Does it matter who has come out on top in the recent brink of war over Kashmir, India or Pakistan?

by Dr. Muhammad Ahmedullah  5 March 2019

Based on my experience of engaging with a variety of people, reading history, analysing views/ideologies of groups and observing developments, I strongly believe that extremists, regardless of what side they belong to, wrongly imagine that there are easy solutions to complex problems, which they mistakenly view as simple, and complicate affairs for everyone, if and when they achieve influence and power.

In terms of the most recent standoff between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, I think overall Pakistan has come out on top and India stands humiliated. One of the reasons for this is the contrasting leadership provided by Narendra Modi in India and Imran Khan in Pakistan. While people around the world have become tired and despairing at the reported upward movement in the levels of discrimination, intimidation and violence against Muslims in India under Modi’s premiership and the rise of Hindu nationalism/extremism, Imran Khan’s Pakistan is emerging as a breath of fresh air, where the new leader is being viewed by many around the world to be someone who might finally be able to bring sanity to the country after a long period of chaos and mindless violence, and deal with the deep-rooted, destructive extremism in the country. 

Although up until and for one day after the Indian air force action inside Pakistan on Tuesday morning 26 February 2019, India had the moral and powerfulness high ground around, which generated a lot of pride among a large section of the Indian population, the Pakistanis and their supporters, in contrast, experienced humiliation and a degree of powerlessness. However, on the following morning, Wednesday 27 February 2019, with Pakistan responding – the dogfight between the two air forces (we hardly know any details) and the capture of an Indian pilot who ejected from the destroyed aircraft – the table had turned. The pride and jingoism in Indian gave way to a sombre mood of disbelief and depression. ‘How could the Pakistani air force, with their inferior capability, manage to shoot down an Indian fighter aircraft and take one of our pilots as a prisoner’ was a question that must have occupied the minds of many bewildered Indians. As India did not militarily respond to this, in a tit-for-tat manner, and because the Pakistanis quickly decided to release the captured Indian pilot while having the upper-hand at the last encounter between the two countries’ air forces, Pakistan succeeded in replacing India from their earlier moral and pride high ground and established at the wider public perception level some form of equality of powerfulness.

I am not very familiar with the details of what the Pakistanis want, with respect to Kashmir and the future relationship with India, except what I have heard being reported in the media over a long period of time. I am not going to explore what extremists in Pakistan want with respect to Kashmir and India, in this article, as I am not at all familiar with what they want, and also, they are not in a position of power and have no prospect of gaining power anytime soon. I am more familiar with the views of Indian, which are quite diverse. This is because I have had more interactions with Indian people over many years and have also read more writings by Indians published in the media, as compared to Pakistanis. 

I will briefly explore what I think many hard-line Hindu Nationalists want with respect to Kashmir, Pakistan and the Muslims of the Indian subcontinent. Before I start, I want to point out that I know that Hindu nationalism in India has many varieties and shades, and not all Hindu nationalists want exactly the same thing. But as many of the ideologues of Hindu nationalism were very extreme in their thoughts and what they wanted to do with the Indian Muslims, their ideas and thoughts continue to influence the thought processes of those who are being sucked into Hindu nationalism. This means that at any time a moderate Hindu nationalist can become extreme, and the reverse is also the case. I remember picking up a book in the room of a Gujarati Hindu friend in 1983, who was studying at the University of Essex (UK) at the same time as me. After reading about ten pages, I was shocked to read the author discussing what should happen to Muslims in mother India, which also included Pakistan and Bangladesh. I do not remember the name of the author or the title of the book, but my friend, clearly, regarded the writer with high regard. According to the book, the Muslims in India were illegitimate and, as such, he proposed two possible solutions for them: either they can be evicted from the country – that is the whole of the Indian-subcontinent – or they have to re-convert back to Hinduism – as they were originally Hindus – if they want to remain in India.

I feel that now many hard-line Hindu nationalists, a group whose rank has been growing during the last couple of decades, want to either eliminate Muslims from the Indian sub-continent or transform them into a state with a reducing population level, where they will become subservient and grateful to the Hindus for allowing them to live in India. In addition, they want Indian Muslims to discard any concept and sense of Ummah in them, as belonging to a worldwide Muslim community.

Another important element of Hindu Nationalist goals vis-à-vis Muslims of the Indian subcontinent is regarding what to do with the historical humiliation felt by many Hindu nationalists with respect to the Moghul rule of India. Deep inside, some of them feel that unless and until India gives Pakistan a decisive defeat, like what the Israelis did to the Arabs, they will not be able to avenge the Moghuls for ruling India, as Pakistan for them is a reminder and the remaining symbol of Moghuls in the Indian subcontinent. A decisive defeat of Pakistan, by India, will simultaneously avenge ‘what the Moghuls did to India’ and turn past, deeply-felt humiliation into pride and self-confidence for India.

Many Hindu nationalists confidently believe that they have the power and ability to act militarily, in a decisive way, against Pakistan. Reasons for this include India’s impressive economic, scientific and technological developments during the last few decades; changes in America’s strategic realignment where Pakistan is no longer seen as a vital partner like in the past; and the close and growing military and economic cooperation and relationship between India and Israel. These elements are intertwined with the Hindu Nationalists’ imperative to avenge Moghul rule to generate a compelling force inside them for the need for India to score a total knock out defeat against Pakistan, who they see as the remnants of the Moghuls in the Indian-subcontinent. And after a knock out defeat, they believe, Pakistan will become a subservient and grateful country, living at the mercy and good will of powerful Hindu India.

One thing is wishful thinking of going from A to B, and the other is the reality that stands in between A and B, which may be more difficult than imagined by Hindu nationalists, in the case of India and Pakistan.

What are the possible outcomes of a major India-Pakistan war? Although there are countless possibilities, I will briefly consider three aftermath scenarios. First, if India were to be able to give Pakistan a total knock-out blow, would she be able to enjoy peace and security, after becoming the most powerful in the region from a decisive war. Would Pakistan become a subservient country to India after a bad defeat and accept India’s domination forever into the future? Would terrorism in India end with a total knock out defeat of Pakistan?

Second, if India achieved the upper hand during a major war – the likely outcome of a prolonged conflict between the two countries as predicted by most experts – what will happen then. Would not both countries be devasted to different degrees and require a lot of money and resources to rebuild?  Would not such a war end up in large-scale human sufferings, displacements and deaths, and the beginning of a new phase of re-energised and refuelled hatred between the two peoples and their supporters around the world, without resolving any of the issues behind the problems?

Third, what if in an all-out war between the two countries, India and the world were to become surprised by Pakistan’s strong performance. In such a case, India and Pakistan may get bogged down with great losses on both sides, but as Pakistan is a relatively weak player, by everybody’s account, the humiliation will be on the side of India.

Under none of the possible outcome scenarios presented above can India achieve an Israeli style victory over Pakistan. However, hypothetically speaking, even if India did manage to achieve a knock-out punch against the Pakistanis, the mass that will be left to be dealt with after the war will create massive problems for both countries and states around the world. It was only during the 1971 war that India achieved a clear victory over Pakistan on the eastern front, mainly as a result of Pakistani low morale and exhaustion resulted from their execution of a foolish, unjustifiable, horrible and bloody nine-months destructive war in Bangladesh. 

I have met Indians from all over India and Pakistanis from Pashtun, Punjabi and Mirpuri ethnicities over a long period of time and have formed great friendships with many people from both countries. Except for some fanatics, most people from India and Pakistan are good people. People from India and Pakistan deserve friendship, based on personal and social contacts/relationship, and through the development of all sorts of traded and untraded interdependencies. A war between the two countries will poison everything for a long time to come, and non-Indians like myself will be sucked and pressured into taking sides, which I will never. Ordinary people will not only not benefit from such a war but will be made to sacrifice the most for nationalism, jingoism and false pride. A war between India Pakistan should be made unthinkable, now and forever into the future.

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