It calls for patience

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The Indian Air Force carrying out strikes deep inside Pakistan’s territory on what it claims was a militant group’s training camp has once again given birth to a fresh bout of hostilities between the two estranged neighbours. Together with the chest thumping that followed in India, Pakistan had to retaliate – and it did. So as the situation is currently poised, this war (more of claims and counter-claims) between the two sides is on, and it would continue for some time notwithstanding the political leadership of both sides having indicated that they do not want to escalate tensions any further.

But as of now the major worry is the media of both countries, catering to the street sentiment and baser instincts of their respective populations so as to grab higher share of television rating points, and retired military-men and former diplomats and other deadwood are indulging in war-mongering for their post-retirement relevance. Some TV channels have even set up “war rooms” in their studios from where the pro-right media and security analysts and retired generals are bombarding the enemy with sophisticated missiles in their verbal arsenal – choicest invectives and platitudes. This mud-slinging is actually doing some real great damage to the possibilities of calm by pushing the countries towards a formal war, which certainly is in nobody’s interest.

Given the stockpile of weaponry possessed by two hostile neighbours, it goes without saying that any escalation in tensions is fraught with dangers of unimaginable magnitude. This is something that those indulging in war mongering inside the TV studios must understand. And history certainly provides a rich repository of important lessons in this regard.

The Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962, for instance, was a direct and dangerous confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War and was the moment when the two superpowers came closest to nuclear conflict. The crisis was unique in a many ways, featuring calculations and miscalculations as well as direct and secret communications and miscommunications between the two sides. The dramatic crisis was also characterized by the fact that it was primarily played out at the White House and the Kremlin level with relatively little input from the respective bureaucracies typically involved in the foreign policy process.

This is exactly how it is for the India and Pakistan. With an eye on their respective domestic audiences and politics, both governments have embarked on a very dangerous path wherein even a small miscalculation or miscommunication may well put entire subcontinent in the midst of a possible thermonuclear war.

History stands witness that it is not only what governments think and do that inform their choices of war or peace, sometimes a foolish action or even a mischief by certain individuals too is enough to trigger war.

For instance, a US fighter plane downed during a reconnaissance flight over the Cuba (during Missile Crisis), it turned out decades later, was not targeted at the behest of Kremlin but because of a snap decision taken by a Russian general in, may be a fit of personal rage. Even in the face of this grave provocation, US President John F. Kennedy, who had earlier warned of attack in case any US plane was hit, waited while insisting on giving diplomatic channels some more time. This paid off and thus was averted a sure World War III, which might even have seen the end of the world.

So what is being said here is that while it seems cool and fashionable to go for chest thumping exercises to please domestic audiences, it actually does not help either country’s cause. The present crisis calls for patience, both in Islamabad and New Delhi.

“If there is no intention,” Khrushchev’s message to Kennedy said, “to doom the world to the catastrophe of thermonuclear war, then let us not only relax the forces pulling on the ends of the rope, let us take measures to untie that knot. We are ready for this.” Cuban war was thus averted – thanks to both Kennedy and Khrushchev and their statesmanship. Hope prime ministers Narendra Modi and Imran Khan show similar courage and foresight!

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