As I write these words there is a “rescue mission” underway for our soldiers in Siachen, this is one of those rare occasions where one wants to believe the ISPR and be open to the hope that there still remains a possibility of some rescue. Yet, no one is really convincing. I read Thomas Hardy’s, Winter in Dunover Field again, and it was as if for the first time. It is about three birds walking in a frozen field looking for food and it goes,
“Rook.—Throughout the field I find no grain; The cruel frost encrusts the cornland!
Starling.—Aye: patient pecking now is vain/ Throughout the field, I find…
Rook.— No grain! /Pigeon.— Nor will be, comrade, till it rain, Or genial thawings loose the lorn land/ Throughout the field. / Rook.— I find no grain: The cruel frost encrusts the cornland!”
There is almost no grain in Siachen in the best of times; it is safe to assume that there is none there where our boys are trapped right now, and rain seems distant.
However when one thinks about it at any length it becomes obvious that Hardy is not really relevant, our gallant soldiers were not there looking for food. They were there because we have sent them there to fight over an unforgiving mass of inhabitable snow, and then forgot about them. There is unmistakably something murderous and suicidal about this. I caution you about reading Siegfried Sassoon or Wilfred Owen immediately after turning off the television airing the dry, stone faced and highly unsentimental accounts of the Siachen tragedy. Siegfried Sassoon’s, Suicide in the Trenches has the potential to cause a solitary tear to appear on the most manly of cheeks, if read now.
“I knew a simple soldier boy/ Who grinned at life in empty joy,/ Slept soundly through the lonesome dark,/ And whistled early with the lark./ In winter trenches, cowed and glum,/ With crumps and lice and lack of rum,/ He put a bullet through his brain./No one spoke of him again./ You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye/ Who cheer when soldier lads march by,/ Sneak home and pray you’ll never know/ The hell where youth and laughter go.”
I hope you believe me that I do not resort to excessive use of poetry for any pretentious or opportunistic reason. It is primarily because of my inability to do justice on my own to the subject. All of us fall within the classifications of “smug-faced cowards” yet the clown, Zaid Hamid particularly does not seem funny today, but sinister, the red cap seems appropriately soaked in blood. The Difa-i-Pakistan Council’s rogues inciting our kids to go and achieve martyrdom, today look like the smug-faced, armchair cowards that they are. The luxury armoured “Staff cars” of the Generals seem more than ever to be fuelled by the blood of our lads.
There seems to be some moral ambivalence coming from a few quarters regarding condolences and condemnation. Let me be clear on the point, the general subversive role of our establishment and the jingoism of our military high command makes these soldiers more of martyrs, not less. The justification of them being there can seem very flimsy, even nonsensical and that would make the war absurd, yet those boys buried under tons of snow were never consulted on the decision. The best way to condole and remember these soldiers is to campaign for an end to the Siachen conflict. Let it be our tribute and token of gratitude to them. At this point, as difficult as it is, it needs to be said that the same solidarity, grief and pain should be displayed and felt every time our soldiers are killed by native homicidal fanatics. If not more, then the cold-blooded murder by the Taliban is certainly not a less noble and worthy death.
I do not claim to understand the nuances and strategic significance of the Siachen glacier and conflict much. Yet, I know this is at least not one sided. The Indian establishment seems as utterly unconcerned and unmoved with the death of their soldiers as ours. The avalanche is probably the most painful, yet the most piercingly strong, argument against this stupid, frozen and blood drenched engagement. Avalanches are likely to be indiscriminate, not stopping to check if it is an Indian or a Pakistani soldier that is being killed. This criminal foolishness from both sides should end now.
I will no doubt be told by those well-versed in the matters of statecraft and foreign policy that this is indulging in impractical, hollow sentimentality and there are higher imperatives, etc. Most of those objections would probably be true, however the frozen bodies of more than one hundred soldiers is almost as high as an imperative can go sometimes. If nothing else, this should provide the impetus to bringing the Siachen to the top or near the top of the agenda in the Pakistan-India dialogue. There may be more significant, high impact matters, yet the futility of the Siachen conflict and of the resulting deaths makes it qualitatively different from other agenda items. Rudyard Kipling wrote about the death of his only son in the First World War in these words,
“Our statecraft, our learning,/ Delivered them bound to the pit and alive to the burning/ Whither they mirthfully hastened as jostling for honour./ Not since her birth has our Earth seen such worth loosed upon her! … But who shall return us our children?”
Siachen, like almost all of Pakistan-India conflict, is not a war between two peoples, it is not even a war between two armies, it is a self-serving, ego-driven contest between the top military leadership of both sides. It is a failure of the civilian governments, but it is perilously close to being a failure of the people of Pakistan and India. To end I quote the imperishable words of Ustad Daman written originally about partition but equally true for Siachen: “Lalli Akhian de paye dasdi aye Roye tusi we so, roye assi wi aan” (“The redness of the eyes tells the tale, both of us have wept”)
Published in The Express Tribune, April 15th, 2012.
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