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Taking Stock
On the brink of precipice 
By Rizwan Ullah

Rizwan UllahAn AN-32 transport aircraft on its way to Kargil was hit by ground fire on February 19. After conflicting opinions about the origin of the ground fire the matter snowballed and on March 13 Air Marshal MS Sekhon Commander-in-chief of the Southern Air Command was asked to put in his papers. Let us see the elementary reports. Extracts:

Air Marshal VK Bhatia had a narrow escape last week when Pakistani troops fired upon the AN-32 transport aircraft that he was piloting to the newly constructed Kargil air field. The Air Marshal’s plane had inadvertently strayed into Pakistani air space…. Pakistanis are reported to have thrown every thing they had at the ‘intruding aircraft’. By the time the plane steered into Indian air space an enemy missile hit one of the two engines of the AN-32, putting it out of action, though miraculously, the plane did not crash…. Two Mirage 2000 fighter aircraft accompanying it managed to stay out of Pakistani air space. They followed the crippled aircraft to Leh, providing air coverage…. The army sources say that initially the Air Force had blamed the Indian army saying the AN-32 had come under friendly fire. Later of course, the real reason was discovered. This report was carried in March 8 issue of a national English daily.

Another report in the same paper on March 9 says: The shooting of an AN-32 aircraft over Kargil took a sensational turn on Friday (March 8) with air headquarters absolving Pakistan of all blame. Instead, it confirmed that the aircraft was hit by the Indian army’s Air Defence Artillery. Air headquarters has taken a dim view of Lt Gen Arjun Ray’s public assertion on Thursday, ruling out firing at the AN-32 from within Indian territory…. The General’s statement has sparked off an inter-service spat. The general perception is that Pakistan is not involved, a senior Air Force officer said. That neither India nor Pakistan have lodged a protest gives credibility to the IAF contention.

However, three weeks after the incident the government stepped in with a statement on March 11. The Defence Ministry gave a clean chit to the Indian Army. ‘There is no evidence whatever, attributing the incident, directly or indirectly, to ground fire by the Indian Army, ‘the ministry stated. The ministry’s statement suggests that the AN-32 that was hit near the LoC on February 19, might have been fired at from across the border.

Whatever might be the fact of the matter, which will be known only after the completion of the ongoing inquiry, we should thank Providence for sparing us of an unimaginable fallout of such an incident at a time when Indian and Pakistani troops are facing each other on our borders. We shall also thank our armed forces for avoiding a precipitate reaction and also for their care in avoiding the immediate media involvement which has lately developed a tendency to plunge head in every matter without taking time for getting a little more wiser about developments and the consequences of their uncalled for and untimely blowing up of an incident beyond all proportions. In view of the copious amount of suspicions on all sides such minor, rather indistinguishable, incidents have the propensity of resulting into a wider conflagration, especially at a time when unnecessary internal disturbances have strained all nerves and put explosive sentiments on short wicks. The country seems to be standing on the brink of a precipice.

While the troops are deployed on the borders it may not be possible to take unilateral action to pull back but this very situation calls for maintaining peace within the country which has been seriously disturbed and jeopardised by those who want to relive in the long past history, rather in the realm of mythology. If it is a part of the election strategy of the extreme rightist they must be regarded as traitors and not faithful to the country. Moreover, they have not taken any lesson from the recent election results which show beyond every doubt that people have rejected their policy to feed on communal frenzy while they are in dire need of food and employment. If they are following the footprints of European Nazis and fascists they should have the elementary knowledge, if not wisdom, to see how the rest the world united to wipe out the scourge. Moreover, India is India and not Europe. Here we have a long recorded history of traditions rich with many experiments in all aspects of social and cultural life. Instead of learning from Germany, Italy or Spain every sane person among us should learn from our own history.

The evil doers have launched a sort of mobilization against minorities. It has not strengthened the security or the economy of the country neither it has raised the stature of the country in the world community. But it has certainly split the country into two perceptible sections: One, those who are concerned about every thing that is at stake including the cherished values of the Indian people and second, those who do not bother about any thing which may happen to the country, they are still in the stone age, they will not bother if the whole country is pushed back to that age in distant past.

In such a frenzied state it is difficult for the most rational people to hold fast to their positions but still it may be of some relevance to remind certain obvious conclusions reached after wide ranging study of wars and the after effects.

There is a general tendency of increase in the number of wars, their frequency and duration. The rapidity with which wars spread and the expansion of the area affected by wars are increasing. Human and economic cost of wars is increasing and larger populations are involved. The direct results or after effects are obvious but the indirect effects, not so obvious, are far reaching almost three times greater than the immediate effects. Moreover, social and cultural costs are immense and immeasurable. These observations should be an eye opener for those who are unmindful of a war which may not result from one’s choice but may overtake due to a misunderstanding, a miscalculation, due to some accident or due to a vicious act of some mischiefmaker. This calls for a stable peace and a stable socio-political condition in the country. But unfortunately that ideal condition does not suit the evil forces hell bent on creating turmoil.

What needs to be understood is the fact that modern war machinery, especially rockets and missiles have rendered frontlines ineffective in protecting civil targets in the interior far away from the arena of war and the situation is more dangerous when the two closest neighbours possess nuclear warheads. There could be common enemies hiding somewhere far away waiting for the opportunity to involve both in a conflagration only to destroy their nuclear capability. The present rabble-rousers could be their agents working to destabilize the internal situation of the country. 

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