A dark and menacing cloud of a possible war that had been hanging over India and Pakistan in the last few days was leading to despair and fatalism not only in India and Pakistan but almost all over the world due to the nuclear arsenal the two countries possess. Ian Helfand, a US physician associated with the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) and Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR), a US affiliate of IPPNW, published in 2013 a report ‘Nuclear Famine: Two Billion People at Risk, Global Impacts of Limited Nuclear War on Agriculture, Food Supplies, and Human Nutrition’ which concluded: ‘The newly generated data on the decline in agricultural production that would follow a limited, regional nuclear war in South Asia raise the concern that a global famine could result, threatening more than two billion people. Epidemic disease and further conflict spawned by such a famine would put additional hundreds of millions at risk’. The scale of destruction depicted in this study is so mind boggling that human imagination dreads to think of such a catastrophe.
The events in India and Pakistan have moved in the last one week at a very fast pace that from a possible catastrophe, we are hopefully moving towards de-escalation of this dreadful conflict. The most critical to the sighting of the silver lining over a dark cloud has been the unconditional handover by Pakistan government of a captured Indian pilot to the Indian government. Many people have portrayed this as a moral victory of Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan over the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Though this peace gesture by the Pakistan Prime Minister along with his speech noted all over the world for its sanity and reasonableness is hugely laudable, this is no time to talk about victories and defeats. This is a time to pray and work for peace and say no to war.
There are certainly warmongers on both sides of the border especially in the media and the political class. Some of them are blinded by ideology, and others are motivated by personal economic interests, careers and political projects. But the silver lining is that it is also making millions in South Asia who are horrified by the threat of war to come out with new voices in myriad ways to speak of peace, friendship and solidarity. Fatima Bhutto, agrand daughter of former Pakistani Prime Minister Zulfiqar Bhutto and niece of another former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, wrote in New York Times (27th February) when the captured Indian pilot was still in Pakistan custody:
“I and many other young Pakistanis have called upon our country to release the captured Indian pilot as a gesture of our commitment to peace, humanity and dignity. We have spent a lifetime at war. I do not want to see Pakistani soldiers die. I do not want to see Indian soldiers die. We cannot be a subcontinent of orphans”
Her words ‘I do not want to see Indian soldiers die’ transcends the sectarian divisions in minds and hearts that the warmongers in both the countries have been trying to create and intensify. Such sentiments of shared humanity are inspiring a growing peace movement in Pakistan. The moral courage shown by these peace activists has led them not only to oppose pro-war sectarians in military and politics but also, perhaps for the first time, those ‘terrorists’ who plan dastardly attacks on civilians and soldiers.
New voices for peace are emerging in different ways in India too. A young nephew of mine living in a village in a border district of Punjab has written: ‘pindan de lok larai nahin chahonde’ (people in the villages do not want war). It must be that watching Indian TV anchors shouting for revenge and hatred in shrill voices, might have made him feel that the people in the cities are supporting war and that he must report the feelings of people living in the villages. I assured him, though knowing very well that I might not be wholly right, that the people in the cities also do not want war.
I think that it is time to read and for those to reread who have already read Leo Tolstoy’s ‘War and Peace’ published in 1869. This 1400 pages long novel has been variously described as ‘the greatest novel ever written’, ‘The best book ever written’ and what I like the most and agree with that it is ‘A book that you don’t just read, you live’.
I conclude by reproducing a few lines from this great piece of literature:
“The military class gets all the honours. And what is war, what is necessary for success on the battlefield, what is the moral basis of a military society? The aim of war is murder, the weapons of war are spying, treachery and the fostering of further treachery, the destruction of people, looting their property and stealing from them to keep the army on the road, falsehood and deceit, which go by the name of clever tactical ploys, and the moral basis of the military class is the curtailment of freedom through discipline, linked with idleness, ignorance, cruelty, debauchery and drunkenness. And in spite of all that, it’s still the highest class, universally respected…the biggest rewards go to the man who has killed the most people…People come together to murder one another…, men get slaughtered and crippled in their tens of thousands, and then services of thanksgiving are held to celebrate the killings of vast numbers of men (they even exaggerate the numbers), and victory is proclaimed, on the basis that the more men slaughtered, the greater the achievement. How can God look down from heaven and listen to it all?” (p. 861).
Professor Pritam Singh, Oxford School of Global and Area Studies, University of Oxford, UK