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Casualties of war and political games


At the Pakistan-India border Navnetmitt under a Creative Commons Licence

Our newspapers recently reported border skirmishes in which Indian soldiers were killed. These confrontations are common, a regular occurrence on the Indo-Pakistan and Indo-China fronts.

Skirmish is such an inappropriate word, trivializing what happens repeatedly at our borders. My stomach twists into a knot when I hear about the soldiers who die fighting for a barren piece of land between the two countries. They freeze, suffer frost-bite and routinely lose fingers and toes in the Siachen glacier between India and China. I think about the widows and orphans – the grieving, heartbroken families of our men who die for their flag and country and I'm overwhelmed by a feeling of déjà vu, of hopelessness and helplessness. It brings back memories of school poems by Wilfred Owen and other war poets that we recited about the pointlessness of war, ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’, Theirs not to make reply, theirs not to reason why, theirs but to do and die, Tennyson.

I can't stand the thought of these young men becoming mere cannon fodder while political leaders play war games. Neither Owen nor Tennyson knew 21st century jargon like ‘collateral damage’. Such an exercise in futility, such a terrible waste of precious lives. And not just here in India. There are tens of thousands of dead soldiers: young Americans, Iraqis, Brits, Afghans... I think in clichés: when will we ever learn? I can see many people scoffing at this blog saying: ‘Silly pacifists, get in touch with the real world. Guns and nukes are necessary evils.’  

Last week, when six Indian soldiers were killed by Pakistani fire, it predictably created a media frenzy, with hysterical TV anchors baying for Pakistan's blood and screaming for revenge. It's even worse than normal, because with elections coming up next year, the opposition wants to portray the current government as weak on the ‘war on terror’.

The Hindu, India's most intelligent newspaper in my view, carried a couple of articles which were more balanced. While the opposition continues its pre-election posturing, journalist Harish Khare reminds us that the party leaders now screaming for revenge were in power when the Mumbai blasts happened. Their leader, then Prime Minister Vajpayee, was a sane statesman who saw the wisdom in carrying on the peace process rather than spewing venom and shrill rhetoric. Khare writes, ‘It has become incumbent upon the Indian political leadership to try to help create and sustain a constituency for peace and sanity in Pakistan.'

The people of India and Pakistan are fed up of war. But the vested interests, Pakistani extremists and Indian fundamentalists, unscrupulous politicians with small minds and short term election goals, constantly hamper the peace process with jingoism and war-mongering hysteria. A comment on The Hindu article from ‘Salman’ sums it up. He writes, ' the US had its 9/11, India had its Mumbai, we are bearing the brunt 24/7.’

It’s the week after 15 August, our Independence Day. Most celebrations include a minute of silence, remembrance for our freedom fighters and the thousands of Indian soldiers who died fighting for this country. Their deaths should not be trivialized. But to me, going lightly or unnecessarily into war, for dubious, unsavoury reasons can only prove futile in the long run. This means we treat the lives of our soldiers callously, let them die horrible, preventable deaths.

And this applies to all soldiers fighting wars or defending countries around the world. The forces against peace are myriad – well known war-time profiteers in high places, the arms industry, politicians who turn soldiers into cannon fodder. I know this sounds naïve and simplistic but it has to be said: it really is time we gave peace a chance.

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