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Fifth column

March 2, 2019

Sanity for now


March 2, 2019

Following the Pulwama fidayeen attack, the last two weeks have been terribly unnerving. A dangerous war hysteria generated by an endless barrage of hate and incendiary broadcasts from Indian newsrooms, ably aided by the militant and irresponsible rhetoric of a myopic political leadership that deliberately sought escalation, gave millions of people nothing but nightmares. Had the Pakistani leadership – both civilian and military – not shown the exemplary qualities of nerve and leadership, and maturity and resolve, we might have by now sleepwalked into a scenario that conjures up images of a hitherto untested realm of mutual assured destruction that, for the time, continues to remain a preserve of science fiction.

The chilling action of a Kashmiri youth, Adil Ahmed Dar, should have provoked an honest debate about the simmering Kashmir problem that has dogged the progress of peace for well over seven decades. Sadly, it did not prod the conscience of the biggest democracy on earth. Instead, New Delhi – that directly rules over Kashmir since the local government was sacked last year – sought to escalate things, both with Pakistan and within Kashmir. Less than an hour into the car bomb attack, the Indian media blamed Pakistan, a script that was later borrowed faithfully and verbatim by a clueless and cornered Modi government.

The main culprit for building a hateful and toxic war narrative has been the Indian television channels that could easily put the cheap charm of most tabloid journalism of kiss-and-tell reputation to shame. Through their frenzied reports, which were often fake or pulverised content peppered with some journalistic jugglery, they created deafening war hysteria. Also, they activated angry mobs to attack Kashmiris throughout India on behalf of the slain servicemen lost in the Pulwama tragedy. Such behaviour was encouraged through emotive slogans like ‘Desh mangay badla’, often played at high decibel and accompanied by juxtaposed Kashmiri faces on TV screens with aggressive and rabble-rousing slogans. Once again, Prime Minister Modi failed his office by deliberately taking too long to intervene and stop the lynching, now a favourite street sport of India. In fact, his initial public reaction to the Pulwama atrocity suggested he was goading the public to commit violence to exact instant revenge, a time-tested tactic for Hindutva forces to gain currency and support for electoral gains.

Under these circumstances, the only consolation and hope is that such behaviour is not complimented from Pakistan. The hate industry against India has been minuscule in the country and further retracted into insignificance over the last decade. Therefore, the boasts of yore that pledged to fight a thousand-year war have become passé, and do not sell either on the street or in policy circles, at least not yet.

Breaking a several-decades hiatus, the Indian Air Force made a daring incursion and dropped bombs in an area that has now been proved to be uninhabited by various journalistic accounts; and the pro-bakht (read BJP) television newsroom crews went berserk. There were lavish claims of killing terrorists that according to various news channels ranged from anything between 250 and 600. The figures were repeated so endlessly and with such conviction that it forced the nation into an emotional rupture. Such was the sentiment that Burger Singh, a fast food chain in north India, announced a 20 percent discount to celebrate the headhunt.

There was no time for critical questions such as evidence of dead bodies of those supposedly killed and the damage that was believed to have been caused. Anyone – and there were not many of them – who sought confirmation through proof was hounded as anti-national or, worse, a Pakistani agent, and threatened with vigilante justice. Even so-called liberal journalists and intellectuals who otherwise pose as committed peace activists rushed to gloat in praise for their military heroes. Depending on the perspective, the action or non-action was quickly bestowed with a new and fancy title of ‘Surgical Strikes 2.0’, perhaps the way Prime Minister Modi wanted it – given his unceasing fetish for ostentatious titles that also sound trendy and IT-esque.

In the aftermath of the bombing raids by the Pakistan Air Force and the downing of Indian jet(s), the behaviour of the Indian media for the first few hours was muted or couched in total rejection. Even when the captured pilot, wing commander Abhinandan, was shown in his graceful self on television, the initial official reaction was consumed in issuing denials through a wayward verbiage. Later, the ‘patriotic’ media started to indulge, once again, in their favourite vocation of fictional storyboarding. In opposition to the Pakistani proof of downing the Indian warplane(s), a counterclaim about the destruction of a Pakistani F-16 was launched, a declaration still maintained officially.

Prime Minister Imran Khan’s sudden announcement during his address to a joint parliamentary session that his government was releasing the pilot as a goodwill gesture caused momentary disbelief and an obvious paralysis. However, this was immediately course-corrected and interpreted as Pakistan’s cowardice and packaged as a great Indian victory. True to his unyielding self, Prime Minister Modi showed no magnanimity. In his first reaction, he issued yet another threat for more escalation and a promise to humble the enemies. Thankfully, this did not cause any compulsion to rescind the promised freedom of Commander Abhinandan.

Regardless of the hoarse cries of spineless warmongers, Pakistan has earned respect – both for the country and its leader Imran Khan. He has, no doubt, emerged as a committed peacemaker and a new statesman, perhaps the only one in the region at the moment. While seeking de-escalation, Khan in his parliamentary address rightly shed light on the simmering Kashmir problem that must be addressed to the satisfaction of the Kashmiri people, the principal party. The tactical retreat from the traditional belligerence of the two countries is not enough to avert any future crises. No talk of peace and amity can diffuse the value of Kashmir as the biggest spoiler in South Asia or reduce its potential to cause a nuclear holocaust in the region and beyond.

Twitter: @murtaza_shibli

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