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The Cold Calculus of War

The Cold Calculus of War

By Mahmud Sipra

When a man of Senator John McCain’s stature says that: “India could launch surgical strikes to disseminate known terrorist camps and Islamist strongholds in Pakistan…if Pakistan does not do something about them itself”, it worries me. That coming from Senator McCain is troubling simply because he is one of the few people still around who know the dangers of brinkmanship. As a US Navy aviator, he has been in the hot seat of a fighter jet, on board a US aircraft carrier during the Cuban Missile Crisis, waiting for the other guy to famously blink. That face-off or brinkmanship, as Senator John McCain knows well, came within a heartbeat of starting World War III.

To his enormous credit and the Pakistani leadership’s gratitude, Senator McCain did also say that he “would try to dissuade the Indians from taking any precipitous steps…” Something that Secretary Rice was able to do in far more diplomatic terms when she cautioned the Indian Government not to do anything “without weighing the consequences…”

Whoever said you can’t make an omelette without breaking some eggs!

In the aftermath of 9/11, the cruise missile and daisy cutter attacks by US forces achieved three things. First, they internationalised an obscure hamlet in the Afghan hills called Tora Bora, though the exercise was not intended to put Tora Bora on the map but to wipe it off the map. In that the strikes probably succeeded. Second, they did not succeed in burying Osama bin laden and his crowd in the debris. The only way they could have survived a preponderance of such heavy munitions being dumped on the area was if they simply were not there at the time. And third, they did succeed, however, in launching a much larger conflict that has come to be known as “America’s War on Terror”.

This war gave birth to a monstrous hydra, which, despite the combined might of the armies of 48 countries, has now grown and proliferated to wreak havoc in Pakistan and neighbouring India as well.

Any analogy of the 9/11 attacks to the Mumbai 26/11 terrorist attack should end here. India is not the United States of America and Pakistan is not Afghanistan. Afghanistan, a vast and beautiful country ravaged by thirty years of conflict, couldn’t fight back. It had no army and no air force, and being land-locked, obviously had no use for a navy.

India and Pakistan, on the other hand, have all three.

Today, Pakistan’s ground troops are engaged in a war of attrition within its own borders with an enemy that recognises no borders, respects no religious or cultural ethos, and operates on a strategy of spreading mayhem, death and destruction - indiscriminately and without remorse. This hydra, while laying claim to one of the great religions of the world in one breath, subverts the very essence of this noble faith in the very next by conducting rampant acts of terrorism on the innocent, the unsuspecting and the defenceless. Adding to this combustible mix is distrust, deceit and demagoguery, bringing the region’s two militarily potent adversaries on the brink of an all-out war.

Advantage the ideologue and the many-headed hydra.

India, compared to Pakistan, has a standing army of 1.2 million men bristling with modern military hardware, an air force three times that of Pakistan equipped with state-of-the-art combat aircraft, and a ‘Blue Water Navy’ equipped with the most sophisticated array of nautical weaponry, an aircraft carrier and, soon, nuclear-powered submarines. The Pakistan Navy is relatively small and geared more to playing a defensive and policing role along its coastline and in its territorial waters.

Then there is this other small matter of India and Pakistan being ‘nuclear’ states. Both are primed and ready to unleash a devastating holocaust on each other with a dizzying arsenal of ballistic nuclear missiles.

The idea behind writing up such an alarming scenario is, in my simplistic way, to focus attention on certain disturbing aspects that are being ignored, in the ‘likely’ event of things spinning further out of control.

Both India and Pakistan lack even basic civil defence facilities and the infrastructure to handle a limited strike on its cities, painfully evidenced by the terrorist attacks on the Marriott in Islamabad, and the Taj, the Oberoi and the Victoria Terminus in Mumbai.

The fire fighting equipment in use is dismally inadequate to fight what in most countries would be considered a ‘one-alarm fire’. Antiquated fire engines, ladders that don’t stretch high enough, hoses that don’t reach far enough and policemen toting Royal Enfield 303 rifles. Save for the remarkable courage of some of Mumbai’s finest who heroically gave their lives, the activity on the ground, had it not been so deadly, reminded one of the Keystone Cops or a rerun of Dad’s Army.

Neither country is equipped to handle even a conventional strike, never mind a nuclear one. There are no bomb shelters, and no training has been imparted to their emergency teams or their population to deal with such a nightmare scenario. Hospitals, blood banks, trauma and burn centres, ambulances and fire fighters and lamentably ill equipped and understaffed. In an emergency or in the event of an attack, they would dismally fail to respond effectively.

To those that are in the habit of crowing “oy - we are a nuclear state!” let the plethora of television channels ratcheting up this war thing show the horrific newsreel footage of Hiroshima and Nagasaki - before and after they were bombed. Show the devastation of cities like Baghdad, Berlin, Saigon, London and even remote places like Tora Bora after they had been bombed. Anyone in their right mind will cringe at the abhorrent sight of their people being vaporised and maimed, their cities laid waste and nations as we know them obliterated.

A doomsday scenario? Read on.

Dr Asaf Durakovic, founder and director of Canada’s Uranium Medical Research Centre, sent a team to Afghanistan to interview and examine civilians in heavily bombed Nangarhar. This province, the BBC reported, had become “a strategic target zone for the deployment of a new generation of deep-penetrating ‘cave-busting’ and seismic shock warheads.”

The British broadcasters failed to mention that each of these new weapons was tipped with a deadly mix of non-depleted uranium.

Alerted to the “radioactive, toxic uranium alloys and hard-target uranium warheads used by the coalition forces”, the UMRC team started looking for radiation poisoning. What they found was, in their words, “astonishing” and “astounding”.

Identifying “several hundred people suffering from illnesses and conditions similar to those of Gulf veterans,” the team began administering tests. “Without exception, every person, donating urine specimens tested positive for uranium internal contamination,” UMRC reported. But the readings were off the scale of previous known DU exposures: The results were astounding: “the donors presented concentrations of toxic and radioactive uranium isotopes between 100 and 400 times greater than in the Gulf veterans tested in 1999.”

“A control group of three uncontaminated Afghans averaged 9.4 nanograms of uranium per litre of urine. The average for 17 randomly selected patients in Jalalabad, Kabul, Tora Bora and Mazar-i-Sharif was 315.5 nanograms. A 12-year-old boy living near Kabul displayed 2,031 nanograms.”

The maximum permissible level for members of the American public is 12 nanograms per litre.

Dr. Durakovic told the BBC he was “stunned” by the results. “I’m certainly not saying Afghanistan was a vast experiment with new uranium weapons. But use your common sense.”

It is that common sense that needs to germinate in the minds of people who speak of an armed response every time a suicide bomber or squad embarks on their deadly missions that threaten to plunge one-fifth of the human race in to a conflict that has all the ingredients of Armageddon.

(Mahmud Sipra is a best selling author and an independent columnist. He can be reached at [email protected])

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