If this battle for Dharma has to use Adharma, employ it: Bhishma’s advice to Modi on Pakistan after the Uri attacks. Extract from a 2016 Mahabharata.
It’s been more than 5,000 years since I voluntarily left my body. But my promise to my father Shantanu and his wife Satyavati, that I would take care of Aryavarta principles in general and the political territory of Hastinapura in particular, stands. In just a few millennia, we have seen the past civilisational entity called Aryavarta morph into a robust political unification of the present. Kings have been replaced by Prime Ministers, kingdoms by nations, but the challenges to Aryavarta remain.
Today, my son, I speak to you about Pakistan, an idea that is the source of the decline of Aryavarta values, the values of morality and spirituality of which India is the natural geography and Indians its natural inheritors. When I lay on a bed of arrows on battleground Kurukshetra, one of your ancient predecessors, King Yudhishthira, had sought knowledge of running an empire from me. I will now invoke those ancient principles of statecraft for you.
As first principles, remember: the first duty of the king—the Prime Minister in a modern Indian state—is to protect the kingdom, in your case the State. Everything else flows from that protection. In the complexities of today, the State comprises not merely lands, waters or people, but also knowledge, aspirations, well-being, opportunities. The interdependence of nations upon one another for trade adds yet another dimension of inter-state relationships, which too need to be protected.
It has taken Pakistan less than 70 years to become the epicentre of darkness on earth. A militarised politics, a misplaced economics, a tottering society have turned this failing nation into a hotbed of terror. But for its nuclear threat that its generals casually toast over tinkles of Blue Labels, Pakistan is a boundary not worth paying any attention to. But we can’t choose our neighbours and so we must engage with them.
Pakistan reminds me of our own neighbours, the Panchalas. When Dronacharya asked my wards, the Kauravas and the Pandavas, for his guru-dakshina, it was to defeat this kingdom. Of course, he had a personal grouse that he had nursed for decades. But make no mistake, there were tensions between us. Apart from Jarasandha’s Magadha, Drupada’s Panchala was the only kingdom that could challenge the Kuru might. Drona accentuated these tensions. To cut a long story short, my wards defeated the Panchala king and brought him as a captive before Drona. But instead of extracting a tribute, as was the usual practice of Kshatriyas in our times, this wretched Drona usurped half of Drupada’s kingdom.
It took a greedy and spiteful Brahmin to inflict this assault. And even though Arjuna married Drupada’s daughter Draupadi, the proud king didn’t forget this insult. Tensions remained between us right till the deaths of both Drona and Drupada.
In a morally opposite manner, Pakistan is headed the Panchala way. When India helped Bangladesh attain freedom from the tyranny of Pakistan in 1971, it was preceded by a brutal massacre of almost three million people by the Pakistani army. Neither has Pakistan forgotten its humiliating surrender on 16 December 1971 to Bangladesh-India allied forces, nor has it given up its brutality. If Pakistan has to be defined today, it would be as the source of Islamic terror—not as the home to the Indus Valley civilisation; not as an ancient centre of learning through Taxila; and certainly not as part of the Aryavarta we fought, killed and died for.
That it has always aspired to be a strategic serf—first to the US because India was seen to be closer to the erstwhile Soviet Union, and now to China, whose dreams of becoming a global power in the future need it to be a regional power today and therefore needs to either step on its neighbours as in the South China Sea or turn them into serfs like it is doing with Pakistan and North Korea—is its other strength. Pakistan sees its servility as a strategic move, focused against India, and the excuse is Kashmir.
“Excited with wrath, boys only seek quarrel,” Vrihaspati told Indra and I cited to Yudhishthira from my death bed. Even at age 69 and with four conclusive battle losses behind it, Pakistan is compelled to behave like a boy. Like all weak boys, Pakistan needs a strong friend. It used the US yesterday, it is using China today, while cosying up to Russia simultaneously, negotiating big arms deals, thus trying to buy some insurance in case China loses interest and finds a more attractive pet.
Tomorrow, it will be a fourth power—the soul of Pakistan is to seek out a big brother and live on his economic doles and under his military shadow. To that extent, as a weak state, it is doing the right thing. When Yudhishthira had asked me how a weak king should behave, I told him that such a king has six options, of which only one applies to Pakistan.
One, rule in peace after concluding a treaty with the foe—Pakistan is unwilling to conclude the Kashmir issue because even if it pushes for plebiscite there, it needs to vacate Pakistan Occupied Kashmir before the plebiscite.
Two, march into battle against your enemy—Pakistan can’t afford to do that as it knows it will lose its men as well as its face.
Three, produce disunion among the foe—it is laughable to even imagine this.
Four, concentrate its forces, for inspiring the foe with fear—Pakistan can’t do that because it has problems in the East with India, in the Northwest with Afghanistan and while there are not direct issues with Iran to the West, the fact that Iran is friendly with India but has its interest in the now-on-now-off Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline makes it a fence-sitter.
Five, prepare for war with readiness for peace—Pakistan doesn’t want peace so it can only prepare for war and resultant implosion.
And six, alliance with others—which fits into its lapdog strategy, with US and China.
Our times were simpler. Between my advice to Yudhishthira and now, the strategic landscape of global engagement has changed. Today, you can’t kill one person and claim victory; you need to destroy armies and with the nuclear option, civilians. This was unheard-of in our times. Only Kshatriyas fought Kshatriyas, soldiers killed soldiers. The people were not affected. Kurukshetra saw the end of most Kshatriyas in Aryavarta but the life of average people by and large was unaffected. By using terror and wearing the garb of non-state actors, Pakistan has changed this game. Today, Pakistani-trained soldiers and mercenaries kill civilians, which its wealthy generals celebrate. Besides, it is no longer a country you fight; today’s wars are as much about the allied relationships as they are about individual nations.
Another question: India and Pakistan share the same history for millenia, so how did Pakistan lose it? Perhaps religion has benumbed their minds, hardened their souls. My advice to Yudhishthira—it applies to all universally, irrespective of nationality, religion, race or time—that battles must be among equals, for instance, is being violated by Pakistan.
“A Kshatriya must not put on armour for fighting a Kshatriya unclad in mail,” I had told him. “One should not on horseback proceed against a car-warrior. A car-warrior should proceed against a car-warrior. Neither poisoned nor barbed arrows should be used. These are the weapons of the wicked. One should fight righteously, without yielding to wrath or desiring to slay. A wounded opponent should either be sent to his own home, or, if brought to the victor’s quarters, should have his wounds attended to by skilful surgeons. If a Kshatriya, whose duty it is to fight righteously, wins a victory by unrighteous means, he becomes sinful. Of deceitful conduct, such a person is said to slay his own self. Even he that is wicked should be subdued by fair means. It is better to lay down life itself in the observance of righteousness than to win victory by sinful means.”
Until now, the Indian leadership has been following only this part of my advice and behaving with fairness, righteousness, even compassion. But my advice wasn’t naïve, I wasn’t blind. I had foreseen Pakistan-like abominations and had prepared Yudhishthira. “If the enemy fights aided by deceit, he should be met with the aid of deceit.”
India, my son, is the stronger state—not as mighty as she was in the past, but strong enough. What was my advice to Yudhishthira for the king of a strong state? One, the military operations of a king who is confident of his own strength, should cheerfully and courageously give the order to march—you can’t do that because the nuclear option and the constant threat to use it makes Pakistan a suicide state (more on that follows). Two, this march should be done without proclaiming the destination—in today’s satellite and other technologies, this is impossible. Three, this march should be against one who has no allies and friends—as I said before, Pakistan is China’s poodle.
But just like the Indian leadership constantly makes noises about fixing Pakistan, about not tolerating such deaths, about punishing and so on—turning its citizens into cynics about their own leaders—the Pakistani leadership’s constant threat of using the nuclear bomb in case of an attack is equally meaningless, a red herring. It presumes the Pakistanis don’t value their own lives, a short-sighted idea, devoid of logic. Barring a few misguided and brain-dead fundamentalists, every Pakistani values his life and the Pakistani leaders, both state and non-state, are no different.
Pakistan is a strange cluster of consciousness, my son. It is weak and yet strong. Its military has been repeatedly defeated by India but the threat of the nuclear option keeps it going. It is isolated yet manages to find protectors. It is economically insignificant yet able to make deals—the $46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, on India’s territory, for instance.
But Pakistan’s greatest strength comes not from alliances or weapons or protections or deals. Its source is something even more dangerous—a radicalised and politicised religion that has brainwashed an entire people into believing in the unity of faith and force. Political Islam powers Pakistan—to the extent that it even legitimises the killing of minorities and women, deprives children of education, the youth of employment, the citizens of well-being and aspirations. Pakistan is a military state; the democratic process is a farce; so people’s voices go unheard.
With your people hungry for instant and visible retribution, what advice do I give you, my son? Unlike Pakistan, a real democracy has tied your hands. This is a burden you will have to bear—it is also a burden worthy of bearing. For every hawk seeking to bomb Pakistan, there will are doves calling out for peace. Retribution is needed, not only for the tear-filled eyes of the children of India’s martyrs, but as an investment in future security, a deterrent.
That said, I invoke Vrihaspati once again: “One should abstain from fruitless acts of hostility as also from insolence of speech.” So, don’t be pushed into a war of words. Stop threatening to punish Pakistan. Instead, use the war of nerves and keep the Pakistani army on permanent tenterhooks. The time for speeches and words is over, my son. It is time to act.
You have the strength to deal with this terrorist state and withstand this assault on Kashmir endlessly. This is something Pakistan knows. But now that you have pushed the moral battle to Baluchistan, a reversal lies ahead. This is indeed the right direction. Citing Vamadeva to Yudhishthira on this subject, I had told him, “Victories achieved by battles are not spoken of highly, O monarch, by the wise.” Remember, while India can withstand Pakistan’s physical and moral assault on Kashmir forever, Pakistan can’t say the same for Baluchistan. But try peaceful and clever strategies first, something that will leave Pakistan humiliated and isolated.
The move to refuse to attend the SAARC summit in Islamabad was one such. When Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Bhutan followed your lead and the summit had to be cancelled, it was a victory. Deny them water, even if takes years to carry out this threat at the ground level, but have that threat hanging over Pakistan’s head. Use every means to make the enemy understand who holds the balance of power.
Over the next few decades, Pakistan’s investments in terror and subjugation will see it implode. You should nurture that implosion. The new battleground is information and ideas. You are fighting the information war very well at global forums and the moral delegitimisation of Pakistan—most recently in the UN (Just compare our external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj’s statemanlike speech at the UN General Assembly with Pakistan PM’s Nawaz Sharif’s unconvincing bluster)—is accelerating towards its preordained end. To convert this into a diplomatic delegitimisation would be difficult but not impossible. But the final war would be of ideas, my son.
You must use all tools you have to produce discontent among the people of Pakistan. With poverty, illiteracy, lack of opportunities and overall sense of living in the Stone Age already gnawing at them, you should unleash the war of ideas on the people of Pakistan, break their confidence in their leaders, the army as well as their so-called democratically-elected puppet governments. Speak to the average Pakistani, currently out of the global economic system, directly. Show them the warmth of India. Expose the futility of a war with India. Tell them, India has gone way ahead, even as Pakistan continues to nip at its ankles. Make them realise that retribution is just one swipe away—nothing more. Let your recent speech at Kozhikode be magnified by the State machinery.
If alliances is the game Pakistan is playing, why should you stay behind? As the world’s largest arms buyer, you have the strength of the world’s largest arms sellers, the US and France, seeking you. Tell them: you can either trade with us or with Pakistan—not both. India’s market is large and getting larger. China will prevent economic sanctions or recognising Pakistan as a terrorist State, so carve out bilateral treaties with progressive nations and ensure the economic isolation of Pakistan. And as far as China goes, India’s $52 billion trade deficit can be wiped out in one stroke—surely Indian citizens can live without cheap smartphones from a nation that supports two rogue states.
Finally, if despite all these tools, the enemy continues its assault on your people and it comes to the nuclear option—Pakistan has been able to threaten you and your predecessors with this option for far too long; it’s time to call its bluff—make sure that the bombs fall on the lavish corner plots of Pakistan’s generals. These generals remind me of Drona and how he broke two of my most important rules of engagement —not to use astras against average soldiers and end battles at sundown. But when Drona broke these rules, Arjuna didn’t hold back. In fact, once you have made this a battle for dharma, go all out. My own death was the result of adharma—so was Drona’s and Karna’s and Duryodhana’s. War builds its own roads, creates its own moralities, follows its own dharma. So, make these generals and terrorists bleed—personally. Follow them across the world and kill them—the surgical operation of 29 September is only the first successful step that must be sustained. To their last day, let these terrorists in uniform not have one peaceful moment. Raise the risk of serving in the Pakistani army.
If the path to peace has to wade through war, so be it. If the road to security passes through destruction, embrace it. If this battle for dharma has to use adharma, employ it. The Kshatriya force awaits its rebirth in India. That has been the way of Aryavarta in the past, that is the direction for the India of tomorrow.
With my blessings,