The Pulwama incident was one which should have caused tremors, leading to a rethink by the Indian establishment of its dog-in-the-manger policy on Kashmir, because it involved the deaths of 37 Central Reserve Police Force personnel, but instead it has caused a war-scare with Pakistan.

There is certainly a certain weariness, and certainly some déjà vu, about this, because this is not the first time since the Modi government took over that it has done this. One problem has been that the tactic might now be suffering from over-use. It is not so much Pakistan that is being affected as India, which is what the BJP cares about when going into an election.

Also, the Pulwama attack has not captured the Indian public’s attention the way the Mumbai attacks did in 2009. One reason is that more people died, 174 as opposed to 37. Another is that the attacks took place in Mumbai, hitherto presumed peaceful. On the other hand, Kashmir is notorious in India as a troubled area. The CRPF personnel were occupiers, after all. Perhaps most important, Mumbai was a metropolis, with a very heavy media presence, as opposed to Pulwama, which is merely a district headquarters. While the Mumbai attacks targeted hotels, the Pulwama incident took place on a rural road. Apart from a number of incidents of Kashmiris being beaten, the Indian public does not seem to be rising to the bait.

Even now, it seems, Modi has not understood that the Indian public voted him in, not because of the massacre of Muslims that marked his assumption of the office of Gujerat Chief Minister, but because of his development of its economy. It was not hoped that he would remove all traces of Muslim presence from India, but that he would replicate that state-level economic success countrywide. He did not, and fell back on the anti-Muslim strategy. The problem is that strategy fits in with the worldview of the BJP core, as reflected in Uttar Pradesh, which elected a BJP government headed by a swami; but leaves many BJP voters cold, who vote for its economic programme. Modi may be driven by the memory of Indira Gandhi, who went to war with Pakistan in 1971, won, and held elections in 1972.

Modi failed to remember that even that victory, which was so shattering for Pakistan, that it lost half the country, had 90,000 people become POW, had its government overthrown, did not make it give up on Kashmir, even though Indira Gandhi did her best during the negotiations with Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in Simla. The Kashmir tangle has only one real solution, that of allowing its people to exercise the right of self-determination. It should be recognised that the resistance in Kashmir is not the result of Pakistan sponsoring anyone, but the heavy-handed repression by the Indian state. As long as the Indian establishment does not recognise that the Indian state has blown it, and despite 71 years of occupation that the Kashmiri people have not reconciled themselves to being part of the Indian state.

The Nehrus did have a reason, no doubt specious, for hanging on to Kashmir, that they came from it; but the BJP’s reason is solely nationalistic. The unthinking refusal to give up territory is the reason for the present war scare.

It is something that both India and Pakistan must concede, that war is an expensive business. The BJP government might fantasize about a ‘surgical strike’’ or some other limited response that Indian chairborne strategists might have devised, but Pakistan’s armed forces are ready for such an adventure. The last time Indian forces claimed to have carried out such a strike, they hadn’t.

One of the main arguments against adventures of this sort is that both countries have nuclear weapons. It will not be possible for any government on either side to defend a decision not to use nuclear weapons in a general conflict, even if it has won. Anyway, winning is not meaningful, for neither side will achieve anything. True, it is possible for one army to destroy the other, and for Pakistan to impose a solution of the Kashmir issue. (India cannot, because its oppression will cause Kashmiris to rise once again.)

However, the real danger to the world at large, from the nuclear power of both countries, is that there would be nuclear winter. A US academic calculation posited that the smoke from a nuclear conflict between the two would cover the earth in two weeks. It would also rise to a level where there was no rainfall, and thus would remain there for years. That would mean that the world would lose 40 percent of corn, wheat and rice for years, because of bad weather. That means one to two billion people would die of starvation. An exchange of weapons would lead to full-blown nuclear winter, and the death of 90 percent of the world’s population. (Based on a 2017 figure of 7.5 billion, that means 6.75 billion people).

As a result, an Indo-Pak conflict is not bilateral. In his speech to the nation on the crisis, Prime Minister Imran Khan went so far as to mention international intervention. Both sides want the crisis to be ended by the intervention of outside powers. Those powers cannot risk nuclear war, but there is something inherently unstable in such a situation, where a nuclear power has to depend on third-party interventions to keep the peace with another nuclear power.

Besides, any assumption that Pakistan was behind the incident would mean assuming that its civil and military leadership was composed entirely of the mentally defective. However, a false-flag operation by India raises memories of how Hitler created a casus belli against Poland in September 1939 to start World War II: a false-flag operation showing Polish troops (actually German convicts in Polish uniforms) killed while violating German territory.

At the same time, the current crisis bears an eerie resemblance to one of the crises preceding World War I. It should not be forgotten that when it began in the summer of 1914, it was one of a series of crises that had been afflicting the powers since at least 1911. There had been two crises over Morocco, and there had been a Balkan war. The assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, began as just another Balkan crisis. However, the involvement of Austro-Hungary meant that Germany was involved, and because Austro-Hungary was in conflict with Serbia, Russia and then France got involved. That meant that Germany had a greater incentive to clash with France and Russia. Attacking France meant going through Belgium, and that violation Belgian neutrality that brought the UK in.

The Indian attempt to convert an air violation into a ‘surgical strike’ might make electoral sense, but is a risky strategy. It represents something of an Army-Air Force spat, for the Army’s attempt at a surgical strike in 2016 ended up with its having egg on its face. But now that the IAF too has been hamhanded enough to bring Hitler’s invasion of Poland to mind, what is left? The Indian Navy? On Dal Lake?

The USA and China are at the moment clashing. A war, especially a nuclear war, between an ally of China and one of the USA, might provide them with an excuse for a direct conflict. Both have thermonuclear weapons. It would lead to the end of the world as we know it. The only safety factors are that neither has made any public commitment, or signed any treaty, while neither faces strong domestic opinion pushing the government to fight. This will oblige both to join hands in firefighting in the Subcontinent. And as a kind of positive feedback, that cooperation itself will act as a brake on the South Asian nuclear powers.

M.A. Niazi

The writer is a veteran journalist and founding member as well as executive editor of The Nation.

The Indian attempt to convert an air violation into a ‘surgical strike’ might make electoral sense, but is a risky strategy.