Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Case For War


Ajit Chaudhuri – October 2015

‘Join the Army - Travel to far-off, exotic places - Meet unusual, exciting people - And kill them’[1]

My Days in J&K: I am gallivanting around in J&K again! This time, i.e. the past year, has been different from earlier occasions in that I have travelled around freely, and at no time have I felt unsafe, insecure, or threatened. I am often reminded of earlier sojourns, when the same could not always have been said.

My first visit into J&K was back in 1995, by bus from Delhi to Leh via Manali when I entered the state after the descent down the Baralacha La pass. ‘Wow!’ I remember thinking while looking at the yellow mountainous landscape (that part of J&K is a high altitude desert). I returned on foot, journeying from Leh to Spiti on to Manali and Delhi and leaving the state via the almost 6,000 metres high Parang La pass.

I next had a series of visits between 1997 and 1999, this time while coordinating a research study in Changthang and Batalik (both in Ladakh). The latter required me to visit border areas in the days of shelling, when journeys between Dras and Kargil were done at night with lights off (there is a two km stretch of road that is in direct sight of our friendly neighbour’s artillery), a deeply unpleasant experience on those mountainous roads to the extent that I think I would prefer to have been shelled.

I saw the Kashmir valley only after the 2005 earthquake, when duty took me to Uri and Tangdhar for the next two years. My organization of the time, along with the Army, built a students’ hostel in Tangdhar (said to be the best in the state) – made possible by the 2003 ceasefire along the border that ensured no shelling. Travelling within the state, i.e. Srinagar to Tangdhar/Uri (via towns that anyone following the news would be familiar with, Baramulla, Kupwara, Sopore, et al) was not so much fun – do it in a military vehicle and face attacks by the militancy, and do it in a civilian vehicle and face long searches and make explanations every 25 km, usually with three AK-47s pointed at different body parts until one’s identity was established.

As I said, notwithstanding the drama on our news channels, it is much better today!

The benefits of long term peace and stability should be obvious to all; flowers bloom, infrastructure builds up, the wheels of the economy churn, growth, development and prosperity are ushered in, democracy flourishes, blah, blah, blah, and we can have children in the knowledge that they will not have to face the brutality of war.

The Case for War: Why then is war such an attractive option? Why is it touted so often, by the powers-that-be and the general public, even as a solution to minor problems and as a course of action to address irritants? Are people idiots, that they don’t know what war costs? Or is there something about war that is sensible, rational, and sane? This note examines the case for war, in general and in the case of the current environment in India and its immediate neighbourhood.

The economic perspective: War is a stimulant to an economy, especially in its initial moments, creating demand for all things military and revving up the defence production sector. It can become a drag as it goes on, as the warring country prints more notes to finance it (thus reducing the currency’s worth), and as the ‘guns vs. butter’ argument over the use of scarce resources slants away from food. Long wars are the luxury of the large economies, and that is why superpower-hood (defined as the ability to conduct two remote wars simultaneously) is a one country club.

The military perspective: Armies tend to like war! This is for obvious reasons; generals decide things in armies, and a) they tend not to die in war, and b) war reminds a country why it has an army in the first place (in peace, an army is a non-productive expense and therefore a burden on the exchequer). War builds an army’s profile, and helps justify its budget demands. But also, a good army needs to have a war every generation for practical reasons – generals need to have fought wars as captains and majors, when they are in the frontline, to be competent generals, and they therefore need opportunities for the current crop of captains and majors to gain the necessary experience to be the generals of tomorrow. It is in fact a little disconcerting to note that the Indian armed forces are soon going to be led by people who have no first-hand knowledge of the ‘fog of war’.

The societal perspective: Policy makers often have to deal with the problem of large numbers of useless young men – they are disruptive, they challenge status quo and they upend established power relations in society. They scare the powerful and elite, to whom policy makers are accountable. The traditional method of dealing with them was to send them off to war – this killed them in numbers, and those that came back did so respectful of structure and authority, ready to go on to a life as part of the system, lawyers, accountants, etc. This had the added advantage, from the perspective of the elite, of leaving large numbers of young women available to them. It is no surprise that most of the major wars across history took place when the warring entities were experiencing spikes in the population of young people. Long term peace leaves policy options like skilling programmes, subsidized universities, and creating jobs in sufficient numbers, to address the menace – less effective because (apart from neither culling them nor freeing up the women) these are no guarantee against them exerting their disruptive influence on society at large.

The political perspective: Politicians tend to like being seen as war-time leaders for the obvious benefits that winning a war brings to their political careers – and the option of war is particularly attractive to those whose CVs have little else to offer; who have no experience of or interest in nation building, and whose inclinations are more towards destroying institutions and systems rather than creating to them. You are thinking it – politicians like the crude, bigoted provincials in our central cabinet[2].

Most of our current masters share two more dangerous traits. One – they are semi-educated. While shrewd enough, they have limited knowledge, a zero world view, and an inability to distinguish between mythology and reality, the products of a broken education system and a reason for their inability to fill public positions that have intellectual requirements. And two, while Pakistan serves them as a convenient object of hatred, it is also their role model for India. They lack the intellectual capacity to take into account the arguments against military adventurism – that you cannot fight geography (and therefore that Pakistan will always be your neighbour, whether you like it or not), that while Pakistan may be a dump it does have a fighting army, and that nobody wins a nuclear war. That even if they ‘win’ (i.e. assuming no nukes and interventions by the US or China, all big ‘if’s), they will then have to administer the most un-administrable parts of the world (the thought of these bozos running Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa and FATA, which even the British left alone, anyone?).

To Conclude: War as a continuation of politics by other means (to quote the military strategist Carl von Clausewitz) is one thing. And war because of some fools’ ideological bindings, proclivity for groupthink, and need to compensate for the inability to do anything constructive, quite another. We are in for interesting times.

[1] Slogan on a popular anti-war T-shirt at about the time of the Falklands War.
[2] Anyone taking umbrage could see ‘India’s Great Educational Divide’, Aatish Taseer, NYT of 9th October 2015.

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