The Pity of War

Cross Border shelling at the LoC and its human cost

IN 1999, Niall Ferguson- the distinguished historian and brilliant commentator- wrote a book titled,’ The Pity of War’. Niall made a provocative argument in the book: essentially he indicted and blamed British politicians for the orgy of violence that descended onto Europe and came to be known as the Great War. Discarding the notion of structural and impersonal forces held to be responsible for this conflict, Ferguson offered compelling arguments for his theory or thesis. In the process, ‘common people’ came to be drawn into the conflict; savagery defined the conflict and hundreds of thousands lost their lives.

While Ferguson’s assertions and thesis may or may not be entirely correct, his hypothesis finds an eerie echo in the conflict that has two nation states-India and Pakistan- in the grips of recrudescent, violent conflict. This conflict has exacted a toll of life in Kashmir and beyond but nowadays the two antagonists slug it out on the Line of Control(LoC)- the line that serves to demarcate the two nations from each other. The cross LoC shelling has almost become a rite of passage. However, it exacts a price; a human price. Just today, around four people have died in the latest burst of violence on the LoC. It does not matter whether the victims were Indian or Pakistan. What matters is that they were human and what is tragic is they died and there is potential for the violence flaring up if not now but perhaps in the future. This means more human lives will be lost.

The motivation for today’s burst of violence may be manifold: draw attention to the dispute over Kashmir; needle India or seek to provoke. The reaction in India would be retaliation and retribution, Troops stationed at the LoC may as well retaliate. More will die. Hotlines will be activated. There will be furor in the media over this but  as the Sufi saying goes, ‘this too will pass’ and fizzle out till another time, of course. Amidst all this din and noise , what will be obscured is the pain and fear in the lives of people who live on either side of the border. Life under the shadow of fear and paranoia is not a normal and healthy life. And lives lost are lives lost. The dead cant be brought back to life. The human costs of the cross LoC shelling may not be massive in terms of numbers but entire communities live under the fear of death at the LoC.  Why does not this nag the conscience and intelligence of the political and the military class of both India and Pakistan? Why is misery peddled here in the sense of making the lives of people difficult on the LoC and pressure sought to be borne on each other through these victims?

The answer may be that the conflict between India and Pakistan has for all practical purposes been dehumanized. The human element is not only missing between India and Pakistan but has probably been deliberately obscured. Consequently, Indians and Pakistanis view each other in ungainly and insalubrious terms. An example may suffice here: label a dog mad and watch the reaction; people will root for it to get killed. In the instance of India and Pakistan, the peoples of the respective countries view each other in such jaundiced terms that loss of human life is not seen as anathema or inhuman. This is a generalized observation; there may be exceptions to this general norm. This world view serves the interests of those who would like to see the two countries embroiled in perpetual conflict and daggers drawn- on the edge and precipice. Unfortunately and tragically, innocent people fall victim to this spiral. The loss of life at the LoC today corresponds to this dynamic. This constitutes the Pity of War in South Asia. But this does not mean fatalistically accepting this state of affairs. It is about time that voices are raised against this fratricidal conflict. The best and most effective starting point for this may be to humanize the conflict. Once people across the divide view themselves in human terms, they may then question the hostility and war mongering that defines them. The time for this may be now.

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