Speak softly


Vital that both India and Pakistan step back before reaching the brink

The borders are heating up. In an almost knee jerk response to peace feelers from both sides, firing, artillery shelling and ambushes have sprouted almost as if choreographed. Pakistan Embassy and airlines offices have been attacked in Delhi. Inflammatory words are being exchanged. What is going on? These firings and exchanges have been the norm rather than the exception over the decades. Soldiers from both sides have died by the hundreds all along the Pak-India border, especially in Kashmir and Siachen. But suddenly, India accuses Pakistan’s ‘Specialist’ troops of killing five of their soldiers. Pakistan, of course, denies that any such thing happened. So why raise the tensions when, on the surface, everything seems to be moving in the right direction between the two nuclear powers?

The American President Franklin Roosevelt once, famously, stated that it is important to “speak softly and carry a big stick.” The soft talk is conducted by the politicians and the diplomatic services, but no self-respecting nation will ever let its guard down as far as the big stick is concerned. With the misconceived security of a nuclear umbrella, it could be a huge mistake to think that war is no longer a possible option. It is true that neither country could contemplate such an action but wars have started on the slightest pretexts, an example being the murder of the Crown Prince of Austria Hungary, the spark that caused the First World War. The shots fired by the Serbian Gavrilo Princip started a chain reaction, as Austria retaliated and the alliances in Europe got activated. The “war to end all wars” had started.

It is therefore vital, that both India and Pakistan step back before they reach the brink, because as things worsen, it takes only a small spark to start a conflagration. And it might not necessarily be the two sides that start it. It could be a false flag operation, not necessarily from some other country, but from some group with delusions of global turmoil and conquest. And once, when things escalate and misconceptions are perceived, events develop a momentum of their own.

At the height of the Cold War, the USA and the USSR had enough nuclear weapons pointed at each other to kill each other several times over. Despite the most sophisticated checks and balances mutually agreed upon, the countries came on the verge of the apocalypse on several occasions, the most visible being the Cuban missile crisis. The Americans and the Soviets had several minutes of warning time where they could analyse a threat and decide whether or not to launch a retaliatory strike. In India and Pakistan, that reaction time would be in seconds rather than minutes and it is highly doubtful that the checks and balances in place are as sophisticated as those the Americans and the Soviets have. Nuclear conflict would not happen in a planned manner as both sides would know that it would be MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction). But it could conceivably occur as a result of misunderstanding or a planted disinformation. With the short reaction time, some decision maker on either side could panic. The repercussions are too catastrophic to even contemplate.

So, what do two traditional nuclear armed adversaries do when war is not a sane option? They operate under the “nuclear threshold”. These are usually undercover operations designed to weaken the social, institutional and military fabric of the enemy without reaching the brink that might coax the adversary to react violently and without leaving any provable evidence. For these purposes they employ their intelligence agencies. The Indians have RAW, Pakistan the ISI, the Afghans have KHAD, Israel the Mossad, the American CIA and the Russian KGB. These agencies know no friends or alliances. They spy on one and all, even on themselves. For them, information is power and they use that information to further the ends of their respective nations. So let there be no doubt that all these agencies are alive and kicking in South Asia and have resources, human and others, in place. They even have moles which can be activated when needed. The intelligence game is dirty and no holds barred and we are fortunate to have one of the very best agencies there is.

This scribe was once told by an Indian Air Force fighter pilot that they would often fly over Siachen on reconnaissance missions. They would be flying under the strictest secrecy. Only the base commander knew who was flying and the radio frequencies were secret as well. He said the Pakistanis would come on their frequency, call them by their first names and tell them to leave as they were not allowed there. The ISI is fighting an undercover war for the survival of the nation. It is therefore distressing to say the least, when some national institutions overreach their powers and take them to task for countering an insurgency that has reached crisis proportions in Balochistan. Yes, the Indians are very much there in Balochistan. They might deny it, but then they would also have to deny that Brahamdagh Bugti travels internationally on an Indian passport. They would also have to deny that captured terrorists have given evidence that they were paid and armed by Indian agents in Afghanistan.

The Baloch imbroglio continues to fester. Balochistan has traditionally been ruled by Sardars who have always cultivated a larger than life image of themselves, with power over life and death. In fact a Bugti Sardar had boasted in an interview that he had killed his first man when he was a child because he did not like him. The last thing these Sardars would want would be to emancipate their poor followers and give them education and communications like roads, telephones or the internet. Any attempt to build roads into their territories is unwelcome and they want the resources to come to them so that they can spend them as they see fit, be it in Switzerland where some of them reside or some other oasis for the rich and famous. But then, even the elected representatives have the same mindset. It is rumoured that most of the development funds given to Balochistan have been invested in Dubai in the form of hotels and shopping plazas.

Balochistan is a sparsely populated region, reportedly rich in resources and is the most backward primarily because of reasons stated above. But Balochistan has as many Pathans as there are Baloch, there are large populations of Hazaras and settlers from other parts of Pakistan. Balochistan is a part of Pakistan and every Pakistani has a right to live there just as many Balochis live in other parts of Pakistan. This feeling of disaffection has been cultivated externally and has become a menace, with settlers being killed and their properties bought out for very low prices. Bomb blasts have become the order of the day and the Hazaras are being slaughtered on sectarian grounds. Fuel is being added to the fire by claiming that the Army murdered Nawab Akbar Bugti whereas Bugti himself lured Pakistan Army officers into his cave and set off explosives that killed everyone including himself.

Peace with India would be welcome, but on terms of mutual respect and shared interests. Trade should be regulated to protect our industry. Every country does that. There is nothing wrong there. Our armed forces should stay alert and train hard. The harder they sweat the less they bleed in combat. When our politicians have the confidence to wield the big stick in the shape of our armed forces and the other institutions are solid, know their limits and don’t overreach their ambit, only then can the government, as Roosevelt said, speak softly.


  1. The quote should be attributed to Theodore Roosevelt, not Franklin. Otherwise, an enjoyable read!

  2. Angrez di aulaad
    Ur nam shud b Michael not Malik
    A guy wrote so beautiful I thought I was reading guardian or telegraph
    N u hd 2 spoil it.

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