Pakistan Army chief General Raheel Sharif spoke at one of the 1965 War commemorative events on Monday and held out some dire warnings to India, particularly that if it resorted to misadventure, he would impose unbearable costs on it.
Now, research on General Raheel a little, and you will find he should be the last person to talk in such an irresponsible and, if I may say so, un-soldier-like manner. Of course, any India-Pakistan war will impose unbearable costs on both sides, whatever the outcome. Nobody will dispute that India won the 1971 war for the liberation of Bangladesh. But the costs it paid were formidable not just in terms of lives lost, but resulted in a deeply stressed economy and compromised its non-alignment posture.
To counter the US-China axis helping Pakistan, India had to sign a comprehensive strategic treaty (euphemistically called India-Soviet Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation), thus making its non-alignment a sham. The post-war economy saw high inflation and stress among our poorer sections. In fact, inflation rate crossed 25 per cent for the first and last time in our history, unleashing a spiral of crises and instability, popular, anti-government movements and ultimately the Emergency. Historians will assess in the years to come if that cost was bearable or not. And it was a clear victory.
But General Raheel should know this personally. Not only does he hail from a distinguished family of soldiers, his uncle (Major Raja Aziz Bhatti) and brother (Major Shabbir Sharif) are Pakistan's most famous war heroes. Both won Pakistan's highest gallantry award, Nishan-e-Haider, but posthumously; Bhatti in the battles of Barki an Dograi on the Lahore front in 1965 and Shabbir at Fazilka in 1971.
In fact, many of General Raheel's Pakistani fans have been posting pictures of a young infantry officer saying it is General Raheel when he fought bravely in the 1965 war. He was barely ten then and got his commission only in 1976. That is actually a picture of his uncle.
It is difficult to find a city in Pakistan that doesn't have a landmark named after General Raheel's late uncle or brother. It's even believed among informed circles in Pakistan that one reason he forced prime minister Nawaz Sharif to take it easy with former president Pervez Musharraf's cases was that he was his brother's batchmate and, if folklore is to be believed, was at hand to comfort a distraught Raheel at Shabbir's funeral.
It is a truism that nobody knows better than a soldier the true cost of a war. In this case we have, in General Raheel, somebody with personal experience of loss and grief, however heroic for his countrymen. You would have expected him to speak on war with a greater sense of circumspection and responsibility.
(This post first appeared on Shekhar Gupta's Facebook page.)