Monday, 21 January 2013

March of The Six Hundred

The Indian media has issued severe cries for war in the past few days when bodies of two soldiers were found to be mutilated. On January 6, Pakistan accused India of launching an attack and killing one soldier. (Times of India, Jan 6). Then on January 8, two Indian soldiers were killed in an attack from Pakistan. Killed and beheaded, the media pointed out. (NDTV, Jan 9).  However, as it appears, there are varied claims to the nature and facts of decapitation. (
There has been since then a growing clamour of voices (mainly in the press) for declaring war on Pakistan to avenge the deaths of Indian soldiers. War to them, it seems, is just a three letter word. It comes in handy when dealing with a difficult neighbour. “Just two armies fighting, nothing else. Boys’ games and all.” they seem to say.

If I may borrow from Lord Tennyson’s famous poem, Charge of The Light Brigade, I’d say when they march the six hundred into Kashmir, and march six hundred from the other side into Kashmir; they march into the Valley of Death.

Then they shall fight. All twelve hundred of them, or may be more. Man and man, guns and tanks, bombs and planes, horses and asses.

They shall ride swiftly and plunge into the enemy on the other side. When they do all this and more, Kashmir shall still be waiting. After the madness has ended, after Insanity has packed his bags and figured his route, he shall deftly traverse their Line of Control and pass on to the other side. There he shall meet his foul inferior cousin, Vengeance. Vengeance shall appear in much similar form and will again run her thin icy fingers round their LoC and in a shrill laughter play on both sides. Her hair loose and falling in large curls. Both making merry in the terrains where men, strangers among themselves, shall name the other Enemy and run amok for blood.

Over serene foothills and unquiet peaks the cannons will volley and thunder. The people of the hills will move away from their houses to safer and stranger plains until the soldiers cease to storm with shot and shell. Then they will, if they can, return.

Sure enough, the news will spread beyond the subcontinent. Europeans and Americans, may be even Australians and Chinese, will cast a lazy eye over the happenings and call for the hostilities to end. The United Nations offices in Kashmir will give forth a hasty call to its counterpart on the other side of the LoC and hence, once again, establish their relevance.

When the war of Kargil was fought between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, Srinagar was abuzz with military activity. Not that it is anything unusual for Srinagar. The Indian army was ferried up to the wilderness in unending convoys.  So were the mules and horses, and also some miscellaneous weaponry.  People switched off their cars and buses and waited patiently for the green army trucks to pass. From Sonwar to Dalgate to Boulevard to Brein and from there onwards to Kargil and Drass, the army vehicles made a huge queue, while the locals gathered with their elfin minivans and cars waiting to be allowed to pass. The traffic policemen stood aside along with army men watching the traffic gather at the turns of roads. The army had the first right to use it. The convoys kept moving, even at night. Those days there was no tourism, which in other words means, that Indians did not come in flocks to Kashmir. So no one measured the amount of peace in Kashmir, as they do now, by the number of tourists visiting each year. Indeed, there was no peace to be measured.

The bugle of war has been sounded from far away news rooms by perturbed news readers who face their nations every evening demanding answers to formidable queries. Sure enough they will send their emissaries to show the perils of modern warfare to the world at large. A war they had deemed inevitable – a war in which they will not fight. Themselves, they will take on to discuss with people from both sides the vagaries of foreign relations and the war afoot. It will be then that they remember to reason why and make reply. A certain noisy gentleman in an urbane suit and tie will make sure to point to the other side that any excess in war (beheadings et al) is not Indian culture, but Pakistani culture. From the other side, they’ll do much the same.

Plato said that only the dead see the end of war. Those who remain alive of the twelve hundred will return to their barracks. It is doubtful if they will pause to wonder whether they have attained any glory which won’t fade. A war fought to avenge the lost heads of soldiers speaks more of gory than glory anyhow. No one will emerge as a hero. But Insanity and Vengeance shall not be satisfied. They will simply pack their things and disappear for a while. Or maybe just hold their games for some time. Their scores are never settled and they never want them to. Like kids, they want their games to go on forever. Vengeance and retribution require a long time; it is the rule, says Dickens.

The rising crescendo for war may eventually fade away without the war actually happening. The news hysteria will be diverted on to different things. Wars are not easy. They are not just events occurring at the borders, at the LoC in this case. War is like frost on a wintry morning. It touches everything in its way.
But at the end of it Kashmir shall still be waiting. Wars between India and Pakistan haven’t resolved the conflict in Jammu and Kashmir. They have surely altered the politics in all three places but never promised a war-less future. 

(PS: the poem “Charge of The Light Brigade” was written on events of the Battle of Balaclava during the Crimean War between Britain (with her allies) and Russia. The Light Brigade charged at the enemy because of a wrongly communicated order received from Lord Raglan, the overall commander. For the article above, I have freely borrowed from the poem)

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