VIEW: Warriors of peace —Saleem H Ali
As military men have frequently realised after their retirement, warfare must always be a last resort. War is never to be celebrated or condoned with pride but rather to be condoled with humility
Military officers, even generals, retire at a relatively younger age; this is rather common around the world. It also means an entire workforce of former warriors who have the luxury to sit back and reflect on their days of crisp uniforms and dawn parades. Some, as in the case of Pakistan, may still be living their days as warriors. General Musharraf has recently revealed that retired military officials might be helping the Taliban. So the concern should be obvious.
On the plus side, however, a very large number of the retired brass is now engaged in building peace, especially with India. There is perhaps a natural proclivity for the fatigued fighter to revert to pacifism; it may even be a therapeutic attempt to recover from a post-traumatic stress disorder. Be that as it may, the work of numerous former Pakistani generals — Mahmud Durrani, Talat Masood et al — to make efforts to bring peace with India is gratifying. On the Indian side as well there are numerous retired military officers who are similarly trying to use their erstwhile credentials and a patriotic pedigree to make a positive difference.
Then there are parents of soldiers who have died in the conflict and who are working towards peace rather than harbouring vengeance. A notable example is the Himalayan explorer Harish Kapadia, whose son died in combat in Kashmir. Kapadia holds no grudge against the Kashmiris or against Pakistan; instead he is working towards setting up a research and conservation zone on the Siachen glacier for scientists from India and Pakistan. Many families of Pakistani soldiers are following a similar course, working towards conflict resolution rather than seeking an endless spiral of revenge
A few months ago, I had the privilege of meeting former Indian Air Marshall Nanda Cariappa at a conference organised by the United Nations Environment Programme in Bangkok. The conference focused on finding ways to use environmental factors as a means of conflict resolution in South Asia. We had originally planned to meet in Islamabad at another event aimed at using science for security and peace-building but visa woes had prevented the Indian delegates from participating. Air Marshall Cariappa jovially told me that he had been to Pakistan once before but that was as “a guest of the government” in 1965. Towards the end of the war, his aircraft was shot down and he was a prisoner of war in Pakistan for four months.
As he recounted, the POWs in those days were well-treated; his account defied contemporary tales of torture that are now part of Bollywood lore or some Western media accounts of the mishandling of detainees by Pakistani intelligence agencies. When Nanda Cariappa was a POW, Red Cross packages were delivered to the Indian POWs, including such items as a copy of the Bhagwad Gita and some special dried fruit from actress Ayesha Parekh.
Perhaps those were the good old days because, despite the conflict, there were still ties of friendship at a human and personal level. For example, President Ayub Khan knew several officers in the Indian army from the pre-independence days and had served under Nanda Cariappa’s father, the legendary Field Marshall Kodandera Madappa Cariappa. Given the enormous respect that President Ayub had for the elder Cariappa, he offered to release his son soon after his arrest to which father Cariappa is reported to have responded fervently: “He is my son no longer. He is the child of this country, a soldier fighting for his motherland like a true patriot. My many thanks for your kind gesture, but I request you to release all or release none. Give him no special treatment.”
It is also interesting to note that the elder Cariappa gained much of his reputation in what are now the tribal lands in the North West Frontier Province. In June 1923, KM Cariappa was transferred to the 1st battalion of the 7th Rajput Regiment (Queen Victoria’s Own Light Infantry), and moved to Waziristan. There he confronted the tribesmen who gained in his heart tremendous respect for their tenacity of purpose.
However, as military men of Cariappa’s league have frequently realised after their retirement, warfare must always be a last resort. War is never to be celebrated or condoned with pride but rather to be condoled with humility, a lesson that former American generals such as Wesley Clark appear to have learned well. Often military personnel realise this truth faster than the civilian war commanders who sit in the comfort of their offices. This we are witnessing in the recent exchanges between the US military, the civilian side of the Pentagon and the White House.
As for those retired generals who continue to be of a more hawkish persuasion, we should not doubt their sincerity as well. For another research project, two years ago, I had an opportunity to interview General Hamid Gul, a former head of the ISI, who is known for his more conservative views about world affairs. While I may have disagreed with him on foreign affairs, I could sense in him a genuine commitment to his country and a concern for its survival. Pacifists must challenge militant assumptions about the world and advocate the benefits of reconciliation. But we must do so without dehumanising those with whom we disagree. At the same time military hawks should not trivialise pacifists as dreamers with Utopian ideals.
As the blame game continues between India and Pakistan, let us for a moment consider our place in history and how we would like to be remembered when we retire to our retreats.
Dr Saleem H Ali is associate professor of environmental planning and conflict resolution at the University of Vermont. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org