In mid 2011, following the foreign secretary -level talks between India and Pakistan, there were many opinion pieces written on the dialogue process between the two uneasy neighbours. While several Pakistan Urdu dailies continued to focus on the Kashmir issue in the talks, there were some saner voices like those in the Dawn that wondered whether Pakistan’s confrontational attitude was one single most crucial reason for the country’s economic backwardness. Even before the talks, Najam Sethi, a seasoned Pakistani columnist had written: “There is a demand (in Pakistan) to debate the philosophy of national security, especially that of posing India as a threat and entering into an arm race that continues for 60 years which has put peoples’ welfare on stake.”
Role up to January 2013. An action that can be best described as ‘provocative; Pakistani regular soldiers trespassed into the Indian territory of Poonch sector in Jammu and Kashmir and ambushed an Indian patrol, killing two soldiers, one of whom was decapitated.
Thereafter, the Indian government was prompt in issuing a statement saying that, “We expect Islamabad to honour the ceasefire agreement strictly”.
But the gravity of the situation was not lost to the Indian media and debates were sparked by the unprovoked ceasefire violation.
On January 8, there were reports of the Indian soldiers killed in a cross-border attack by Pakistan troops across the LoC (Line of Control) at Krishna Ghati area of Poonch. Thereafter, emerged reports of the brutality unleashed by the Pakistani trespassers and that the “the heads of both the Indian soldiers have been chopped off and one was taken away by Pakistani intruders”.
What was the basis of the unprovoked and cowardly act unleashed, allegedly, by army regulars? According to The Hindu, its roots lay in the decision of a 70-year-old Indian grandmother to leave for Pakistan-occupied Kashmir to live with her sons across the border. The Indian mainline said that Reshma Bi of Churunda, an Indian village hugging the India-Pakistan border, managed to squeeze through to the other side of the Line of Control (LoC) – despite the heavy barbed-wire fencing – something, The Hindu said, people here do on a regular basis, undetected.
When, during regular roll calls, the Indian authorities got to know of Reshma Bi’s flight, they were concerned about the weaknesses in the fences around Churunda, which made them embark on constructing observation towers on the border enhanced added security.
The Pakistan Army, observing these activities across the border, was furious, prompting them to take evasive actions. “Indian bunker construction on the northern reaches of the Line of Control — initiated after a grandmother (Reshma Bi) crossed into Pakistan-administered Kashmir to be with her sons — sparked off a spiral of violence which culminated in the brutal killing of two soldiers in an ambush earlier this week, The Hindu said, quoting highly placed military and government sources.
By illustrating the case of Reshma Bi, what I am trying to emphasise on is the ability of the India media to go beyond news and get the facts on the ground. Since Kargil in 1999, the India media has come of age in reporting the cross-border low-intensity conflicts often unleashed by an uneasy, unpredictable and untrustworthy neighbour. The Hindu report, by seasoned foreign affairs and military journalist Praveen Swamy, illustrates the ability of the Indian media to generate faith and instil confidence – even while getting high-intelligence information – among the authorities.
The electronic media, on the other hand, has outshone itself in the recent cross-border trouble in calling for action against the violators of the ceasefire pact between India and Pakistan. While reporting on the ‘grave provocation’, the Indian media laid bare the truth behind Pakistan’s accusation of ‘crossing the boundary between the two sides’ in Uri sector.
The media did not let subtlety tie its hands when it reported about the construction of the bunkers to strengthen security around Charonda village, which made the Pakistan forces ‘retaliate’ with mortar and gun fire. Indeed, rest of India must know of what the neighbour on the other side is up to and the nation goes about its business.
Why the media outcry over the mutilated bodies of the Indian soldiers in the January 8 incident? Perhaps, apart from the fact that this is one of the most debased forms of insulting life, it is also because the media has always been most vocal in reporting such incidents, be it in the Valley, the Naxal-infested areas, or the troubled Northeast. It is perhaps because of the media that there is nothing called ‘collateral damage’ in the Valley anymore. “Between this India Pakistan military friction, a higher cost is borne by civilians of Kashmir; after the Uri bunker building standoff, three civilians had been killed by mortar shelling (Mohammad Shafi 25 years old, Shaheena 20 years old and Liaqat Ali a school student),” writes The Daily Risng Kashmir. How did we get to know about the deaths? Of course, through the media.”
In these times, when the members of the Indian media stand accused of crony journalism and participating in graft-ridden deals detrimental to the overall health of the nation, it is heartening to see that journalists do not sweep incidents such as these under the carpet for the sake of a falsified sense of peace.
I am all for the likes of Times Now’s Arnab Goswami taking the national sentiment to his Newshour and telling the war mongers on the other side of the border that India has had ENOUGH of export of terrorism. He aptly asks the Pakistani panelists participating in the programme, “Where did the Indian Army behead or mutilate a Pakistani Army soldier?
In fact, I am part of co-organising the first ever South Asia Media Summit in Islamabad with All Pakistan newspaper society and Jung Group CEO and APNS President Sarmad Ali on Janauray 15-16, which for other reasons then this escalation was postponed to February 2013. My Indian friends from media were looking forward to the trip eagerly. However, post this escalation, two of my friends from the media industry in India felt strongly and urged me to call off our participation as a mark of protest. I had to get on the phone and reiterate and bring forth the role of civil society and media in doing track II diplomacy and even greater need for us to engage with Pakistani media.
Arnab Goswami rightly points out, “Kashmir is a part of India. Period. Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India and for eternity Jammu and Kashmir will be an integral part of India and Pakistan can keep whining about it but that reality will not change. That’s one. You can import as much terrorism as you want, that will not change…that is the ground reality.”
Indeed, such a message is what the terrorists and war mongers on the other side of the border needed to get, pending for a long time, across the many wars and low-intensity conflicts Pakistan unleashed in trying to destabilise India for the past many, many decades. Thank you media.
I began by talking about the media frenzy following the foreign-secretary-level talks last year. I had a purpose there. Look at the two countries – India and Pakistan. Undoubtedly, both have their own forms of fundamentalism and radicalism. At the same time, majority of the journalists here dare not cross the line and try to influence governance, unlike most vernacular newspapers in Pakistan.
Further, secularism is so embedded in our system that most journalists know that radicalism can at best be regional or parochial calls, not national. This has direct bearing on the choice of whether we, as a nation, should attempt to destabilise or participate in another’s internal matters or not. It was media that shaped our perspective to a large extent regarding this.
Whether it was India’s role in the formation of Bangladesh or attempts to bring peace in Sri Lanka, media has been balanced in reviewing such acts. Perhaps that is the reason why no journalist can write about India ever being confrontationist with its neighbours. For, such an attitude is not something our democracy allows us. The only thing I would like Indian media is to get into a deeper analysis of why Pakistani Army is escalating the situation on LoC and there is a big story there. Any takers?
The author is Chairman and Editor-in-Chief, exchange4media Group