Twenty-four years ago in July, Captain Vikram Batra became immortal and a legend. His words “Ye Dil Mange More” still resonate. Along with Captain Batra, 526 other soldiers of the Indian armed forces were killed in what is now called the Kargil War fought between India and Pakistan. Prior to this, India and Pakistan had fought three wars in 1947-48, 1965, and 1971. Yet, the Kargil War captured the imagination of Indians like never before.
That is thanks to “live” coverage of the action from the snow-filled heights by television channels. The war and its relentless coverage injected a healthy dose of nationalism among Indians. It also injected an unhealthy dose of jingoism.
Too much has already been written about the Kargil War for the authors to add anything meaningful. But there are lessons for India that remain relevant even though almost a quarter of a century has passed.
Lesson Number One: Getting Caught Off Guard
The first is the ability of the Indian military establishment and security apparatus to keep getting caught off guard by foes. The second is that there is no question of durable and mutually beneficial peace between India and Pakistan as long as the “Establishment” holds the real power in that blighted nation-state. From Nehru to Indira to Vajpayee to Modi, the lessons have remained the same.
The unpalatable fact is that India keeps getting taken by surprise. On June 20, 2020, the Indian Army lost 20 soldiers in brutal and medieval hand-to-hand combat with Chinese troops at Galwan in Ladakh. No matter what the regime says, there can be little doubt that continuous dialogue between Narendra Modi and Xi Jin Ping had lulled Indians into a false sense of complacency.
The Kargil “betrayal” was an even more colossal failure of India to prevent perfidy. In February 1999, prime minister Atal Bihar Vajpayee went by bus to Lahore on a mission to ensure “lasting” peace. He was given a rapturous welcome and held talks with prime minister Nawaz Sharif. Both were hailed as leaders who were historically poised to break through more than five decades of enmity and rancour.
Yet, amidst all this razzmatazz, the Pakistan Army chief Pervez Musharraf had started executing his secret plot to capture the heights in and around Kargil. The “strategic” objective was to completely cut off Kashmir. By the time the Indian military “discovered” this intrusion, Pakistani troops were firmly commanding the heights. It cost India three months of gruelling battles and 527 lives to grow out the Pakistani soldiers. In November 2008, almost the entire senior staff of the Union Home Ministry was in a hill station in Pakistan when 26/11 happened. Who knows when India will be caught by surprise again?
On Pakistan's Hostile Military Establishment
Mercifully, India seems to have finally learned the second lesson well: that a hostile military establishment of Pakistan that owes its power and perks to being constant enemies with India will never allow durable peace to prevail. Common sense says both India and Pakistan stand to gain a lot if they behave in a pragmatic and businesslike manner with each other.
But then, common sense is not so common. Why else would Vladimir Putin take the decision to invade Ukraine? Why else would Xi Jin Ping burn all bridges with India? Why else did George W. Bush invade Iraq in 2003? But as we all know in global history the narratives matter the most in justification of the wars. The American narratives ranging from WMD to Democratisation definitely look a shade sexier than the Russian or Chinese narratives.
Why else would Nobel Peace Prize winner Barrack Obama use American intelligence and military power to virtually destroy functional states in Libya, Yemen, and Syria? These Obama misadventures resulted in millions of Muslims becoming homeless and became the root cause of the largest-ever refugee crisis that Europe is witnessing these days. But the brilliant author of “Audacity of Hope” had the audacity to sermon India on how to treat Muslims else face the prospects of “falling apart”. Common sense is uncommon. Particularly in a war of narratives.
Enmity Against India
Since the time of Jawaharlal Nehru, Indian political leaders have made (in hindsight) valiant and naïve attempts to make peace with Pakistan. All have failed. Enmity against India has been injected repeatedly into Pakistan society to such an extent that even today when democracies like India cannot hide anything, ordinary Pakistanis still believe that “Hindus” in India routinely, and on a daily basis, destroy mosques, don’t allow Muslims to perform Namaaz, grab and throw away Hijabs of Muslim women and deny Muslims education and jobs. And no, this branding of India in Pakistani minds has nothing to do with the 2014 and 2019 elections. This branding has been there for 75 long years because this is the branding that gives oxygen to the brand Pakistan. This is what gives them the cause to exist.
Then there is the trope about the Indian Army routinely raping Kashmiri women. No, this narrative is not because the Modi Government removed 370. This Pakistani narrative about Indian oppressors raping Kashmiri women has been there for the last 75 years. Never mind the fact that it was Pakistan’s first attack on Kashmir in October 1947, when their Army backed Pashtun Militia went on a raping rampage right up to Srinagar, just before the Maharaja signed on the dotted line and Indian Army was sent in for damage control. All these Pakistani narratives are crucial for their justification to survive as a nation. Else they remain what they are: a basket case.
A Two-pronged Strategy Towards Pakistan
The authors have also noticed a trend over the last two decades or so. As the Partition generation faded into history, younger Indians didn’t care much about Pakistan. The country engages young Indians only when there is a major terror attack or when India and Pakistan play a cricket match. Since both happen with decreasing frequency in contemporary times, the 20th-century obsession with Pakistan seems to be a relic of the past.
Even more significant is the emergence of a new generation of young Pakistanis who realise that their country’s economy has been brought down to its knees by this obsession over Kashmir and enmity with India. They are a small minority now. But they are using data to wake up fellow citizens. For example, as the accompanying chart shows, the per capita GDP of Pakistan during the 1999 Kargil War was higher than that of India. Look where it is today.
Perhaps the last serious attempt to build bridges with Pakistan made by an Indian political leader was in December 2015 when prime minister Narendra Modi made an unscheduled halt in Pakistan and met prime minister Nawaz Sharif. This was after he had invited all South Asian leaders to his swearing-in ceremony in May 2014. Unfortunately, the visit was followed by terror attacks in Pathankot and Uri.
Since then, India has adopted a two-pronged strategy towards Pakistan: make diplomatic efforts across the world to “expose” Pakistan as a host to a host of terrorist outfits and then ignore it completely on all other issues. Quite frankly, the strategy seems to have paid off as India has been almost completely de-hyphenated from Pakistan in geopolitics. And the fact that we have bigger issues in terms of China has taken new forms of concern. The problem called Pakistan is still there but more as a proxy and client state of China rather than as an independent state of concern. For all practical matters, we are now fighting China on two fronts: the North, as well as the West.
(Yashwant Deshmukh & Sutanu Guru work with CVoter Foundation. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the authors' own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)