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SEEMA MUSTAFA | 27 DECEMBER, 2017

War Not Peace: The Media of India and Pakistan

The two countries remain each others best diversion


NEW DELHI: Till not so long ago there was a barometer of India-Pakistan relations in a Nawaiwaqt (Pakistan newspaper) correspondent whose confidence ebbed or rose accordingly. Visiting Indian journalists learnt to gauge the mood in Islamabad through this gentleman who always, repeated always, asked questions of Indian dignitaries in a tone that gave away the mood. He was politer when relations were good, very confrontationist when New Delhi and Islamabad were beating the drums of war, and even worse when Pakistan was posturing over confidence.

Looking back now, this journalist who was attacked by his colleagues even more than the Indian scribes for raising the pitch, was mild compared to what passes for journalism these days. The nasty taunts and hostile questions thrown at the worried and traumatised family of Kulbhushan Jadhav as they went to meet him in Islamabad is a case in point. It has drawn severe criticism on the social media from sober Pakistani journalists who have tweeted and posted their anger over this orchestrated behaviour of their tribe.

Their behaviour was condemnable indeed, and clearly directed by sections in Pakistan (read Intelligence/Army) who were not very happy about the permission given to the family to meet with Jadhav. It also fitted in with the hostile relations between the two countries, providing sufficient fodder for the chest thumping right wing forces in Pakistan who have always resisted efforts for peace since Partition.

A group of scribes here who have been writing consistently for peace between the two neighbours, regardless of the politics of New Delhi, were informally discussing the nasty developments across the border to realise that our fellow brethren today might have done the same, if the roles had been reversed. Given the hysterical decibels of television news channels, we concluded with sufficient reason,that if a Pakistani family had been given permission to meet their relative in an Indian jail, the media here could well have acted in a similar taunting fashion. For the numbers of media personnel who get their directions from the ruling dispensation has grown in democratic India as well.

In the process, independence of the media is the casualty.

Responsible media across the world has conventionally stood on the side of peace. There was a marked shift when embedded journalists were taken atop US tanks into Iraq after the ‘shock and awe’ bombing of the country had pummelled out the resistance, and for the first time there was open endorsement of war by top media houses.In India and Pakistan the media has echoed the decibels of war in the past long before Iraq, but never with the ferocity currently on display.

The narrative is so polarised, that those criticising the journalists in Pakistan for their condemnable behaviour, are being pilloried as well there. And in India no one is even prepared to acknowledge their existence, and let it be known that the journalists loyal to the military and intelligence services of Pakistan are not representative of the entire media industry in that country. Instead the incident is being taken to justify and feed into media hysteria here, with nationalism fuelled by the right wing becoming the benchmark for journalistic outrage in India.

It is unfortunate how the journalism of hyperbole has become the norm, and when applied to relations between hostile neighbours assumes a sinister hue. It subdues the voices of peace, and moves nations on the tracks of war with a speed that can have catastrophic results. As it is the two Armies of India and Pakistan are suffering high casualties because of this animosity, and the current policies of the ruling dispensations of both countries.

A young major and three soldiers of the Indian Army were killed --all in their 30’s---in a Pakistan ambush. India claims to have returned the favour, in a commando operation where similar lives were taken. In the three year confrontation, the ceasefire pact has been dropped, and the armies are in a perpetual state of war. Why? Is there strategic need, or is it just a political whim? This is the question that the media is expected to answer dispassionately, with sufficient facts to convince the reader why war is preferable over peace. The argument, needless to say, has to draw on more than what we hear from TV news on both sides revolving around the “if you kill our soldiers, we will take down yours”.

In an environment so charged and hostile as that prevailing across India and Pakistan these days, voices of peace are unwelcome. Those in power join the fringe in denouncing these as ‘traitors’ and ‘anti-national’. And if in India these days the byline happens to be Muslim (as this one) your goose is cooked even before the first sentence is read. But it becomes all the more imperative for the voices insisting that the daggers be sheathed, that talks begin, become louder and more persistent. As poverty, unemployment, development can ---or rather will only be tackled by the governments if war is stopped from paying them political dividends.

Today the two countries remain each other’s best diversion. Diversion from the real issues, with the media taunts intending to demean Jadhav’s family, feeding into the macho-ism of politics on both sides of the border. The extremists in Pakistan are happy that the scribes taught the Indians a good lesson, and those cherishing similar ideologies in India are exultant that they have got yet another stick to beat the war drums with. Neither want to even discuss the consequences, and unfortunately for both countries, the media that should play this role of a watchdog mired in caution and reason, is instead drumming war with increasing ferocity.

Anti-national in peace parlance are those who drive their countries to war, and inflict on the armies and the people suffering and hardship. The media, unable any longer to decipher terms within a perspective and context, works in overdrive to please corporate and political (read Army for Pakistan) masters with calls to war, even as it distances itself from the people who will bear the brunt of such militarism.

Sad. Would have never thought one would say this, but our Nawaiwaqt barometer seems almost benign now!
 

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