Written by Sumeera Imran.

The Pulwama incident has added a new dimension to the glaring, inescapable reality of the India-Pakistan conflict. The display of nuclear brinkmanship, war hysteria and jingoism in the aftermath of the attacks has become the new paradigm for these historic adversaries’ new terms of bilateral engagement, with India hurling accusations about Pakistan’s support for cross-border terrorism in Indian-administered Kashmir.

Interestingly, despite the successful display of nuclear brinkmanship on both sides, the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Imran Khan have each offered the other side a level playing field in order to avoid any further escalation of the conflict.

Ever since the nuclear tests back in May 1998, the move to nuclearisation by India and Pakistan has served both parties. India’s nuclear detonations, justified by the ‘China threat thesis’, have successfully deterred threats from both Pakistan and its behind-the-curtain supporter, Beijing. Likewise, Pakistan’s reliance on nuclearisation in a tit-for-tat response has offered Islamabad an existential deterrence against India’s superior conventional arms capability, targeting Pakistan’s land and armed forces.

A just social order on both sides of the India-Pakistan divide cannot be built on intimidation and threats of injury

Several empirical causal explanations ranging from domestic to regional and international interpretations can be offered for the Pulwama incident, which is the latest episode in the India-Pakistan conflict.

Among the domestic factors, the impending Indian elections may have driven the BJP, India’s governing party, to create a popular mobilisation by catalysing war hysteria against the backdrop of the Pulwama incident. This approach has a historical precedent in India’s history post-independence: a full-scale war against Pakistan in December 1971 promised Indira Gandhi an easy landslide victory in the 1972 national elections.

At the regional level, war-mongering has resulted from the blame game in the form of India’s retaliation against cross-border militant intrusion from Pakistan into Indian-administered Kashmir. India has played to the international gallery by claiming it was a matter of targeted, surgical strikes.

At the international level as well, with talks between the US and the Taliban at a standstill in Doha, one can discern the relevance of the incident in terms of what happened in its aftermath. The stalemate in the  talks led to the staging of Pulwama to pressurise Pakistan into granting concessions at Doha by twisting its arm on the eastern front.

International involvement has helped to defuse the heightened tensions for now, while the great powers have successfully shrugged off any responsibility, urging both parties to observe caution and restraint and to resume dialogue. Rather than playing any substantive role in pushing forward dialogue between India and Pakistan, however, the great powers have contented themselves with simply defusing the situation to preserve the status quo, brushing hostilities under the carpet for the time being.

In an imparity of power equation, the cessation of hostilities requires a rationale built on a philosophical approach to justify when to resort to actual conflict. The Roman statesman Cicero offered a lesson to belligerent players against whimsical war-mongering. A staunch republican himself, Cicero spelt out the terms for conflictual engagement, stressing how, when and why to use conflict as a policy tool.

If Clausewitzian logic stresses the rationality of war as an instrument of policy by other means, recourse to warfare should only come as an end-oriented activity; i.e. the end should justify the means. The rational end for the resort to force is: ‘We may live in peace, uninjured’. What end could be more justified than this ideal –  the resumption of order and the establishment of peace? The preservation of peace, therefore, is the true end condition of humanity. This in turn poses another question. What are the means to realise this end?

There are two ways of settling disputes. One is through force and the other is through dialogue. The use of force and coercion are antithetical to social co-existence and man’s inherent human nature. As humans, we share an inherent capacity to settle our disputes and govern ourselves through eloquence, deliberation, discussion and debate. Eloquence and speech were the original stimulants for the beginning of society itself. Articulation and rationality make us ‘beings of a special species’. Recourse to the use of force is therefore a manifestation of an inhuman characteristic – it is the resort to a bestial nature. The use of force is in denial of man’s inherent capacities of reason and speech.

Resorting to force may sometimes be necessary, but it can never be a virtue. No social order can be just if it is built on harm. Justice requires the absence of harm. A just social order on both sides of the India-Pakistan divide cannot be built on intimidation and threats of injury. Even a successful war does not confer glory if the result is anything less than the advancement of order and the restoration of peace. The difference between mankind’s earlier crude existence and civilized life is the rule of law and respect for human nature. Hence by that logic the resort to war should only be made when all possibilities of discussion have failed.

The highest civic virtue – patriotism – can never be conceived in a militaristic fashion. Any act of chivalry devoid of the civic virtue of restoring the natural order of peace is unjustified. The greatest achievement of war can only be peace. Martial courage succumbs to vice if engaged in for the enhancement of personal glory, in a way that civic courage does not.

Courage in domestic affairs is by no means inferior to military courage. Civic courage is best expressed in great statesmanship, and prudent statesmanship has proved superior to the use of physical force. It is the statesman who makes it possible for the military general to achieve glorious success in a conflict by facilitating domestic support and encouraging self-sacrificing counsel.

The true greatness of a statesman’s spirit expresses itself in the ability to refrain from the use of force when necessary. Narendra Modi’s act may appear rational in targeting militant safe havens in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, but does this act relate to establishing peace? Pakistan’s defensive response sought to deter the impression of weakness, but simultaneously Pakistan’s civil and military establishment has offered to resort to eloquence and rationality, giving peace a chance to win out.

Cicero leaves us a lesson to ponder and take counsel.  Courage in domestic affairs is by no means inferior to military courage; the former demands greater effort than the latter. A courageous person is cautious and guided by reason and wisdom, seeks public benefit and places peace above whatever glory can be achieved from warfare. Reciprocity of action is what is required for the establishment of long-term peace in the South Asian region.

Dr Sumeera Imran is an Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Contemporary Studies at the National Defence University, Islamabad.

Image Credit: CC by danielo via Shutterstock.

*Articles published by The Asia Dialogue represent the views of the author(s) and not necessarily those of The Asia Dialogue or affiliated institutions.

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