Stopping the spread of endless wars - Hindustan Times
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Stopping the spread of endless wars

ByHindustan Times
Nov 26, 2023 10:29 PM IST

This article is authored by Tara Kartha, former director, National Security Council Secretariat.

The images emerging from the war in Palestine are horrifying, even to a public accustomed to visuals of daily death and destruction across the world. Ukraine, Pakistan, Afghanistan are among the hundred plus conflicts that are raging, seemingly endlessly. The Palestine war however is even more disturbing, since at some level, it seems justifiable that Israel is reacting to a terrible attack by a terror group that has no compunctions in hiding under hospital and using hostages as shields. Never was the question of what constitutes ‘just war’ more under question.

A four-day truce in the Israel-Hamas war, brokered by Qatar, took effect early Friday, marking the first break in a conflict that began on October 7.(REUTERS)
A four-day truce in the Israel-Hamas war, brokered by Qatar, took effect early Friday, marking the first break in a conflict that began on October 7.(REUTERS)

There is vast literature on the principles of ‘just war’, but essentially requires that the cause for war is just; the right authority makes the decision; the decision is made with the right intention of bringing about peace; the war is a last resort; the overall evil of the war does not outweigh the good. And above all, it defends the age-old principle of non-combatant immunity.

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Now consider available statistics. Palestine deaths have crossed the 10,000 mark, while Israel suffered around 1200 died in the Hamas attack, probably the worst such in its short history. Palestine has lost more lives in this operation than in the last 15 years of conflict. Worse, the danger of escalation persists, with Houthis capturing a merchant ship bound for India. The so called ‘non-State’ actor used a Mi-17 to board the moving ship – no small enterprise – and Israel accuses Iran of the act. Earlier, US jets struck camps in eastern Syria against Iranian Revolutionary Guard troops and ‘affiliated’ groups., even as US troops stationed in Iraq and Syria were attacked by rockets and drones 41 times according to Politico since the wave began on October 17, with 46 service members injured. The war could spread, and quickly. But while Israel is using its army, just who is a ‘non-combatant’ in Palestine?

Another set of statistics. This year more than 150,000 migrants have arrived in Italy, compared with roughly 94,000 during the same period in 2022, according to the latest data from the interior ministry. In recent days, another few have died, among them a little girl, as shipping trawlers bring in migrants from Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Morocco, Pakistan among others. This is apart from the 270,000 Afghans who arrived in Europe, and held in prison like camps, with just 1 % resettled. That is being called ‘staggering neglect’. No one is saying anything much however, of Pakistan’s pushing back of some 1.7 million Afghans virtually overnight, with nothing to their names but what they can carry. Don’t forget those Afghans came to Pakistan to escape the war that Islamabad – and the United States – foisted on it for decades. All of these wars involve State and non-State actors, while Ukraine - with some 6.2 million refugees and counting – is a the type of war Europe has often waged in the two World Wars. Neither type of war has seen any respect for civilian lives.

Not that this hasn’t been part of international law. Way back in 1899, the League of Nations which preceded the UN, declared that “The right of belligerents to adopt means of injuring the enemy is not unlimited”. That principle was extended to aerial warfare in 1923, with the rules barring “aerial bombardment for the purpose of terrorising the civilian population”, or damaging private property. None of that did much good as the World War II testified to, when all sides bombed everyone, including allied countries in an effort for the ‘greater good’ which was to drive the Germans and the Japanese out. The horrors of those wars, lead to the setting up of the United Nations dominated by the victors, ostensibly to ensure that it never happened again. Yet, just 78 years later, the same war, the same area. The UN system has failed here and everywhere else. In vain, Secretary-General António Guterres pleaded for respect of international humanitarian law, warning the “it is the difference…between restraint and anarchy, between losing ourselves in horror and retaining our humanity,”. No one seems to be listening.

The dead and wounded are everywhere, and millions of people in flight. And the reward? Pakistan ‘won’ a battered Afghanistan that now is its worst enemy. Israel may find a destroyed Palestine a far greater danger than before. Ukraine may become the US’s Achilles heel. Here’s another set of statistics. In the two World Wars, India lost 77,824 and 1,28,704 were wounded. In 1965, that figure was 3,250, and 3,264 in 1971 (total wounded 18,474). Attacks were largely strictly limited to hitting armed forces only. In 1971, Delhi ensured not only that 93,000 Prisoners of War received all rights of the Geneva Convention, but also protected then from slaughter by enraged Bangladeshis, as Lt.Gen Jagjit Singh Aurora, commander in the eastern front, observed. Later, after the Kargil war, India provided honourable burials to Pakistani soldiers who Islamabad refused to claim. All this, despite the horrors of 26/11 and hundreds of other attacks. Yet later, the Balakote strikes hit only terrorists. No civilians were harmed. With such a truly ingrained history of reasonable justice in war, and generosity in peace, India must take the lead in ending these ruinous wars. Alongside, it’s time to bring those values to the United Nations. It might just be the best thing to happen to a hapless world at the mercy of the profiteers of endless war.

This article is authored by Tara Kartha, former director, National Security Council Secretariat.

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