on Mon, 31 May 1999 17:43:09 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Reflections on the State at War in South Asia and the World

(Within a year of  a series of nuclear explosions, the governments of
India and Pakistan have brought their people once more to the brink of a
war. The war in Kosovo must now be supplemented on our daily television
diet with the 'threat of war' in the arid mountains of Kargil, in Indian
administered Kashmir. What follows is a subjective and personal attempt to
come to terms with and reflect on the threat of yet another war in South


Reflections on the State at War in South Asia and the World.

The echoes of distant battles accompany dinnertime in New Delhi and in
Lahore. Families are sitting down to dinner and the State has laid on the
entertainment. They are playing a game on television and the game is
called war. Sometimes they call it a 'heroic stand in distant mountains',
sometimes they call it 'the holy war of liberation', sometimes they call
it 'flushing out infiltrators, and maintaining the line of control'  and
sometimes they call it 'near war'. This 'near war' is a distant noise. Not
as close as it is in Belgrade, not too far either. Just conveniently
within earshot, and amplified by Ministry of Defence briefings. See how
dignified and calm all the generals look. Observe how their voices quiver
with emotion when they talk of brave airmen downed in battle. Look at the
light in the eyes of our statesmen, the sudden swagger in their gait.
Notice the bravado in their voice and the flourishes in their rhetorical
turns of phrase.  See what good television it makes for, how good it is
for the ratings of news programming. A boom time for advertisers : more
cricket, more war, more patriotism, more advertising. A dress rehearsal
perhaps, or a high altitude masquerade, that prepares us for the real
thing, if and when it comes, falling from the sky in bright hot flashes,

Nothing like a  little war  in the neighbourhood to warm up an impending
election, or to help the ruling classes close ranks, 'in the national
interest'. For the mandarins of the illusory left, the demagogues of the
right and  the lacklustre gentlemen of the liberal centre of South Asian
politics to march in step and stand together at attention and prove that
when it comes to militarist posturing each is as good as the other.
Nothing like a little chance to bomb and be bombed for our scientists and
diplomats and generals and journalists and bureaucrats to back slap each
other and rediscover  yet again the joys of power, expertise and the
opportunity to address us on television for free.  Nothing like a skirmish
in the mountains to remind us how much we, the people of India and
Pakistan need to learn to love our nuclear weapons, and work harder at
believing that they protect our lives. Nothing like the image of an
'infiltrator' to justify a little more state terror in our backyards.
There is nothing quite as convenient as an occasional 'air strike', to
maintain the lines of control that cuts through each of us. The collateral
damage, as of now,  is only limited to the empty space inside our heads.
And there is always more, and yet more television to help us get over

Between the cricket world cup and the Nato briefing on Kosovo. Those who
rule us in India and Pakistan have decided to give us a snowbound
gladiatorial. If  'they' can have Kosovo, we must have Kargil too. Look at
the fun that Clinton and Blair and Milosevic and Yeltsin are having. Look
at the great lines that the speech writers are conjuring for them. Why
should our own  Vajpayee and Nawaz Sharif be left with nothing to do
backstage. They tried a 'bus ride' to an illusory peace, now they are on a
mountain trek to a fancy dress war.

These words are written out of desparation, out of lack of sleep, because
the headlines tomorrow  morning might just spell out  the word "WAR", and
it won't be in fancy dress anyomore. Out of  the anger that comes out of
being the mute audience of a farce that, one way or another,  is bound to
end in disaster. If there is a real war,  then we have to sit it out and
watch our cities go up in flames. And worry each day  as to whether or not
the mad idiots who rule us might think that as crowded countries, a short
sharp nuclear conflict might be the best state funded population control
measure since vasectomy.

If there is no 'real' war, and the current stalemate in the mountain
endures (as it has for more than a decade on Siachen)  then an easy
victory by the state over citizens is to be had without the actual
expenditure of a full scale war. The inventories of armaments are left
intact, but war hysteria gives the rulers enough excuses of demanding more
sacrifices from each of us. The mountain skirmish is only a ritual that
makes possible the tightening of the real 'lines of control' that define
and limit the autonomy of each one of us vis-a-vis the state. If diplomats
gather and pious agreements are negotiated , and interpreted in each
capital as proof of 'Victory', then the atmosphere of jingoist
celebration, amid the carefully and constantly fuelled threat of further
armed conflict is enough to generate the means necessary for even greater
arbitrary state intervention in our lives. For greater militarism, for
even more obstacles in the way of the peoples of the states of India and
Pakistan to understand that their real enemies are not each other but
their rulers. That in each state , war, or the threat of war, is the
primary means by which the rulers control and administer us. This is the
real 'Line of Control' , the device that ensures the we stay in line and
under control. That ensures that we never see the state for what it is, a
naked apparatus of violence and power in all our societies. That ensures
that the only way to secure peace is to destroy the forces that beget war
- State Power and it's armed expression - Standing Armies. 

This is not something that the people of India and Pakistan can even dream
of doing on their own. War and the threat of war in South Asia is but one
expression of a general phenomenon. Capitalism, which engenders the state
and which maintains armies is global in a way it has never been before.
The wars  and armed conflicts in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Africa, South
Asia and the rising levels of discontent, violence and unrest in each
state are symptoms of a world wide crisis. More people are in prisons,
more people die as a result of everyday violence, more people are
dehumanized each day by the  increasing load of work. The state of war is
a generalized and universal condition in the late twentieth century. The
world is at war with itself and we are in the middle of the fighting. This
is the last world war. We, the people who never make the decisions to send
troops into battle are already at the front and the war is going on us in
us, around us and through us. We are the soldiers, we are the ammunition
and we are the collateral damage of everyday life under capitalism in the
late twentieth century. The news briefings are the rituals that point to
the sacrifice that is demanded form each one of us. The hounds of war are
amok, and baying for blood. 

There is only one thing that we can do. We can refuse our part in the war.
We can refuse to be herded into real and illusory battles, at whatever
altitude. We can perhaps reply to 'air strikes' with 'general strikes', we
can refuse to work harder, we can refuse to join in the singing of
patriotic songs and we can make noise when the state demands silence from
us. We can forge communities and solidarities that make the lines of
control meaningless in our lives. We can break out of the shell that the
threat of  war imposes on us, write and talk about our anger. We can
refuse to see each other as enemies. Refuse to enter into the hollow
discourse of 'Victory' or 'Defeat'. Refuse the state. For once, before the
war walks in through our doors and stands us with our hands raised and
facing the wall with the barrel of a  gun at our backs, let us begin to
refuse the war.

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