This post first appeared on The Hindu.
Like many toxic relationships, India and Pakistan are stuck in a vicious cycle, having had numerous wars and conflicts since 1947. They have a set routine that occurs on a regular basis on their borders, ironically called the Line of Control(LoC). They exchange fire at the border, soldiers from one or both sides die, and the governments each issue cautious statements that blame the other side.
The media and many of the country's intellectuals are whipped into frenzy and are baying for blood on their twitter handles and blog sites.
Eager to placate an enraged fourth estate the government issues a strong condemnation of the other side and vows to stall any ongoing diplomatic or peace processes and the entire incident slowly fades from public consciousness as the media loses interest, that is, until the next firing exchange at the LoC.
For the average Indian citizen, it is almost impossible to count the number of times this exact scenario has been played out by India and Pakistan.
On 6th August 2013, a cross-border raid resulted in the death of 5 Indian soldiers due to what the Indian government has termed a violation of the 2003 ceasefire agreement between the two countries. Predictably, initial reactions from government officials were not up to the media's expectations, setting reporters and news anchors on the warpath. Within hours, upcoming India-Pakistan peace talks were placed on hold.
There are many things wrong with this entire situation. First and foremost, it is important to note that the ceasefire agreement is violated hundreds of times a year by both countries. In fact a few days before in an exclusive by the First Post, it was alleged that Indian soldiers had abducted some Pakistanis and killed them. Cross-border firing is a matter of daily reality for soldiers manning the borders. Yet, these incidents and losses of life amongst our soldiers are only brought up by the media when there is a lack of other, more 'sexy' news to report or when they feel they can raise their TRPs, i.e. their ratings and number of viewers, through the coverage.
More importantly, the knee-jerk response from the media and political parties is to demand the suspension of talks and insist on an eye for an eye. The result is that the public, already tired of decades of conflict with neighbouring Pakistan, has its sentiments inflamed. This is not a solution to anything. In fact, let us consider history. Every time talks are suspended and people demand retribution, nothing changes, The underlying issues are never resolved.
The need of the hour is not for politicians and the news media to retreat into shallow, short-sighted and hostile rhetoric, which may serve to increase their own support, but does nothing to resolve the situation. The need is for pragmatism and a real political resolve to put this border issue to rest once and for all, so that more blood and the treasures of both nations are no longer wasted.
As an informed public, it is our job and our duty to demand an answer to the seemingly endless cycle of violence that results in the deaths of Indian soldiers and civilians and bleeds the country's economy. As a collective, we have to desire a solution that is above mindless national jingoism and the blatant politicking. We must get beyond an "us and them" mentality.
Surely, such a resolution can only result from an India-Pakistan dialogue that is meaningful and sustainable, rather than to stop talking to each other altogether. This must emerge from a mutual determination to end the violence and a desire for the greater good. Each side must be willing to acknowledge past mistakes and take the difficult first steps towards reconciliation, not just negotiation.
The issues to be discussed are numerous, daunting and will take time; whether it is Kashmir, state-sponsored terrorism, Afghanistan or water issues, India and Pakistan need to agree to sit down at a table together to hash it out once and for all. Given the paranoia that exists in each country regarding the other, and the fact that both countries are sitting on sizable nuclear arsenals whose use, would take both countries back decades economically, decimate its populations and impoverish both Nations.
They have options before them such as mutually binding arbitration (through the international courts) and mediation with the help of an unbiased third-party. Such negotiations have and can be successful. What is important is that we not hamper ourselves before such processes even start by paying undue attention to those who would proliferate the continued conflict for their own gain. Otherwise, the scenario described at the beginning of this article will be repeated ad nauseam.
I have had the honour of serving the Indian Army and have spent many years of my service career working in conflict areas. I witnessed first-hand how living in constant combat shatters the psyche of soldiers. I have experienced the heart-wrenching loss of comrades in the theatre of conflict. I have seen families devastated after receiving the news of their loved ones dying. And as a former soldier I am loath to see this violence and death continue in perpetuity.
If these deaths can be avoided in the future, isn't it worth it to demand that our leaders on both sides set aside their own petty politics to find a solution? And isn't it in our own interest to do so when estimates suggest that over 100,000 families have suffered direct human costs in the four wars between India and Pakistan? And the at the same time, the financial costs of war are so high that Operation Prakaram between December 2001 and October 2002 cost both sides a combined USD 3 billion (nearly USD 4 billion in today's terms)?
For the financial year 2012-13, India's defense budget was at Rs. 1,93,407 crores (about $42 billion), an increase of 17 percent from the previous year. Compare that with the health budget for the same year at Rs. 34,488 crores(USD 5.7 billion) and the education budget at Rs. 61,427 crores(USD 10.06 billion). India's health and education budgets combined were only half of the defence budget last year! Isn't this a startling figure for India, a country where 33 percent, nearly 400 million, of the world's poorest live? And millions of children go hungry, are sick and uneducated?
We will have to work hard for a permanent solution for India and Pakistan's problems. We will have to push our leaders to begin the process anew with commitment and fortitude, and to see this process through until solutions are found.
This much we owe our country and all our men and women in uniform.
These are personal views of Siddharth Chatterjee. He works at the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. He is a former Special Forces officer from the Indian Army and was decorated for gallantry. His email address is: sid(at)alumni.princeton.edu. Follow him on Twitter: @sidchat1
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