On the latest Pakistan-India standoff

  • Positives that justify celebration
Many positives have emerged out of the latest standoff between the nuclear-armed neighbours, but not necessarily the ones being pointed out by those with the loudest voices on either side. When it comes to grand and sweeping statements such as new dynamics for the subcontinent, a water-shed moment in South Asian history, or a fresh dimension to the Kashmir struggle, the author firmly subscribes to the philosophical school of Realistic Pessimism. There have been other outcomes however, admittedly more modest but ipso facto much more real and tangible, that warrant celebration. Here’s a brief survey:
First things first: IAF Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman has constantly been in the news as well as the memes, and justifiably so: for being shot down, for being captured, for his famous cup of tea, for his repatriation, and for his ‘I am not supposed to tell you that, sir’. His moustache however, which was a breath of fresh hair, initially failed to get the kind of public admiration it deserved – to the infinite dismay of true enthusiasts on both sides of the border. Thankfully, and since you can’t keep a good thing down for long, there are heartening indications (if barbers are to be believed) that the ‘Abhinandan Gunslinger’ is well on its way to becoming the fashion statement of choice among Indian men of taste. Purists and discriminating gentlemen would probably (accurately) point out that Varthaman’s mouth-brow was more A la Souvarov than Gunslinger; but let’s not be technical about it so long as the institution of moustache flourishes through the activity. It’s anybody’s guess whether Varthaman’s subsequent flying career soars to new heights or comes down in flames like his MiG-21, but there can be little doubt that the man has struck a solid blow for the moustache cause.
Much has been made of the twenty-one Indian opposition parties united against Narendra Modi’s politicising of the situation aimed at winning an election. Some are confident that the backfiring of the move will lead to BJP losing it big in the upcoming polls. If the history of the will of the so-called collective human intellect (read elections) is any sort of a guide, it would be rather rash to wager on it. Besides, it’s far from obvious whether Modi’s continuation in power is good for India or Pakistan in the long run. That said, if the objective behind the whole conflict was to make Imran Khan a superhero – locally as well as on the international stage – then it was a resounding success. The cricketer turned playboy turned philanthropist turned prime minister has of course been no stranger to celebrity, but he wouldn’t have minded being catapulted onto the world stage as a statesman. For if there’s one clear winner to have emerged from the conflict, it’s Khan.
The cricketer turned playboy turned philanthropist turned prime minister has of course been no stranger to celebrity
The unanticipated rise in Khan’s stock would point to a very proficient pir (spiritual guide/advisor) at his disposal. You know that your stars are aligned favourably when even Naeem-ul-Haq fails to aggravate a crisis for you. In fact, this is the sort of thing that generally requires not one but a syndicate of competent pirs at the top of their games. Though the opportunity wasn’t of Khan’s own making, in all fairness the rest still needed to be done. His responses were neither that of somebody being overawed by the situation, nor of the saber-rattling variety on the other end of the spectrum. The three speeches that he gave (two addresses to the nation, and one in the joint session of parliament) were pure gold. They were sensible, self-assured and short. Few politicians get this sort of an opportunity; fewer still make use of it. Khan’s generally competitive streak (which sometimes borders on insanity), and the fact that he is not concerned about his personal business interests, would have helped.
Our friends the liberals are understandably very distressed at all this. Now, anything that upsets the liberals must be positive news. This time, however, they are beyond upset. The liberal circle has gone quiet as a graveyard. For the earnest, calm and dignified Khan that has emerged from the conflict is a far cry from the impulsive, knee-jerk Khan that they love – and in many cases, make a living out of – criticising. In fact, this was one of those proverbial instances of having too much of a good thing. For the deafening silence on the part of the Liberals (after the initial chest-thumping and foretelling of doom and gloom for Khan) left one feeling somewhat sorry for the whole lot; although one or two heroic souls gamely persisted till the end in providing the much-needed comic relief.
Finally, if history is anything to go by, it’s hard to see how this latest crisis won’t trigger a string of Bollywood flicks. What with comedy being at a premium at most times, this can only be great news. There’s nothing like Bollywood for supplementary entertainment when quality stuff isn’t forthcoming from our own liberals.