Media Watch: So, you think you’re a tough guy?


    Sam Manekshaw. He was one of India’s only two Field Marshalls. And he didn’t give himself this fifth star like our own Field Marshall did; the Indian government gave it to him without his asking for it.


    The Indian government was kind to him because, amongst other things, he led the military through the ‘71 war.


    At the precipice of this very war, in a cabinet meeting, the then prime minister Indira Gandhi had wanted to know about army preparedness for a by-then-certain coming war.


    The army wasn’t ready, he said. Not at all. The monsoons were coming and the situation in East Pakistan is always precarious by that time of the year. To transport the number of required armoured and infantry divisions within this time period would use up all of the railways network, which was otherwise being used at that time to transport grain and food across the country. If the railways were to be redirected, he cautioned, it would lead to mass famine in mainland India.


    That is how professional soldiers speak. Evaluate situations and realise their own shortcomings. Have perfect situational awareness. Don’t let professional pride get in the way.


    He was not speaking out of turn. He was only speaking his mind when asked for an assessment. And he was most certainly not disobeying any possible order either. When asked if he was not ready for war then, he shot off to the prime minister that wildly famous, stylish, cheeky, perhaps-inappropriate, probably apocryphal line. (“I’m always ready, sweetie.”)


    He won the war.


    Fast forward to today, and we will still find measured words of caution in the Indian military’s communication. A caution that is a bit more muted than that of Manekshaw’s, but still similar. They are baying for blood. They want revenge, but are also cognisant of several shortcomings on their part, chief of which is the lack of intel that they have on the targets of the proposed surgical strikes.


    In the current tense media maelstrom between Indian and Pakistan, we can see a similar situation. Whereas the mass media of both countries are unbearably jingoistic (the Indians can out-Pakistan Pakistan), we can still hear voices of sanity amongst the Indian media.


    Don’t get me wrong. When I speak of voices of sanity, I’m not talking about the peaceniks. Because we do have a smattering of those in Pakistan as well.


    I’m talking about the realists amongst the hawks in India. The ones who don’t think the Indian defence apparatus is ready for a conflict. We won’t see any of this sort in Pakistan. The Pakistani commentariat does not allow, specially at a time like this, any pundit who doubts the professionalism and preparedness of our military machine.


    “Our air defence is in a shocking state,” says Ajai Shukla, an Indian defence analyst. “What’s in place is mostly 1970s vintage, and it may take ten years to install the fancy new gear.”

    “The danger of being trapped in your own rhetoric,” he says, “is that you can be forced into an aggressive response and then be ill-equipped to handle the escalation.”


    We don’t have Shukla’s equivalents in Pakistan. We might find the don’t-go-to-war types here, but we won’t find the sort that have the gumption (and the knowledge) to say that the Pakistani army is perhaps not as competent as it might have us believe. In fact, the term “defence analyst” in Pakistan only means a pundit who makes his or her living off the largess of the military. Few don’t roll their eyes when they hear this term.


    Expect lesser and lesser honest assessment of our prowess as time goes on.


    Will end this on a video (online readers only) of an Indian talking head on TV. Imagine the same being said in Pakistan.