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Don't follow the leader

While the bombing of Afghanistan may have consolidated the return of the concept that just wars are `in', there are valid reasons why the country should refrain from emulating the actions of the world's only superpower. TABISH KHAIR on what another conflict between India and Pakistan would mean.

Displaced by growing tension between the two countries ... refugees from Kashmir.

CASUS BELLI. The justification for war. A just war. Throughout the Middle Ages and into the 19th Century, Europeans used the term. It took two world wars to convince them — and the world — that there are no just wars. There is only a just peace. And now all of us seem to be forgetting that lesson again.

In their interesting book, Empire (Harvard University Press, 2000) Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri note that the concept of casus belli was revived in the West with the Gulf War. Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait evoked a response by a United States-led coalition that was portrayed in terms of a just war. The war was so just that not many people bothered to criticise the U.S. bombardment of Iraqi convoys on the retreat, civilian casualties and the million children who have died as a consequence of the blockade that followed. Casus Belli was back in action, Rambo-style. The Afghanistan War — justified in the media as a response to the atrocities of September 11 — has further consolidated the return of the concept. Just wars are "in", though of course they might be more "in" in the West because they can be waged such a long way out in the Third World.

As such, when the hawks in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) call for a war against Pakistan they echo the eagles of the U.S.. The hawks argue that because Pakistan is "harbouring terrorist groups" — including those involved in the atrocious attack on the Indian Parliament — India is justified in waging war against Pakistan as a whole. This argument is sustained, consciously or unconsciously, by the example of the U.S. in recent years and particularly in Afghanistan. Didn't the U.S. attack and bomb an entire country because it harboured a terrorist group? This question is always there on the lips of assorted hawks and eagles in India. The answer that these birds of prey want is simple: Yes, of course, India should emulate the actions of the U.S.

Failure on the part of politicians... should a world power have to intervene?

But no, there are good reasons for India to refrain from emulating the actions of the U.S.. First, moral reasons: a war against an entire people is never justified. One does not kill an entire family because one of the sons has committed a murder. Second, the American example has been the result of powerful lobbies in the U.S. that are bent upon sabotaging international co-operation. These lobbies have made the U.S. Government block the idea of an international court, systematically veto the democratic functioning of the United Nations Organisation, take unilateral military action, etc. It serves the agenda and economy of these powerful lobbies in the world's most powerful nation to keep international co-operation and democracy at the bare minimum. Not only is this option unethical and unfair to the vast majority of human beings, India is also not in the position — economic or political — to be able to exploit the lack of international democracy in the long run. The lack of international democracy and co-operation is to the disadvantage of countries like India (and Pakistan), just as the lack of national democracy might suit the rich and powerful in India but would be detrimental to the poor and the weak. As such, it would be foolhardy of Indian politicians to jeopardise the last vestiges of international co-operation and negotiation by waging a war against Pakistan.

Moreover, India — regardless of what some hawks believe — is not a superpower like the U.S.. Actually, the world has never known a hegemon like the U.S.. The U.S. spends as much on defence as the next 12 global powers combined, and this still leaves it with enough wealth to maintain most of its population at a certain level of affluence. Even Great Britain, at the height of the British Empire during the 19th Century, did not have a significantly bigger military than other major powers and the British navy — the source of its strength — was only double that of the next biggest power. In other words, the ratio of Indian military strength to Pakistani military strength is nowhere like the ratio of American and Afghanistani fire-power. Perish the thought. While India seems to have the bigger and more organised armed forces, the Pakistani forces are not negligible or unmotivated. Moreover, any war between Pakistan and India will not be fought "out there" like the wars the U.S. has waged: it will be fought on Indian and Pakistani territory. It would cost the lives of many innocent Indian and Pakistani civilians. It would destroy facilities and equipment that both India and Pakistan can ill- afford. It would mean good business for the rich weaponry manufacturing countries of the world and bad trouble for the Indian and Pakistani poor.

A convoy of troops in Jammu and Kashmir ... trouble along the border.

There are many other reasons to avoid the sabre rattling that some Indians have indulged in, not least the fact (repeatedly borne out by history) that wars are neither just nor the solution to any problem. While international pressure should be brought to bear upon Pakistan, this pressure should not take the shape of a war threat. In this context, nuclear weapons cannot be a rational option in the civilised world, because they are general weapons of destruction. They kill and seriously injure everyone in a large radius, men, women and children, birds and trees — as we saw in Nagasaki and Hiroshima. One cannot take the risk of even getting used to the idea and possibility of a nuclear war.

Finally, it appears pathetic to me that India and Pakistan — countries that exist on the same sub-continent and share so much of history and culture — should put themselves in such a position of obdurate hostility that the U.S. — which shares neither history nor goals with India or Pakistan — should have to intervene and mediate. That surely is a signal failure on the part of politicians in both the countries. One hopes that recent talk of a peaceful negotiation is sincere and serious on both sides.

The writer is Assistant Professor of English, University of Copenhagen, Denmark.

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