I am in a candid conversation with a couple of gentlemen from diverse walks of life. The topic veers around mundane politics, to more serious matters of cross border terrorism and the situation at the borders. Pangs of despair are emotionally expressed to show solidarity with those bestowed with this honourous task. As the discussion progresses, there are fleeting inquiries thrown at me to explain a few intricacies of national strategy besides recounting details of the tactical nuances of the last encounter.
In the din of this serious intellectual exchange, I hear an acquaintance within the group say, “Major, what do you think will be the Army’s response? Will this lead to escalation in belligerence or will decades of unfinished diplomacy see a new dawn on the horizon?”
I pause for a moment in sheer shock and dismay that a person of a non-military background with such high intellectual credential fails to register the difference between a Major and a Major General, albeit seriously concerned with the happenings at the border and the raw courage of soldiers at stake. On my part, I am indeed elated at the display of nationalism but do feel a tinge of sadness at the professional regression of over three decades between the two ranks, the latter earned with sheer grit and toil of a rigorous military career. To put things in the correct perspective, it is not out of disrespect or knowledge that the gentlemen addressed me as such but the lack of it in the military domain and the inept attitude in registering military insignia that prompted him to address me as such. In the west, military has a pride of place in the National hierarchy. They are deeply valued for the services rendered to the country and emote patriotism by their sheer sense of reverence towards all the men and women in uniform. To them a General is always a General and will remain and be addressed as such given the fact that a rank has the constitutional authority and character. The military on its part while addressing their seniors, peers and subordinates by their rank, take care to be courteous and ethically correct while addressing civilian counterparts in a formal manner. I do believe that it is customary to address a Lieutenant General or Major General as General XYZ colloquially. But to merely address the officer by the first descriptive will be akin to addressing a gentlemen or a lady by their name omitting the prefix of Mr or Mrs in a formal conversation.
This faux pas notwithstanding, I proceeded to untangle the descriptive cobwebs of the current situation at the international border. The painful reportage of describing the status of the victor and the vanquished exposed the fact that a solution is shamelessly elusive and remains deeply enmeshed in regional politics bereft of human compassion. Despite decades of independence and trans-border aggression, incisive ideological differences have stoked the embers of partition. Indiscriminate killings, atrocities and irrational bloodshed have ruined generations whose constant threat of death and destruction have become a way of life. Yet peace has not seen the light of the day in spite of the presence of a compassionate military that has been instrumental in undoing every retrograde action which is indeed comforting amidst the sacrilege and disillusion. But this is not enough. The cry for a lasting solution for peace is palpable. As they say, “the solution to every complex problem is a simple one”. What is this simple solution — possibly — open borders, regional autonomy, acceptance of the existing boundaries, or re-designation of these boundaries — anything but military!
The stark silence of the group reflected a deep sense of helplessness, questioning the political intransigence that may trigger the escalation matrix while the common man remained blissfully oblivious of the happenings as much as the gentlemen s indifference towards the issue of customary salutation.