A PICTURE is worth a thousand words; an Indian missile falling in a Pakistani backyard spawns 240 million anxieties.
On March 9, a BrahMos supersonic cruise missile was fired from a secret satellite base near Sirsa (Haryana) in a southerly direction towards the Mahajan field firing ranges. En route, it veered westwards and landed at Mian Channu, 124 kilometres within Pakistan. The missile travelled at 3,000 km an hour (Mach 3) at an altitude of 12,200 metres, high enough to endanger any commercial aircraft.
It took the Indian government two and half days to offer Pakistan an explanation that was dilatory, brief and unconvincing: “It is learnt that the missile landed in an area of Pakistan. While the incident is deeply regrettable, it is also a matter of relief that there has been no loss of life due to the accident,” its under-statement said. The missile’s misbehaviour was caused by a “technical malfunction”.
Some strategists suggest that it was a daring attempt by India’s military to test our defence readiness, to gauge our response time; others, a message from PM Modi, flushed after his electoral triumph in a saffronised UP, that Hindutva was gaining propulsion.
Was it a reminder of his earlier warning when, addressing his National Cadet Corps two years ago, he boasted that “all India’s armed forces need to defeat Pakistan is seven to 10 days”.? (It took BrahMos only seconds to cover 124 km.) Is a misguided missile PM Modi’s diplomacy by other means?
Both governments have underplayed the seriousness of the incident, treating the BrahMos missile like some meandering buffalo that happened to stray across the international boundary.
Provocations like these, however ‘accidental’, are disquieting. They have activated those who examine the entrails of flying objects for meanings. After Afghanistan and Ukraine, one realises how disorderly the new world order is. Consider what might happen ‘after the deluge’, and to whom.
Has anyone considered the aftermath, should President Putin be run over by a T-14 tank in Red Square? Who would emerge out of the shadows to command the Kremlin? What would happen to Ukraine if a malfunctioning microphone accidentally electrocuted President Zelensky?
If US President Biden should have a heart attack boarding Air Force One, would white America accept a giggly Kamala Harris as the first African-Asian-American in the Oval Office? (Remember VP Dan Quayle? It is said his security detail had orders to ‘shoot’ him if anything happened to President George W. Bush.)
Closer home, who are the understudies for the major actors in Islamabad?
Like Dr Johnson’s condemned prisoner, nothing has concentrated the mind of PM Imran Khan more wonderfully than that he might be removed in a fortnight. Suddenly, he appears energised. He attacks his opponents with fiery invective he learned at Aitchison College. He dismisses them as ‘boot-polishers’ to the West. He assures his adoring audiences that Pakistan ‘will break records in terms of development in the next one-and-a-half years.’ (No jam yesterday, no jam today, but jam tomorrow.)
He reminds everyone that he entered politics 25 years ago for the youth of the country, “not to know the prices of potatoes and tomatoes”. If he survives to fight another general election, he will discover to his cost that the cost of potatoes and tomatoes do matter to an electorate. It cannot cook political rhetoric.
Rumours circulate about the extension of service of the present COAS Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa. The PM has said that he has so far not thought about the extension. While it is the PM’s prerogative legally to handpick the next COAS, in the past chiefs have acted extra-constitutionally to protect their parallel prerogatives.
Is Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari our Rahul Gandhi — always the fiancé, never the bridegroom? BBZ needs to improve his command over Urdu before he can aspire to lead a nation that thinks in the vernacular.
Which of the lesser Sharifs will take over PML-N? Hamza Shehbaz-Sharif or Maryam Nawaz-Safdar? They need to resolve their cousin rivalry, their childish tussle over a legacy they have not yet inherited.
Will PM Imran Khan survive the impending no-confidence threat?
British PM Johnson has. He was rescued by the Ukraine crisis. Johnson, smelling the decay as Nato rots, foresees in its place a Joint Expeditionary Force, consisting of militant doves: Denmark, Finland, Estonia, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Sweden and Norway. He wants them to discuss ‘long-term energy security’, and to plan how Ukraine can be ‘rebuilt’ after the war — a 21st-century reprise of MacArthur’s Plan for Japan and the Marshall Plan for Germany and Western Europe after World War II.
Is modern politics too serious a business to be left to immature politicians and unstable mavericks? Are disobedient missiles the new gunboat diplomacy?
The author is a Pakistani author and columnist.