Is South Asia drifting into another war?

The last time something like this happened was in 1962, and the results weren’t pretty

Shahzad Chaudhry May 24, 2020
A Reuters image of Narendra Modi.

South Asia is too broad. It essentially means India and Pakistan. Again ‘drift’ too is important. It is that slow, unobserved, passive slide which involuntarily thrusts you to an unintended consequence. If that consequence necessitates use of arms and weapons by two nuclear states, it makes for a disastrous collision.

Just go back a year. India and Pakistan had clashed militarily on and across the LoC and none too complimentarily for India. Intervention of common ‘friends’ and some derived rationality avoided the two sliding into a deeper, more destructive quagmire. Elephants though forget rarely and when one is injured and driven by a newfound sense of tribal superiority, it makes for a deadly mix of vanity and vengeance.

In India there are other forces at play too. The August 5 revocation of Article 370 last year — annulling Kashmir’s special status as a disputed territory awaiting resolution — and the subsequent disquiet it caused in Kashmir and its freedom movement could only be suppressed with the heaviest military deployment per sq km anywhere in the world. Kashmiris were already being oppressed under the heaviest high-handedness of state suppression, they now have had to suffer literal and virtual incarceration, disappearance of thousands of the Kashmiri youth — taken away by Indian security forces to hidden destinations and unknown ends. Many mothers await the arrival back of their sons, alive.

The entire enactment of revoking Kashmir’s special status needed Kashmir’s Legislative Assembly to be dismissed, a Governor’s rule imposed and legislation enabled through a sham legislative order by the appointed Governor enabling India to annex Kashmir into its union. This is other than the widespread killing, murder, assassinations, rape and disfigurement of Kashmiri children, women and the old. The world has taken note of it. For a potential global player such moral destitution sticks like an ugly blot. Kashmir remains active and alive and a push-back is already in play. It will only get intense with time as events spiral out of control of the occupation forces. Of it there is no doubt. This engenders desperation in Delhi.

Internally too, Narendra Modi and his team of Amit Shah and Yogi Adityanath have unleashed another wave of alienation. Some 200 million Muslims of India have been disenfranchised and marginalised with series of legislations which frame the Muslims as the ‘other’ and imposes a conduct on them in contravention of their faith. Live lynching of Muslims is common even as the Muslim Personal Act is altered at will by the Indian legislature to gradually convert it into a uniform civil code. It remains a work in progress with attending consequences. Muslims — strengthened by those Indians who believe in granting all people their right to faith and religious practice as enshrined in any democratic, liberal and secular order, defaced now at the hands of RSS’ Hindutva brigades — have begun a widespread agitation against such treatment by the overwhelming Hindu majority. Covid-19 has only disrupted what had become a rallying cry.

Modi remains conscious of the double whammy that such ill-thought and hate-motivated resort to ethno-religious alienation can generate. The efforts at demographic dilution and engineering and an ongoing pogrom in Kashmir will only conflate, in effect, were the two to play out simultaneously. Modi has extended his flanks far too much in pursuit of an ideological and notional chimera under bad advice of his venomous lieutenants. He must now suffer the consequences of this ideational adventurism. And put at risk the future of the multitudes that inhabit this part of the world. Hate, blind ambition and a misplaced sense of racial superiority than the rational drive his mad pursuits.

How can he react? To distract domestic opinion from his anti-people policies and as a popularity ploy among his support-base he went about Muslim-bashing and Pakistan-bashing to reinforce the animosity whipped up by him and his cronies among the Hindu majority. Incessant ceasefire violations of the LoC — higher than ever before (1,100 till date, this year) — whip up a war fervour and build further on the sentiment of hate. Indian forces target innocent civilians across the LoC to displace them from their homes and hearth and scare them into submission as Indian forces excess against their Kashmiri brethren on the Indian side. He also hopes it will keep the Pakistani forces cowed in the face of such audacity and acquiesce to Indian high-handedness in Kashmir. He wrongly assumes this shall dictate a new normal in the region. His recent outlandishness against China and Nepal is in line with a similar quest for an assertive India. Together these make for a disposition which is haughty, irrational and misplaced. A toxic mix for a region likened to a tinderbox.

Modi also has Ajit Doval working in tandem from Indian Intelligence bases in Afghanistan and Iran on the Balochistan border to impose another front on Pakistan’s security forces. This when Covid-19 rages relentlessly in both India and Pakistan. To a treacherous mind there is no better time to advance a heinous agenda. Modi’s troubles are multiple and his dangerous resort could be to the military instrument to seek a way out. His ambition too adds precariousness to these possibilities as he seeks eternal glory as a legacy. Sadly, all pillars of Indian state seem to have contributed to this indignity of Indian minorities. To cover for their malicious role in executing it as a policy they add to the din of war in a hope that it might distract public indignation. The office of the newly minted post of the CDS belongs to an overtly politicised army general who adds to this war cry.

Pakistan has its work cut out. Its military is heavily involved in assisting the fight-back against Covid-19 and in assisting the government through its support functions. This even as it fights off pressures at the LoC and in its hinterland against terror encouraged against it by Indian agents. Any further adventurism by the RSS school of thought will necessitate Pakistan to respond with its full might. It is within the realm of the possible that this region just might slide into an unfortunate catastrophe.

How real is the threat? With Modi one can’t tell. Rationally speaking, this is no age for wars but a political system that imagines some past glory and is driven by sentiment can easily turn expansionist. Modi and his military make repeated claims over territories that lie in neighbouring states and rather than negotiate to resolve lingering counter-claims isn’t loath to resort to military instrument in pursuit of misplaced idealism. There is continuous tension between India and all its neighbours. By infusing deliberate uncertainty with all it seems India relishes attention even if negative. That makes the entire strategic environment tenuous. What might further push the region over the edge would be an ill-timed nudge from someone like the US (Alice Wells) to India to assert against the growing Chinese influence. That will surely pull the Chinese into the region kinetically to safeguard their vital interests like CPEC. The last time something like this happened was in 1962, and the results weren’t pretty. 

Published in The Express Tribune, May 24th, 2020.

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