“To know only one thing well is to have a barbaric mind: civilization implies the graceful relation of all varieties of experience to a central human system of thought.”
― Robert Graves
It is time to deal with the issue of mutilations separately from the overall gambit of military conflict.
The Army carried out a massive counter assault using heavy mortar fire on Pakistani posts along the Line of Control, as “heavy retribution” for the beheading of an Indian soldier. In the past three weeks, the Pakistan Army has mutilated bodies of two of India’s soldiers. The Indian Army’s Northern Command had responded that there would be retribution for the cowardly act. While form and nature of warfare has always strictly been a military domain, there are cases where civilian agency needs to step in to ensure that savagery is not given the normalization and justification of a conflict. There is no justification- religious, moral, political, emotional, rational or strategic for mutilation of bodies. To call it a form of warfare is an abomination to the profession of arms. Armies are professional organizations entrusted with organized violence with constitutional checks and balances.
Whatever the nature of civil-military relations in Pakistan, the civilian government cannot condone such acts. Mutilation is not part of any tactical or strategic escalation ladder. It defeats the very purpose of strategy, tactics and politics. It is a beastly response to circumstances which falls out of any form of human interaction, conflict or civilization. While no professional military organization in the world is intimidated by such cowardly acts, the civilian governments on both sides need to ensure that such acts are not given the legitimacy in the name of impassioned conflict.
It is undoubtedly, true that there are many forms of societal violence such as rapes, rioting that should demand the same outrage. There is a perception not without merit which is being created that India-Pakistan cannot deal with a very impassioned conflict without resorting to such futile and primitive forms of violent acts. This perception is being used by third parties such as terrorists, radicals and instigators to equate their own actions to those of the military and state. Some scholars have argued that one cannot overturn human nature and human beings when put in situations of extreme stress and danger, cannot be expected to follow codes of conduct. This argument, unfortunately, obfuscates the exceptional nature of the military profession and the maturity of the Indian constitutional state. Even Pakistan, for all its failed institutions is not beyond an expectation of professional behavior. The military is mandated to only engage in organized violence with a monopoly of violence granted to them by all citizens following the parameters of the constitution. They are supposed to bear no personal animosities against adversaries. They are deployed merely to prevent and neutralize an adversary or an entity so the latter does not try to resolve an issue by use of force.
This article is not meant to give finality to these extremely deep and wide debates about conflict and human nature; but it is imperative to pause and think about controlling certain acts such as mutilation which have no bearing to the conflict besides deeply angering the militaries on both sides. The act of mutilation is nothing but complete abandonment of consciousness and point to a failed mental state. They have been mistakenly assumed to have strategic use to hurt the morale and the mental balance of the adversary. On the contrary, it often strengthens the resolve of the adversary or the victim, as it should, to demand unqualified justice. It concretizes the perception in the minds of neutrals that India-Pakistan relations are beyond reason which is not true.
India-Pakistan relations while deeply troublesome cannot be characterized by such acts of mutilations. These acts point to a Pakistani frustration which has mistakenly assumed mutilation to be a proportionate response to the changed circumstances at LoC after the surgical strikes. Pakistan will not achieve parity to India on the LoC with such acts of violence. Such acts will only invite response in the short term and rightful moral outrage among civilians on both sides of the border in the long run. This will have no bearing on the conflict in the real sense because India-Pakistan hostility is more nuanced than animalistic tribal animosity. Therefore, it is imperative for the civil-military combine to find ways to completely eliminate such acts of mutilations wherever they have been proved to have occurred.
The use of mutilation in conflict is one of the most regressive and criminal feature of conflict which have no relation to the conduct of war. Societal tolerance of such violence is in complete contradiction of principle of the monopoly of violence granted to the armed forces. Such acts severely damage national security in the long run. Human rights legislation is stuck in myriad legal debates but the ban on mutilation as a form of violence needs to be enforced as soon as possible.
The very notion that such acts can be used as a tool suggests a deep seated mindset problem which fuels antagonism against the state. To call it a strategic tool is an anathema to the very political goals that humans claim to be fighting for. This problem needs to be first dealt as problem first and not as a symptom. The legal debates and perspectives will continue but there needs to be a realization that mutilations have no place or rationale whatsoever in any sphere of human activity even in the case of extreme conflict.
The reason mutilations are carried out are because of folklore, tribal precedents that date back to thousands of years and nothing else. It points to a historically unstable mindset trying to manifest unqualified anger and frustration. The fact that it has occurred before cannot contribute to its legitimacy. Post-facto rationalization is but an excuse which hinders its prevention.