Ever since the attack in Pulwama by a suicide bomber killing 42 of India’s security personnel, the country has been on the edge fearing an all-out war with Pakistan. Any civilized person could see the barbarity of this dastardly terrorist act only with disgust and rage. However, a confrontation between these two nuclear powers is neither in the interest of these two nations nor does it bode well for the future of this turbulent region. Pakistan has been waging a proxy war with India over the Kashmir issue from the time of Independence, and a final solution to this crisis is not within sight.
Some would argue that this is the time of war and everyone should keep their apprehensions about its conduct or any other questions they may have close to their chest. However, a massive intelligence failure of this magnitude over the Pulwama tragedy should not be missed. How did a young man in his twenties, who was already on the radar of the Security personnel, come to possess, pack & conceal, and then drive 300KG worth of explosives towards a military convoy undetected? Reports from the region suggest that a police advisory was already in effect a week before this, stating that the Central Reserve Police Force deployment would be targeted. Where is the accountability on these massive security lapses?
A recent New York Times report paints a scathing image of India’s vintage military equipment and its impact on military readiness. “India’s armed forces are in alarming shape. If intense warfare broke out tomorrow, India could supply its troops with only 10 days of ammunition according to government estimates. And 68 percent of the army’s equipment is so old. It is officially considered ‘vintage’”. A swollen bureaucracy together with lack of funding obviously rendered these procurement and training processes anything but cumbersome.
Nevertheless, India was left with no choice but to retaliate. Pakistan has been aiding and abetting Jaesh-e-Mohammed and its leader Masood Azhar despite the pressure from the U.N. and other international bodies. The Air Force was tasked to strike these terror targets in Balakot region: an order that was carried out despite bad weather conditions. The Indian Military has been known for its professionalism and respect for civilian leadership in a democratic setup. Air Chief Marshal B.S. Dhanoa refused to give a casualty count saying “”IAF doesn’t count the number of dead” and the “casualty figure in an air strike on Balakot camp will be given by the government,” referring to the air strike it had carried out on February 26, 2019.
However, what we have witnessed following the strike from the Government and the BJP leaders would not only sully the image of India but also the nation’s credibility through overt politicization of this conflict, as the country is preparing itself for a critical election. First, the leaked information from sources to the media put the casualty count at 300 to 350. Western intelligence sources and the International press immediately cast severe doubt on these numbers, and some reports directly from the ground characterized the damages as minimal.
However, in public speeches, Amit Shah, the President of the ruling party BJP, talked about 250 terrorists being wiped out. Other BJP leaders like BS Yeddyurappa said that his party would win 22 seats in Karnataka after the strike. It is as if BJP leaders are relishing these moments of war and salivating about the prospects of riding to victory in the fog of a protracted fight between these nations. It boggles one’s mind to believe that after the Pulwama attack, the terrorists associated with Jaesh-e-Mohammed just gathered together to sleep in one place, making an easy target of themselves for the IAF!
Anyone who questioned the veracity of these BJP leaders’ claims is called an anti-nationalist and accused of doing Pakistan’s bidding. “At a time when our army is engaged in crushing terrorism, inside the country and outside, some people within the country are trying to break their morale, which is cheering our enemy,” Modi said at an election rally. “I want to know from Congress and its partners why they are making statements that are benefiting the enemies”, he added. Modi is apparently absent from the capital in managing the conflict. Instead, he is entirely taking advantage of the ongoing battle on his campaign trail, vilifying the opposition and questioning their patriotism for political advantage.
Another shameful spectacle that is unfolding in India today is the blatant display of jingoism by the media and their networks to propel a wider war. Instead of bringing together the nation at a time of crisis, some of these news channels are creating divisions, promoting hate and sowing discord. They broadcast manufactured news; shamelessly appropriate nationalism; and designate a segment as enemy allies. Many of them have become vassals of special interests mostly controlled by crony capitalists aligned with the ruling party.
It is also sad to hear that there is an atmosphere of fear and intimidation created for Kashmiri students across the country, as Sangh Parivar forces target them for revenge attacks. “It is no secret that the Bajrang Dal and the student wing of the Sangh were foremost in fomenting trouble against Kashmiri students in various parts of India. This was done keeping in mind the upcoming general election”, Omar Abdulla, former Chief Minister of Kashmir said. “It is obvious that BJP sees an advantage in these types of environments. It helps them paper over Modi’s mistakes like demonetization, joblessness, India’s poor economic growth and the distress faced by the country’s agricultural sector” he added.
We collectively admire the bravery and sacrifice of our armed forces. They are fighting to keep all Indians safe and protect the sovereignty of the nation from terrorists and a country that provides haven to them. Moreover, they are fighting to safeguard our democratic traditions and way of life. As Sashi Kumar, a commentator eloquently put it recently, “they are not fighting for this or that political party; they are not fighting for the electoral gains of the ruling party or of the opposition. However, they are if anything fighting the religious fundamentalism of one kind but not to replace it with the rampant religious fundamentalism of another kind, even of the majoritarian variety”.
The BJP’s strategy appears to be clear and straightforward: playing up Hindu nationalism; linking Kashmiri youth and Jihadi terrorists supported by an enemy, Pakistan; and providing ‘red meat’ to a large segment of the voting public, who are so disappointed with Modi’s failure to deliver his campaign promises. However, this is all at the risk of endangering India’s democratic and pluralistic values, and accelerating animosity between two armed nuclear neighbors, which may even put them on a path to potential disaster!
(The writer is a former Chief Technology Officer of the United Nations and current Vice-Chairman of the Indian Overseas Congress, USA)