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Why Surgical Strikes 2.0 is a time for wisdom, not shallow excitement

Now, more than ever, leaders of nations need to be given a humbling sense of history.

POLITICS  |   7-minute read  |   27-02-2019

At the time of writing this, the foreign secretary had announced officially that the Indian Air Force had struck terrorist targets across the LoC. Details of the pre-dawn operation are still awaited.

It appears that the military, granted full freedom by the government to take such action as it deems appropriate and at a time of its choosing, had credible information of further terrorist activities planned to be enacted in various parts of India. So, this stern action is punitive and preemptive.

It is not inappropriate to read this army initiative as a response to Imran Khan’s call for 'actionable evidence'. The army has chosen to give this platitudinous statement, routine in such situations, a comic-ironic twist. Under the circumstances, the only evidence ‘actionable’ for Pakistan is the ‘evidence’ accruing to action from the Indian side of the LoC.

Surgical Strikes 2.0 — The perfect response to Imran Khan’s call for 'actionable evidence'? (Photo: ISPR)

It is regrettable that the Indo-Pak relationship has been degraded to the level in which such ‘evidence’ needs to be provided. No other evidence would suffice, it seems, in the face of Pakistan choosing to be in denial in respect of what is unintelligible only to the authorities of that country.

The JeM took no time in claiming credit for the Pulwama massacre — if that is not credible evidence for Imran, one wonders, what is? Prevarications of such kind point to the helplessness in which the Pakistan civilian administration is bogged down. It could not be that Imran assumes that repeated terrorist wounds of growing magnitude are inflicted on India with assumed impunity. Realpolitik is neither a session of meditation, nor a school of renunciation. International relations are a matter of balance of force. When dialogue is rejected, deterrence is activated.

It is assumed as axiomatic that a country may go to any extent in self-defense. National security is the only consideration for which, according to Immanuel Kant, a nation may compromise truth. I am inclined to believe that Maharshi Dayanand would have agreed with Kant in this respect, even though the uncompromising commitment to truth was the essence of Dayanand’s own spirituality.

The logic is simple — one has to be alive to be able to stand for truth! Life is the primary principle; all else comes thereafter.

For the Indian subcontinent to know stable peace, Indians and their Pakistani brethren have to realise that playing politics at the cost of human life is no more than a mix of crime and lunacy. Regrettably, the mutually hurtful Indo-Pak relationship hinges on vanity on both sides. It reflects poorly on the dignity of a country that it predicates its domestic policy principally on aggression towards its neighbour. A state takes recourse to this roguish strategy because of its colossal domestic failures. It has nothing to show for itself by way of the good it has done to its citizens. This poverty of governance is sought to be camouflaged by the harm it inflicts on a hypothetical enemy.

Indians and their Pakistani brethren should realise that playing politics at the cost of human life is an enormous waste. (Photo: Reuters)

Ironically, the asymmetry of the Indo-Pak equation invests a halo of glory around Pakistan’s cross-border misadventures. In this respect, Pakistan has an edge over us — it seems far more heroic for Pakistan to nick India than for India to sting Pakistan, for the reason that Pakistan is the ‘underdog’.

But it is foolhardy for that country to push the ‘underdog’ status beyond the Lakshman rekha.

Even the ‘underdog’ is required to be, in international relations, more than a dog. To be more than a dog is to know how far one may go. Going too far — as the militants based in Pakistan revel in doing — on the advantages of being the underdog is to behave like a mad dog.

For India, the vexatious issue is this: How do we deal with an underdog that wants to pass for a roaring lion, thriving on the absence of deterrent responses from the opposite side? Inflexible and, therefore, predictable forbearance on our part could, given Pakistan’s dispositions and presumptions, encourage that country to venture too far.

The result has been Pulwama.

Yet, to respond in a commensurate fashion, to respond to aggression with overwhelming force, is to provoke the vanity of a weakling. Weaklings are prone to overreaction, even if only out of vanity. There is no knowing how one may respond in wounded vanity. That, given the nuclearisation of the sub-continent, sounds sinister.

That is the worst case scenario, from which we are, mercifully, a long way off. But it is an eventuality that needs to be factored into a situation of festering confrontation, laden with bleeding memories over time. Wisdom lies in thinking of the given situation — with an eye also to the future.

India needs to be particularly careful as it is dealing with a nation that thinks it's an underdog carrying an overweening vanity. (Photo: PTI)

The pathos of the human predicament is that we can look into the future, at best, only through a pair of iron spectacles. It is not given to us to know for sure how the future will play out. Not even how our own willful initiatives would fare tomorrow. The impishness of history, as Hegel points out, is that no human enterprise ever ends up where it is envisaged to reach. History has willed that it will have the last laugh.

That’s why it is desirable to have a sense of humour in national and international affairs. The problem with small men presiding over the destiny of nations is that they remain insensitive to the rhythm of history and human destiny. They lack a sense of proportion. They roar when a smile would suffice.

History has seen many a blustering hero. The earth seemed to tremble under their feet. But the humble earth received them in the end, just as it received millions of others, from princes to paupers to animals that perished in their billions.

Leaders of nations need this humbling sense of history.

But humility of this order grows poorly in prairies of power and war-mongering — that is why we need fakirs and mystics, indistinguishable from madmen, who are mad enough to be sane in situations such as this.

Mad men like Diogenes. Alexander the Great (why those who thrive on the blood of others are ‘great’ remains an enigma) called on that father of cynics during a visit to Corinth. All dignitaries in the city, except Diogenes, went to have audiences with Alexander. So, the emperor went to see Diogenes. Diogenes remained impassive.

“What may I do for you?” the emperor asked.

“Step out of my sun,” Diogenes replied.

That’s all that power and pomp amount to. A few simple words are enough to puncture all earthly pretensions.

Is time to revisit Gandhi and his teachings? (Photo: Reuters)

Even the greatest of leaders, including those who entertain delusions of self-deification, can do no more than ‘stepping out of my sun’, or stop hindering God-given light, the goodness of creation, from reaching you and me.

Realising this irreducible truth is the secret of freedom. The logic of our freedom rests not in the super-human stature of earthly saviours, but in that tiny ray of light that connects us with the universal and the natural. It is not the right to bask in the reflected glory of superhuman heroes that we need, but the right to enjoy the light, which, as Nehru said in the wake of the assassination of Bapuji, has been illumining the faltering steps of our species from time immemorial — and will continue to do so, millennia after history reduces the boisterous heroes of today to silent footnotes.

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