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In the 1991 ‘coalition war’ with Iraq, the United States and its partners won a decisive victory. Yet Saddam Hussein did not experience decisive defeat, and he continued to not only rule Iraq but also to suppress his domestic adversaries and harass his international audiences and thus provoke wider unease for more than a dozen years afterward. By contrast, in 2003, the US-led coalition achieved Saddam Hussein’s decisive defeat, but it could not claim decisive victory. Simply put, war has its limitations and it cannot do all that needs doing.

As the US involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan and so many other places in the world show, use of force, even if it is one of the best available in terms of sophistication of both technology and human resource, and supported by one of the best financial cushioning, and media back-up – its achievements would forever remain limited. This is, however, not to say that use of military measures is entirely without any merit. Surely wars are at times very useful and sometimes absolutely essential for maintaining peace, security and order. Indeed, the greatest military campaigns are known not just by what they destroy, but also by what they create – a new land like post-World War II Japan.

However, it is also true that transformation from war to peace, rather durable peace, requires a series of very complex and sustained activities. Looking at the desired goal in ‘either-or’ terms limits both understanding as well as the scope of interventions. Therefore, ‘both-and’ approach makes a better sense. This means that while military action is sometimes inevitable, for it creates dynamics favourable to the desired goal; but any over-reliance on just the coercive means and measures comes with its own disadvantages, which are sometimes as disastrous and even fatal like, say drug-overdose.

Like in case of an ailing body, while use of certain drugs is essential and overly helpful, but these drugs help only as long as they are administered in calibrated and controlled doses and strictly as per the expert (doctors’) advise. And like in an ailing person, after a while when drugs (say anti-biotics) have served their purpose, the patient is usually put on certain kinds of dietary supplements and physical and even psychological regimen to undo the adverse effects (side-effects) of drugs!

This is exactly how the current situation between India and Pakistan needs to be looked at and has to evolve from here. Now that the military measures have created conditions for the two estranged neighbours to engage – India sharing the dossier on Pulwama suicide attack, and Pakistan freeing the captured IAF pilot being just two instances – any over-reliance on war will come with ‘side-effects’ neither of the two could afford, and certainly not their respective populations. Indeed this is a reality driven home in some measure by the increased hostilities between the two during past few days. The human, material and psychological costs they incurred on engaging their respective air forces for just two days must have indicated what it would be like if this situation is allowed to prolong!

Instead of trying to go on scoring political brownie points to placate their domestic audiences for partisan politics, it is time for the political leadership to rise to the occasion and try and diffuse tensions for more meaningful engagement wherein each party feels obligated to allay and address the fears of the other. Should it happen, people would certainly have a reason to rejoice and remember this latest bout of military engagement between India and Pakistan for ‘what it created’!

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