Talking and dying


Who does what

War, said Odysseus to Achilles, is young men dying and old men talking.

The old men are talking these days. For the tragedy at Siachen has stirred up debate on wisdom of the war itself and the old men are frothing at the mouth. Row upon row of home-grown Sun Tzus are waxing strategic about why this glacier is the only thing that lies between our way of life and compulsory Sanskrit lessons for our kids.

The Indians started Siachen. Does that mean we cannot end it? We can, but not without Indian concessions on the front as well. But the prospects of all that went bust with the Kargil adventure. One general, Zia-ul-Haq, let Siachen happen; another general, Musharraf, ensured it stays that way.

Pakistan spends roughly one million dollars a day to maintain its presence on the glacier. India spends more. They both lose more soldiers to the elements than they do to enemy fire. The guns, after all, did fall silent in 2004. All subsequent casualties are because of the penetrating cold.

To segue into subsequent tragedies, the forces of the status quo will want to use the ongoing tragedy, which is now putting at great risk even the lives of the rescuers, what to speak of the unfortunate soldiers under the avalanche, to brand as treasonous and ungrateful all those questioning the merits of this absurd theatre of war.

In the dystopian future that Orwell painted in 1984, he imagined a troika of world powers fighting perpetually over marginal pieces of land. These conflicts were designed such that there actually never is a decisive outcome. Only for the war machine to keep running. It doesn’t take a raving conspiracy theorist to conjecture that there would be high-altitude warfare contractors content with the Siachen conflict. It would even make sense, considering economies of scale, to have the same profiteer serve both sides; keeping elements on both sides happy.

The recent tragedy should serve as an impetus for us to thrash out an understanding with the Indians. There needs to be a calibrated withdrawal from the ice from both the armies. Modalities on what should happen in the likelihood of war could be worked on. The presence of both sides could be accepted as theoretical constructs.

These brave young men, our hearts go out to them and their families, shouldn’t have been there in the first place.