Years ago as a feisty little girl, whenever I used to have a fight with my Indian friend, I used to pump up my chest and declare: Kashmir belongs to Pakistanis. It always felt like I had had the last word and won some kind of mini-battle that had been raging amongst us.
My Indian friend would also pull herself to full height and repeat in an even louder voice and insist, “No, Kashmir belongs to us.”
Our elders would halt their chatter midway, exchange sheepish looks, pretend to choke and hiss through clenched teeth, “Children, please do not speak like that”. My parents would pinch my arm to silence me, and I would glare back in defiance while pointing a finger in my friends’ direction saying that she started it.
My friend would retaliate pointing both hands in my direction and insist I was the culprit.
The elders would then incoherently murmur some words that would equal to, “They are kids and do not know what they are saying.” Once the brouhaha died down, they would whisper in sterner words that we had embarrassed them enough in front of the other.
We were kids and didn’t know what ‘owning Kashmir’ meant.
Looking back at these incidents, now I have, of course, realised that our parents were right. We were kids and didn’t know what ‘owning Kashmir’ meant. We were just repeating what our elders had been repeating to themselves for decades. Today I can laugh off these childhood episodes but sadly, the ground reality remains unchanged even many years later.
While me and my friend grew up, and moved on to stay good friends, Pakistan and India remain at loggerheads even today. The minds of yet another generation of Indians and Pakistanis are being fed well with this rhetoric, and they grow up believing the rhetoric surrounding the Kashmir issue as propagated by their governments.
The recent attacks on India in Pathankot and Uri where a number of Indian soldiers lost their lives have brought the two neighbours to the edge of a war with India accusing Pakistan of carrying out the attacks on its soil.
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, on the other hand, has raised the issue of Kashmir in his speech at the UN General Assembly in New York and asked for a dialogue between both countries to settle the matter.
The matter has remained unsettled since 1947 when both Pakistan and India gained independence from the British.
The years’ long animosity between the two countries has been a source of tension in the region, and after the recent attacks in India people from both sides of the border, not surprisingly, are already in the midst of a war of words on social media.
A verified Twitterati has even run a poll asking people how best it would be to teach the enemy country a lesson – using the hydrogen bomb, normal nuclear bomb or a conventional attack?, he asked.
While many have answered the question with a simmering rage, luckily the majority have laughed it off. However, the seriousness of calling for war can never be undermined.
As a child, I have seen war from close quarters. To retain my sanity, my mind has blocked off sounds of cannons and machine guns firing at a close range though I can still recall all of us huddling together under a piece of furniture hoping to save ourselves from gun fire.
I have seen people starve around me, babies cry endlessly for milk, and ask for a warm covering in cold nights when none was available.
And this was just a conventional war.
What Pakistanis and Indians are calling out for today is something way beyond their imagination. According to a study “The deadly consequences of a nuclear war” done at Rutgers, the University of Colorado-Boulder and UCLA, the consequences of such a war between India and Pakistan if fought with low-yield 100 Hiroshima-size weapons (currently available in India-Pakistan arsenals) will kill 20 million people from the direct effects which is half the number of people killed during World War II.
Weapons detonated in the largest cities of India and Pakistan will create massive firestorms that will produce one to five tonnes of smoke that will quickly rise 50 kilometres above cloud level into the stratosphere and spread around the world and form a layer that will block the sunlight from reaching the earth. Within 10 days of the explosion, temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere will become colder than those experienced during the pre-industrial Little Ice Age.
Are we really asking for this? If both Indians and Pakistanis even partially understand the above drawn out scenario that is currently being called out for in a fit of rage and anger, will our call to war bring us any lifeline, or we will lose everything forever?
The author is City Editor, Dubai of the Khaleej Times. Views are personal.
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