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02 March, 2019

Some Recollections of Wars of My Time 2
Demonization in times of war and peace
A bridge across Ichogil Canal destroned by the retreating Pakistanni soldiers to prevent Indian troops' advance towards Lahore. 

Those fed on communal venom may find it hard to digest Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman’s reference to the professionalism of the Pakistan Army in the video in circulation.  It can be easily dismissed as words spoken under duress and part of Pakistani propaganda. But let it not be forgotten that on ejection from the downed aircraft he fell into the hands of a lumpen mass. If Pakistani soldiers had not intervened immediately he could have met with the same fate as the alleged cow-lifters who had fallenl into the hands of lynch mobs in some North Indian states.

Demonization of The Other is a part of war-time propaganda everywhere. In India and Pakistan, there are vested interests that do it in peacetime as well in pursuit of their sectarian interests.

 The Indian and Pakistan armies were created by dividing the British Indian Army at the time of Partition. They thus began their separate existence with common traditions built up over two to three centuries.

The first British soldiers set foot on India in 1662. The British government made available only a small number of soldiers to protect the East India Company’s factories. The Company supplemented the white force with local recruitment of foreign mercenaries and Indians.  It created three separate armies at Calcutta, Madras and Bombay. The Indian recruits included people belonging to all religions and all castes from Brahmins to Dalits.

More than seven decades have passed since Partition.  That is a long enough period to evolve new traditions.  Pakistan became an Islamic republic and its Army rulers found it necessary to cultivate the Islamic establishment.  India opted to be secular, and our early governments took steps to end the communal division that the British had maintained in their Indian army. The quick disappearance of Pakistan’s founder, M.A. Jinnah, and first Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan created a leadership vacuum which made it easy for  the armed forces to seize power.  The ease with which the Bharatiya Janata Party has been able to attract retired military officers to its ranks is a clear indication that India also has officers with latent political ambitions. Some retired officers’ fulminations in the sickening television debates suggest that the communal virus has infected the Indian forces too. 

To come back to war recollections, Gen. Ayub Khan sent infiltrators to stage an insurrection, believing the conflict will be confined to Jammu and Kashmir.  But Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri ordered Indian troops to cross the international border.  From Amritsar they marched up to the Ichogil Canal outside Lahore.

Pakistani bombing caused damage to the Amritsar military airport. Realizing it could soon become unserviceable India started extending the runway of the civil aerodrome there to handle military jets. The Pakistanis did not interfere with the work but our civil aviation and military authorities knew they would target it once military planes started  using it. One person who was worried about the prospect was the officer in charge of the civil aerodrome, whose family was with him in the quarters close to the aerodrome. He decided to send his wife and children home to Kerala.

A transporter with a fleet of trucks was also eager to get out of Amritsar with his family.  When the war started the authorities had requisitioned all his trucks. He managed to get one truck released to move out with  his family and some necessities.  He offered to carry the aerodrome officer’s family to Delhi.

When I heard this story I was struck by the trust our military and civil aviation authorities had in the good faith of the Pakistanis which persuaded them to believe that the civil aerodrome would not come under attack until it was used for military purposes.

How did I get to knowof  all this? Well, one of my sisters was a post-graduate student at the Amritsar Medical College at that time.  She was acquainted with the aerodrome officer’s family.  When they got the chance to move out of Amritsar they picked her up too and brought her to Delhi with them.

I had a taste of the effect of demonization in Pakistan in 1972. A young woman who greeted me in the lobby of  the hotel in Rawalpindi was shocked when she learntthat  I came from India. “Hindustan se aayaa, baapere baap! ” she exclaimed with a gasp. Then she regained her composure and said, “But you look like a Pakistani.”

“What did you think Indians looked like?” I asked.

She was too confused to answer.  I confounded her confusion by asking another question: “Do you know your father was an Indian before he became a Pakistani?” 

1 comment:

rknair said...

The Pakistanis consider themselves taller, sturdier and fairer than Indians. It can lead to tragic situations, such as the death of the Pakistani wing commander the other day.