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Posted at: Aug 11, 2019, 7:19 AM; last updated: Aug 11, 2019, 7:36 AM (IST)

War is an enigma

Lt Gen Raj Kadyan (Retd)
Lt Gen Raj Kadyan (Retd)
War is an enigma
Illustration Sandeep Joshi

Lt Gen Raj Kadyan (Retd)

We were closing in on Dacca on December 16, 1971, when the ceasefire was announced. Since sporadic firing was still going on, including by civilians who had started returning to the city along with the Indian Army, we were advised to stay on the outskirts for the night. The next morning my Company was ordered to take over the Pakistani Ordnance Depot that housed all kinds of military lumber. Major Altaf (name changed) walked me around the campus to show where the sentries and searchlights were positioned. This was just like our own handing/taking over. His smartly creased khakis contrasted sharply with my weathered olive greens that had not seen a wash in a fortnight.

The following day Altaf wanted to visit a civilian friend in the city, and being scared to go alone, he requested me to take him there. We went in a Pakistani jeep driven by an Indian soldier driver. This was the pattern during the next few days since the retreating Pakistan army had destroyed all bridges and our transport had not arrived.

His friend was an industrialist and lived in visible opulence. However, like all West Pakistanis living in the East, his fate was uncertain. One of his two cars had been taken away by the unknown. I presume he would have been one of the Prisoners of War along with the soldiers.

As we came out, I noticed a large crowd had gathered around the jeep. They had seen Altaf in his khaki uniform arriving and stood menacingly, armed with sundry implements to lynch him. Instinctively, I stood in front of him, shielding him physically. It was a strange paradox. Some hours earlier, as a soldier, I would have myself targeted him as part of my duty in war. But now, as a human gesture, I was risking my own life to save his. This is a soldier’s creed. I feel convinced he would have done the same if the situation was reversed.

I quietly told the crowd that he was my guest on this occasion and I would not want him harmed. During that period, the Indian Army was seen as saviours by the then East Pakistanis and commanded high respect, literally venerated. Their eyes still burning with hate, the crowd cleared the way. I pushed a somewhat shaken Altaf into the vehicle and we drove off. I realised it was unwise of me not to have foreseen the obvious.

The Pakistan army had still not been disarmed. The bonhomie between soldiers of the two armies was as strange as it was heart-warming.It was indeed a pleasing sight to see the hugging and back-slapping among soldiers of the two armies, carrying their respective weapons. Many Pakistani soldiers spoke nostalgically about their Indian roots and the ancestral towns and villages from where their parents had migrated.

As the famous war strategist Carl von Clausewitz said, “War is the continuation of politics by other means.” A soldier fights for his country’s politics against an announced but unseen enemy. In actuality, he may never get to meet or even see the adversary face-to-face. At the individual and personal level, he harbours no animosity against his adversary. War is thus a kind of an impersonal and nebulous undertaking, an enigma. Being human beings, soldiers have their own feelings and sentiments. But during war, these get suppressed by their ubiquitous duty for the country. Seen in the larger context, therefore, there is more to war than mere bullets and bombs. And no one understands it better than the soldiers themselves.


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