what do people think?
As shadows of war loom over the Indo-Pak border, people on both sides find themselves glued to their TV screens and phones, trying to stay on top of the developing situation. Amongst these anxious onlookers, a helpless and passive audience frustrated with their position, is 42 years old Ghulam Mustafa Shad.
Mustafa is a Pakistani electrician working in Oman. I met Mustafa in his shop in Al-Kamil, where he had just gotten through with winding a juggernaut of a motor hung from the roof with the help of iron chains. On seeing me, he wiped his hands on an oily rag and sent his son running to get tea and biscuits. He motioned me toward a hard plastic chair and settled on the one opposite.
The night before, India had enacted a surgical strike in Pakistani territory, claiming to have hit militant targets and succeeded in killing more than 300 terrorists. Pakistan, on the other hand, vehemently denied the Indian allegation, asserting that though a strike had happened, Pakistani Air Force had responded in time and caused the Indian planes to drop their payloads in a deserted region before turning tail and scampering away.
When I asked Mustafa if he believed his country’s claim, he was nodding his head before the question was fully out of my mouth. “They have no proof,” he explained. “Pak army showed the place where the bombs were dropped, they showed the four craters that are left, but the Indians didn’t show anything. They have no ground to stand on. All they managed to do was kill a few of our trees.” This remark, obviously picked up from a news reporter, made us both laugh.
There was obvious pride in his manner when he spoke about the Pakistani Armed Forces. When asked if he thought his army could defeat the Indian forces, even though the enemy is more than triple their size, he was all assurances.
“Our army has the high moral ground,” he insisted. “Being Muslims, we are taught from an early age that martyrdom is the best kind of death there is. In our religion, martyrs are not considered dead. Allah has said that we mustn’t cry for martyrs, for a martyr is not actually dead. A martyr is alive. Our army does not fear death.”
But when I asked him again to consider the size of the foe, he munched on his biscuit for a long moment before replying. “We can give as well as we can take,” he finally said. “But what I know for sure is that if there will be a war, most of us will not be alive long enough to see who wins.”
When I asked him why he thought so, he raised his hands wide. “We have fought three wars! My village is close to Lahore, where the border with India is. My father used to tell me about how they would go into a virtual blackout at night during the war of ’71. They used to hear planes in the sky and wait for death. If someone wanted light, they would cover their windows with heavy draperies before daring to light one. The enemy planes could have spotted the light from the sky and killed us.”
“No one wins in a war. Humanity losses,” he continued, using the worlds of DG ISPR Major General Asif Ghafoor. “War is not the answer. War is never the answer. Pakistan is trying to find its way out of the past and finally work towards progression, and we cannot afford a war. We want peace.”
“Then how did this situation develop?” I asked. “Do you think Pakistani forces had anything to do with the death of those Indian soldiers?”
He waved a dismissive hand. “I don’t know the intricacies behind what powerful people do. But I do know this. The only person who could benefit from a war is Modi. You know about the elections, right? He wants to win. And Indian elections are always fought and won through Pakistan bashing. That’s what he is doing, but he has gone a step further than others.”
Indian parliamentary elections are set to take place in April of this year. They are considered to be a very important factor in the ongoing developments, with the Pakistani side stating that the reason behind PM Modi’s warmongering agenda is to garner public support by portraying himself as the savior of India. It is crucial to remember that the PM has already lost five states in the state elections and his popularity has been dwindling rapidly.
“Who was behind the attack?” I asked. “A Pakistani based group claimed responsibility.”
Mustafa was visibly irritated at this question. “I do not understand how people believe that. Do you know the Line of Control? It is a virtual no-man’s-land. There are land mines and constant patrols and barbed fences. And the Indian military has sophisticated equipment to capture any movement there. If a Pakistani did commit this crime, then it was a terrible lapse on their part that they didn’t see him coming. But a Pakistani didn’t do it. It was the Kashmiris. The Kashmiris hate India. They want freedom. The boy who blew himself up was tortured by the Indians. He wanted revenge. That’s why he did what he did. It had nothing to do with Pakistan.”
We finished our tea in silence after this. When Mustafa showed signs of concluding the interview, I jumped forward with one last question.
“Do you think there will be a war, Mustafa?”
He looked thoughtful. “I don’t think so. Imran Khan doesn’t want a war. General Bajwa doesn’t want a war. The world doesn’t want one more war. If India still insists on fighting one, the world will see its dark face.”
“But what if there is a war?”
Here Mustafa didn’t hesitate. “Then we will fight. We will fight and protect the motherland. We will protect Pakistan.” He grinned. “But there won’t be a war.”