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No such thing as a winnable war

  • Published at 11:30 pm February 28th, 2019
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Crisis control REUTERS

Both Narendra Modi and Imran Khan might feel like they have something to prove

It was about 10 years ago, when I’d heard the song “Russians” by the English musician Sting. The song, released in 1985 when the Cold War between Russia and the United States was still in danger of boiling over into a full-blown nuclear war, had the lines, “There’s no such thing as a winnable war. It’s a lie we don’t believe anymore.”

Sadly, if history is anything to go by, it’s a lesson we, as humans, have been quite poor at learning.

The recent debacle -- and it continues to be a debacle -- between India and Pakistan over Kashmir is just the latest in the long, ugly, bloody, and distasteful spat between the two countries which dates back to the time when they were divided into two separate independent nations in 1947, perhaps the final trick up the sleeves of the British as they exited the sub-continent. 

Two countries, divided by ideological differences in religious beliefs, but united in so much more, have taken very different trajectories in their times as independent nations. While India has no doubt continued to progress and is knocking at the doors of being considered a genuine global economic powerhouse, Pakistan has arguably regressed, marred by political tensions, and employing an inflexible ideological approach that is in stark contrast to the globalized, inclusive nature the world seems to increasingly advocate. 

This recent spat over Kashmir -- in the wake of the tragic suicide attack in the Pulwama district of Kashmir which left over 40 dead -- and the beef between the countries in general contain all the elements required for a ghastly concoction that could potentially act as a catalyst for pushing the two countries to the brink of all-out attack. The elements, of finger pointing, of terrorism, of the ostracizing and discrimination of Kashmiris throughout India following the Pulwama incident, of supposed espionage, of airstrikes, of shooting down planes, all eventually point to one bitter truth -- that these two nations continue to be incapable of seeing eye to eye.

The current situation is perhaps further exacerbated because India’s PM, Narendra Modi, has always had a reputation for being biased against Islam, and has never shied away from his hostility towards Pakistan. India’s current political climate, with increased marginalization of Muslims and the continued prevalence and ascent of Hindutva, ie, nationalism steeped in Hinduism, along with leaders such as Modi and Amit Shah, seem to indicate that they would not need much reason from Pakistan to justify waging war.

Pakistan, of course, has its own problems. The arrival of Imran Khan, inarguably the greatest cricketer Pakistan has ever produced, and arguably the finest cricketer to hail from the continent of Asia, has taken a long road towards ascending to the position of prime minister after retiring from cricket in 1992. However, it must be remembered that Khan’s appointment as the prime minister last year was not free from controversy, and plenty around the world were quick to point that there was alleged foul play, particularly from the always relevant Pakistan military, of which Khan was the preferred candidate.

Despite his Oxford education, eloquence, and sheer charisma that has perhaps only amplified since his days of leading Pakistan as its captain, Khan’s political approach is a far-cry to the swashbuckling liberal captain charming women across the globe, and his alleged alliance and continued support of the Pakistan Taliban will continue to be a black mark held against him by more liberal and inclusive circles.

Both of these leaders also have something to prove. Modi will no doubt be looking to capitalize on this in a bid for re-election, in an attempt to persuade and assure the Indian population that he and BJP are the right choice in repelling Pakistan’s aggression.

Khan, on the other hand, must also prove to his people that he is the right man for the job, that his 2018 election, after previous failed bids for the role of PM, will usher a turn of fortune for Pakistan, bringing in a new climate in hope. Balking before India, and backing down, would not sit well with the people. Nor is it expected that Khan, a notoriously proud leader during his time as Pakistan captain and in his politics, will be one for meek words.

So it is in the hands of these two strongmen leaders that the fate of over 1.5 billion people rests. It is my hope that these men, and their respective cabinets, will listen to Sting’s Russians repeatedly. Because there really is no such thing as a winnable war. 

AHM Mustafizur Rahman is Editorial Assistant at Dhaka Tribune.