation with conventional weapons may not proceed further with the battle taken into the virtual world.

In the meantime, there is another avenue for peace, used in 1987, by the then-Pakistan president Zia ul Haq, who went to Indian ostensibly to watch a cricket match while unease at the border was rising.

The cricket diplomacy worked though it needs to be seen if the game of the colonial masters will once again be used in some way to work out a détente.

After all, Imran Khan, the star cricketer and master strategist is the Pakistani premier. He turned around a rag tag unit in 1992 to win the World Cup; can he spin some of that magic to de-escalate the current situation? 

Towheed Feroze is a news editor at Bangla Tribune and teaches at the University of Dhaka.

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