India Must Remember This Lesson From Roman History While Dealing With Pakistan

2:12 pm 26 Sep, 2016


The Indian political leadership is without a doubt one of the world’s most respected ones. India’s democratic political system in a country of 1.2 billion plus population is an example in itself. India’s socialist ideals and principles are praised the world over. But praise for being a democratic, socialist republic is one thing, praise for being the most powerful is another.

And the praise for being the latter is far better than the praise for being the former. Why? To understand this, we have to go back in time to 3rd century BC and move ourselves from India to Italy, where the Roman Republic has cemented itself as the superpower of the time.

The latter half of this period contains an event that teaches very important lessons in politics, warfare and diplomacy – lessons that most empires and countries of the world would eventually learn and practice but not India.

The period from 218 to 201 BC of Roman history witnessed the Second Punic Wars, when the Roman Republic was invaded and almost conquered by one of antiquity’s greatest military commanders Hannibal Barca from Carthage in North Africa.

 

A bust of Hannibal Barca. He remains to this day one of the greatest military strategists of all time.

A bust of Hannibal Barca. He remains to this day one of the greatest military strategists of all time.

During the course of 17 years after having crossed the Mediterranean Sea into Spain, Hannibal conquered Roman cities and made alliances with Rome’s enemies. His army crossed the Alps at a time when crossing it in itself could be counted as the greatest achievement of man. That half his army died while crossing it should give an estimate of how herculean the task was.

Hannibal took this great risk because Roman Republic had broken a treaty with Carthage, which he perceived as an assault on his country.

Despite the numbers, Hannibal attacked Rome with whatever he had, conquering city after city using a military strategy which is respected and emulated till date.

 

This is the route Hannibal took to invade Rome. Note that his goes past Rome itself without attacking it. Wikimedia Commons

This is the route Hannibal took to invade Rome. Note that his goes past Rome itself without attacking it. Wikimedia Commons

But – and this is important – Hannibal would return home without having conquered Rome itself.

He would return to Carthage to face an equally great Roman general, Scipio Africanus, who invaded his country in his absence from a different route. He would be defeated and then, after some period of exile, would commit suicide in Roman captivity. Eventually Roman Republic would transform into a far stronger Roman Empire.

So why did Hannibal not invade Rome and destroy the Republic itself when he had the chances – not one but two? The answer to this has a link to India’s current problems with Pakistan.

Hannibal didn’t attack Rome because he thought that Rome will come to the negotiating table if he was able to subdue their protectorates and conquer some of its territory, something like forcing your enemy into submission.

His Carthaginian belief was that an enemy would come to terms under such circumstances and the enemy need to be fully defeated. But Romans were Romans. They refused negotiations. Instead, they mounted numerous guerrilla attacks on Hannibal’s slowly depleting force. Eventually Hannibal lost many of his brave men, including his brother. The final nail was when Scipio invaded Carthage.

 

"Hannibal Crossing the Alps on an Elephant", a painting by Nicolas Poussin, is seen in this undated handout picture provided by Christie's in London. REUTERS/Christie's Images/Handout

“Hannibal Crossing the Alps on an Elephant”, a painting by Nicolas Poussin, is seen in this undated handout picture provided by Christie’s in London. REUTERS/Christie’s Images/Handout

Something like this also happened during India’s wars with Pakistan.

India, too, had at least one great opportunity – 1971 – to end the Pakistan problem once and for all. And unlike Hannibal, who had misplaced his understanding of negotiations with Romans, the then Indian military commanders had no second thoughts about the enemy. They were ready, yet the political establishment couldn’t trust its Generals.

In the end, Pakistan got back the territory Indian armed forces captured and Islamabad remained intact.

 

Lt Gen W.A.G. Pinto, GoC of 54 Infantry Division posing beside a board erected by Indian Army inside a location in Pakistan. The Hindu

Lt Gen W.A.G. Pinto, GoC of 54 Infantry Division posing beside a board erected by Indian Army inside a location in Pakistan. The Hindu

Defenders of the political establishment of 1971 argue that India was forced to return the land and come to the negotiating table because of the international pressure it was coming under and a possible threat from China.

Though one can argue that rules of war are different in 20th century from what they were in 3rd century BC and that there are a lot of diplomatic considerations to take note of, one is forced to see the same in the light of US invasion of Iraq and the European Allied invasion of Libya in the 21st century.

International laws are more stringent now yet they simply invaded, destroyed everything, killed whosoever they didn’t like, established a puppet government and left. Have they been held accountable? No. And this is why praise for being the most powerful matters.

Today, Islamabad is the seat of India’s terrorist problem. Pakistan is waging a proxy war on India using terrorists as their guerrilla force to inflict as much damage as possible to the people and armed forces of India.

There is no doubt that the terrorists are Pakistan’s own. In case you didn’t notice, attacks on the army personnel have increased and the common people have gone down since 26/11. It is because the Mumbai terror attacks earned Pakistan international disrepute, which forced the ISI to change its strategy. Terrorists are now targeting armed forces on the directions of their masters who know that such attacks attract a relatively lesser degree of condemnation than attacks on civilians.

 

Indian soldiers were this close in Lahore district of Pakistan during 1965 war. MoD

Indian soldiers were this close in Lahore district of Pakistan during 1965 war. MoD

What is clear, however, is that Indian political brass’ Hannibal-like understanding of the enemy’s nature that has brought upon Indians a situation where Pakistan sponsored terror attacks are costing the lives of brave men in uniforms. What is even more dismal is the fact that Pakistan is far more inferior to the Roman Republic by all accounts. The only thing that Pakistan and Roman Republic perhaps have in common is their desire to completely destroy their enemy.

It is India’s misplaced generosity over its oldest external enemy that is slowly bleeding India. It was this misplaced generosity of Prithviraj Chauhan over Mohammed Ghori that led to the death of the former at the latter’s hands in 1192 AD.

Yet India is a country where socialist beliefs have dominated much of the period since Independence. This socialist belief led to Jawaharlal Nehru signing the Indus Water Treaty with Pakistan in 1960. This socialist belief (and personal hatred) of Morarji Desai ended India’s hopes of destroying Pakistan’s nuclear plans and led to the deaths of India’s own intelligence officers.

 

Jawaharlal Nehru with Pakistani President Ayub Khan in 1960. Nehru signed the Indus Water Treaty which many say heavily favours Pakistan. The Hindu

Jawaharlal Nehru with Pakistani President Ayub Khan in 1960. Nehru signed the Indus Water Treaty which many say heavily favours Pakistan. The Hindu

A war is never a good option to settle a feud but if two nations go to war, one nation must fully annihilate or subdue the other to solve the problem permanently. Given the nature of Pakistan’s leadership (which is basically led by its army), Islamabad will definitely try to end India completely if the two countries go to war, unless forced otherwise by fear of international sanctions.

Unlike India, Pakistan won’t take into consideration socialistic values and humanitarian concerns for the enemy. And it definitely won’t return what it might lay hands on, like Pak-occupied Kashmir, because though the US and everyone who once loved them have turned away their faces, the Sharifs in Islamabad now have China – the superpower at the gate and India’s biggest enemy in Asia.

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