Tuesday, 15 January 2013

On Patriotism

"Patriotism is the last refuge of the Scoundrel" this often mentioned quote of Samuel Johnson has been used in many different contexts to mean several different things. It easily fits in various contexts to highlight the hypocrisy that many a times surrounds the idea of patriotism. The recent events on the border with Pakistan in which the bodies of two Indian soldiers were insulted with mutilation and the reaction (or lack of) by the Indian government, media and political parties make me wonder how true he was when he made this statement two centuries ago in 1775. There have been statements from government leadership that they have lodged "strong protest" with Pakistan while in the same breath mentioning that "there should not be any escalation over this incident". Sections in the media have taken grave exception to what has happened, while others have tried a bit too hard to be balanced, going to the length of suggesting that both sides might have carried out beheading.

The two Indian soldiers who have died are among the many that have been lost since independence in Indo-Pakistan conflicts. It is unfortunate that the day the new nation of India was born it was born with a sworn enemy to contend with as a neighbor. Most enmities between nations in history are created based on political  divergence or conflict over resources. India's case has been if not entirely unique then quite peculiar never the  less. Free India was born with a predestined enemy even before it was independent of colonial rule. The partition which was meant to save lives and avoid civil war within the newly independent nation served no such purpose. Not only was the birth of Pakistan and Free India preceded and followed by civil violence, within two months of independence the two countries were fighting a war in Kashmir. The events following the conflict are well known I need not repeat them at length here. It should suffice to say that for a nation based on Muslim religious identity it was unacceptable that the Muslim majority region should remain independent or join India. They felt they had a right on Kashmir and all means were justified in obtaining it. The fact that Geo-political reasons and the support of western powers in this quest played a part in their attempt to wrestle Kashmir in October of 1947 is not hidden, but religion was the moral justification and the rallying call for the leaders in Pakistan to get their population behind their quest.

There is no denying that both nations would be better of without this enmity and both nations would benefit from permanence of peace. But one cannot brush aside the enmity by refusing to acknowledge that it exists. It has been so long since the seeds of this hatred were sown that the original reason if ever there was one has been convoluted beyond  recognition. The reasoning for the Pakistani Army's perpetuating this enmity is so confusing that any logical person should fail to explain why they continue to pursue it. The Idea of getting Kashmir by force is not achievable is something I am sure every logical general in the Pakistan Army understands. The past wars are a testament to that fact. So if the basis of enmity is Kashmir as leaders in Pakistan seem to claim and military force will not deliver Kashmir to them then why pursue it? The answer lies in the fact that a lot of water has flown down the Indus since the first war. During the first war in 1947 the Maharaja of Kashmir paid the price of his prevarication, the Ex-British, Pakistani military got its first taste of using religious extremism for politico-military purpose, the idealistic Indian political leadership got its first lessons in realpolitik and the Indian military got its first experience of  premature cease fire. But since then one can argue that the political benefits to the leaders in Pakistani civilian governments and military of continuing this obsession far out weighed any logic.The single minded obsession has lead to pathological hatred within the Pakistani establishment for their eastern neighbor. This obsession lead them to plan 1965 infiltration and subsequent war, the clandestine and illegal acquisition of nuclear weapons, the creation and growth of the Jihadi culture and use of terrorism as a state policy.

In the face of this increasing threat from across the western border, the Indian soldier has been expected to be patriotic to the nation since the first war onward and to preserve the idea of newly created multicultural, secular and peaceful India. At the same time the political leadership in our country has repeatedly failed in its responsibilities towards the soldier. Indian soldier is expected to be professional, to make sacrifices, to follow orders, to continue serving the country, while the leadership pays lip service to patriotism. I am afraid the sacrifice of our soldiers is being taken for granted. It is the responsibility of the leading officers in the Army that such an attack could take place on the patrol and also go without immediate retaliation. Some have started fixing responsibility on the local commanders for laxity. Hopefully this will not be an exercise of shifting blame but of fixing problems. Questions should be asked if the soldiers are properly equipped for their job? The INSAS rifle which the Indian army currently uses was developed to give the nation an indigenous capability of manufacturing such weapons. How is it that within 12 years of its formal induction and after 300,000 of these rifles are in use, design issues in the weapon are being found now and a replacement is being sought? Somebody should be held responsible for such a botch up but it is unlikely that anybody will. For this replacement we will be spending Rs 10,000 Crores. The defense spending that India does in the name of patriotism seems to be more to the benefit of the defense contractors and arm suppliers and middle men than for the benefit of the Indian soldier.

The Kargil War in 1999 followed the infiltration and capture of strategic mountain positions by the Pakistani army in the winter months of 1998-99. No responsibility was ever fixed on anyone as to how the strategic peaks could be so easily captured and how the infiltration could not be discovered for so long. This war which should never have been necessary had we been better prepared was fought by the Indian soldier in difficult Himalayan conditions in "cotton shirts and canvas shoes". There was also a corruption scandal that came to light in the purchase of coffins for the martyred soldiers.

The Kargil war was itself preceded by the nuclear tests by both Pakistan and India. Truth was finally out in the open that Pakistan has nuclear parity with India and with a first strike option has the ability to deter any serious conventional military action by India. It has been suggested that Pakistan had developed the weapon in the 80's. They had not tested it openly within the borders of Pakistan but they had a working design and also had some delivery capabilities. It can't be a coincidence that the insurgency in Kashmir followed the Jehadi victory in Afghanistan and the acquisition of the bomb by Pakistan. So the first and the biggest failure of our political leadership since the 1971 war for me is in allowing a sworn enemy to acquire nuclear weapons so easily without much protest either militarily or diplomatically. It can't be that nobody in India was aware of their weapons program. The Indian political leadership has failed the Indian soldier by allowing Pakistan to acquire a nuclear weapon.

Some have argued that the ceasefire in 1971 was also premature and was agreed to without a permanent settlement on Kashmir border issue. It is no secret that the Pakistan army has it seems sworn to do to Kashmir what has happened to East Pakistan. Every newly recruited officer in the Pakistan army swears to avenge the 1971 loss. That is why the Pakistan army continues aggression in Kashmir and develop capabilities to continue hurting the Indians by any means however immoral they may be in the eyes of individual citizens of any country of the world. The Pakistan backed terrorism in Jammu & Kashmir and in other parts of the country continues in spite of evidence of their involvement out in the open. One wonders why the military support for Pakistan from the west and the east continues and one wonders why it continues to be an ally of the western powers. Questions are to be asked of our leadership on how the common friends of Pakistan and India can remain neutral when is suits them and take sides when it suits them and what have the Indian leaders done about these double standards on their part? If Russia can be persuaded not to sell arms to Pakistan why not United States and France.

It is my submission that the Indian political leadership has failed the Indian soldier, and if they claim to be patriotic and expect continued sacrifices from the soldier and his family. If they expect the soldier to continue fighting this war of attrition in Kashmir while they do nothing substantial about the continued moral and material support that Jehadi's get from Pakistan then they are perhaps expecting too much from the soldier. It doesn't take long for the message of Samuel Johnson and the deep meaning that it contains to reach patriotic individuals when they realize that they are being taken for granted by a leadership which is incapable of truly valuing their sacrifices. Which either only pays lip service to patriotism when in government or calls for some esoteric tough measures or worst still asks for more sacrifices to teach the enemy a lesson when part of the opposition. If they really value the Indian soldier they should deliver in putting an end to the terror machinery in Pakistan as a condition to improving ties both with our western neighbor and with its western allies. Dialog at all costs is clearly not delivering expected results. Letting the friends of Pakistan off the dock when they are clearly as much responsible for this situation as Pakistan government is hard to comprehend.

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