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From Pulwama to Abhinandan: How India Lost the Narrative War to Pakistan

Sarmad Ishfaq

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The Pulwama attack on 14 February 2019 not only led to the deaths of 40 Indian paramilitary personnel but also lobbed Pakistan and India into yet another narrative war – and more ominously, the potential of a real one. Before any investigation was conducted, the Indian military, political leadership, and media began a jingoistic propaganda offensive against their neighbour – stating that Pakistan was behind the attack. Soon after the Pulwama attack, Pakistan and Indian fighter jets were embroiled in a dogfight (details ahead) in which Pakistan destroyed two Indian jets and subsequently captured one pilot, Abhinandan (now released). The article examines the unfolding narrative war brought forth by these events. It primarily deliberates on the role of both countries’ media in said narrative war. The article highlights the distorted and false claims that the Indian media disseminated fervently – their unobjectivity, antagonism, and falsities stemmedfrom the hostility exemplified by their government and military. This aggression was contrasted by the Pakistan media’s focus on objectivity (for the most part), and relatively calmer approach – this stemmed from Imran Khan and the military’s reliance on impartiality, facts, and restraint. As the dust settled, reputable international media outlets who were the de facto adjudicators of this war judged in favour of Pakistan’s official and media narrative to the dismay of New Delhi.

Indian Media & Narrative

The Indian media has a storied propensity for being acrimonious and dispelling exaggerated, distorted, and even false news stories. This is emphatically true in relation to its neighbour, Pakistan. Indian news outlets in their greed to be the first ones to break stores, on many occasions, neglect to fact-check them. For example, in 2017, India Today’s Hindi channel, Aaj Tak, ineffably reported that a fatwa had been issued in Saudi Arabia that men could eat their wives if they were hungry.

The obnoxiously loud anchors and analysts during prime time become even more conspicuous if the news isin relation to Pakistan. Shouting to the audience as if they are hard of hearing, dramatic deliveries of what is supposed to be news, fear mongering, and jingoism are their modus operandi. It is an obsession, which draws massive ratings and revenue for them as it gravitates the Indian masses towards their TV sets. Although, one could label these Bollywood-esque theatrics as innocuous, the hyperbole and outright lying against Pakistan and Muslims is particularly worrisome. Anti-Pakistan and anti-Muslim sentiment has erupted since Modi and his RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) affiliated BJP came into power.

Commenting on the Pulwama attack, documentary filmmaker, Sanjay Kak, observes, “Every time an incident like this happens, before the government can respond, before the army can respond, before the military responds, the media immediately jumps the gun, asking for war.” Although, his assertions are valid, but when the government and military did have a chance to respond, they in perennial fashion blamed Pakistan without any investigation. After the Pulwama incident, Al Jazzera conducted a report on the Indian media and noted that especially during prime time, the media “descends into unjournalistic ranting”. For example, after the attack, a popular Indian anchor, Arnab Goswami of Republic TV, proudly said to his viewers, “India wants Pakistan punished. Like you I also want Pakistan punished”. Other anchors were miming similar statements causing a surge in anti-Pakistan sentiments across India. Associate professor, Rohit Chopra, states, “With the exception of a few sane voices, what you have is a completely absurd and very dangerous competitive jingoism that’s perennially on display from all these anchors”. Citing how India’s “media is war-crazy”, Mumbai-based journalist, Vaishnavi Chandrashekhar, writes that after the Pulwama attack, the media was “trading journalistic responsibility for tabloid hysterics”. The Indian media tried its best to link Pakistan to Pulwama – they wanted something to gain traction. However, their rushed approach embarrassed them on a myriad of occasions. For example, they claimed Abdul Rasheed Ghazi, a Pakistani cleric who died in 2007, was the mastermind of the attack. Furthermore, media outlets such as India Today, ranted that Rasheed was killed by the Indian army after Pulwama attack, which would be quite a feat. The Indian media and anchors beating on their war drums, became louder and more assertive, clamouring for revenge against a crime that Pakistan had not been implicated of.

This call was answered by the ultra-nationalistic BJP when they launched a “surgical strike” by invading Pakistan’s airspace. They claimed that a terror base was destroyed near Balakot – and with it, 300 or so terrorists were killed. Pakistan agreed that its airspace was violated by Indian jets, however, it apprised that no “terror base” was destroyed and barring from four trees and one injured man, there was no casualty (details ahead). Adopting the Indian official narrative, the Indian media outlets went hysterical with pride and made sure to inculcate this sentiment among its viewership. One news anchor, Gaurav Sawant, tweeted that India should “Strike again & again”. The sanctimonious Indian media in an attempt to validate the “surgical strike” narrative propagated a video of a jet flying as evidence of India’s attack –channels like CNN News 18 ran this footage. Their exuberance was misguided again as the footage, ironically, was of a Pakistani jet flying over Islamabad around 3 years back. Rather than publicly apologising for such sub-standard and yellow journalism, the Indian propaganda machine continued to disseminate animosity and unfounded allegations. The Indian media also began passing off a video game’s footage as the alleged strike on the terror camp. Fortunately, there are some reputable Indian media outlets and fact checkers that did their job and reported that this was from a video game.

Shortly after the Indian incursion into Pakistan’s airspace, the international media shot down the Indian rhetoric. According to the New York Times, the Pakistani narrative was substantiated by two Western security officials and military analysts, who noticed that any terror base in Balakot had long dispersed. Washington Post noted that according to reports from local residents and police officers there was a strike but no signs of mass casualties. The Guardian stated, “The attack was celebrated in India, but it was unclear on Tuesday whether anything significant had been struck by the fighter jets, or whether the operation had been carefully calibrated to ease popular anger over the 14 February suicide bombing…”. Reuters interviewed some local residents about casualties; one of them, Abdur Rasheed, said, “No one died. Only some pine trees died, they were cut down. A crow also died.” Reuters even interviewed a hospital official, Mr Sadique, in the Basic Health Unit, Jaba – he stated, “It is just a lie. It is rubbish. We didn’t receive even a single injured person. Only one person got slightly hurt and he was treated there. Even he wasn’t brought here.” Questions such as “where did the bodies go if there were 300 casualties?” and “where are the destroyed buildings?” proved to negate the Indian state and media’s narrative. The New York Times reported that the Indian side provided no visual evidence of the strikes, while the Pakistani military provided pictures from Balakot showing not much damage. High-resolution satellite images provided by San Francisco-based company, Planet Labs, further revealed to the world that the buildings that were “targeted” were still standing – no scorching or holes or other indicators of an aerial assault were identified. In fact, the satellite images and other evidence provided by Pakistan and the international media has even shown the light to some segments of the Indian media. For example, vis-à-vis the satellite images, The Economic Times (India) reports “The images cast further doubt on statements made over the last eight days by the Indian government of prime minister Narendra Modi…”. Even opposition parties who were supportive of the Indian government initially are now feverishly stating that Modi has provided no proof of any strike.

After the faux surgical strike, Pakistan launched an aerial retaliation, which was previously announced by the Armed Forces, in which fighters locked on to several Indian targets but chose to fire in an empty field to avoid any loss of life. Immediately after this, Pakistani and Indian jets faced each other in a dogfight – the Pakistanis show down two Indian jetsin Pakistani airspace, one of which’s pilot was captured by the country. India conversely acknowledged that they lost a singularMiG-21 Bison and the pilot was in Pakistani hands – but stated that India also downed a Pakistani F-16. Pakistan claimed this as false and asserted that it lost no jets. The international media again heavily leaned towards the Pakistani assertions as India could not provide any proof of their claims while Pakistan did. Pakistan captured the MiG-21’s pilot, wing commander Abhinandan and showed footage of his downed jet – this was more than enough proof to the world that Pakistan was stating facts and won the dogfight. Vis-a-vis the Indian claims that it downed a Pakistani F-16, they were proven to be bogus. Pakistani and Indian Air Force officers (retired and serving) were sceptical that India shot down an F-16 citing that easily accessible evidence such as Abhinandan’s radio transmissions to flight controller, loss of radar blip, and video recording(s) of air-engagement had not been provided. Furthermore, while analysing the Indian media’s picture and video evidence of the alleged downed F-16, it was revealed that the exhaust shown was consistent with an R-25 engine found on a MiG. During a live TV show, an Indian anchor clamoured to the audience and an Indian analyst that the pictures he was displaying were of the downed Pakistani F-16. This immediately backfired when the Indian analyst stated, “I do not think that it is entirely accurate. That part is actually a MiG-21 part.” Moreover, the service hatch on the wreckage showed a “CU” format serial number written, which is used on Indian upgraded MiG-21’s.Quite recently, American scholar, Christine Fair, who is known to be very vocal against Pakistan, stated at the Indian hosted Military Literature Festival in Chandigarh “I say this clearly with 100% certitude that there was no F-16 struck down.I do not believe you did. I believe that my bonafides as a critic of Pakistan stand for itself”. The reason the Indians “needed” there to be a downed F-16 was to save face or otherwise its military capabilities would be exposed. The latter is exactly what transpired – a Foreign Policy article remarked that the dilapidated state of the Indian Air Force was reinforced when Pakistan came out victorious in the dogfight. The New York Times also spelled tragedy for the Indian government and media as it commented that due to Pakistan’s victory over India, questions arise regarding its “vintage” military.

Vis-à-vis the captured pilot, wing commander Abhinandan, even he took a major jab at the Indian media. Before leaving Pakistan, he regretted that the “Indian media always stretches the truth. The smallest of things are presented in a very incendiary manner and people get misled.” Overall, the Indian media, without conducting any research of its own, only mimicked whatever the government told them and ignored any objective voice.

Pakistani Media & Narrative

The Pakistani media is certainly not renowned in the world as the most objective or professional. It feels that their immaturity is on display perennially. Like their Indian counterparts, they too have elements of cheap Bollywood theatrics, overly loud newscasters, and journalists biased towards a specific political party. Their theatrics and unprofessional behaviour include confronting families of victims who died in fresh terror attacks, as well as playing funny background music as a politician slips or forgets what to say. Regrettably and astonishingly, Pakistan has more news channels than entertainment ones. In fact, the news and political discussions have become a form of entertainment for the public and since competition is fierce, this leads to copious amounts of sensationalism and yellow journalism. However, compared to the Indian media, they are not as malevolent, are much calmer, and the jingoism is much more reserved. In Pakistan, none of the media houses promote anti-Indian sentiments as policy, however, conversely, all Indian ones target Pakistan maliciously.

When Indian channels called for violence against Pakistan due to the Pulwama attackand later celebrated the fake “surgical strike 2.0”, the Pakistani media became unhinged. Not to be outdone by its neighbour, the Pakistani media began shouting back and regrettably started to resemble what the Indian media is mostly criticized of. This by no way means that the Pakistani media was as bellicose as India’s but concurrently it was nowhere near an internationally accepted standard of journalism. As one commentator put it, “Don’t get me wrong, the Pakistani talking heads on TV haven’t been showing some sort of graceful etiquette; they just look better in comparison [to India].” Pakistani and Indian media, unlike reputable international media houses, are inherently sentimental and let their feelings of patriotism seep into their reporting – especially in high-tension scenarios. However, unlike the Indians, the Pakistani media generally does not rant on why it should “punish” or “invade” India, even when the BJP-run government has followed a policy of isolating Pakistan and has turned Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) into a battlefield. BJP and Modi have become globally condemned due to their human rights abuses of thousands of Kashmiris, as well as more recently their abrogation of J&K’s special autonomous status which has led to an ongoing curfew and media blackout in the region that has lasted over 100 days. Due to these crimes and the abhorrent conditions faced by other Muslims and minorities in India, the Pakistani media can be considered anti-BJP, but not anti-India (as most call for dialogue).

When faced against the onslaught by the Indian media vis-à-vis the Pulwama incident, the Indian incursion, and the dogfight, the Pakistani media became more hostile than its default setting and attacked India’s narrative. As tensions rose, Pakistani news was laden with “patriotism” and talk show hosts donned military uniforms to ensure there was no doubt who they were supporting. Backgrounds of jets flying and tanks firing were displayed virtually in some TV studios with anchors in the foreground talking brashly about the Pakistani Armed Forces. Indian journalist Salil Tripathi condemned both nations’ media stating “Not one of the fulminating television-news anchors exhibited the criticality demanded of their profession”. During this time, the Pakistani media became rather belligerent even if it was not turned up to full volume like India. Arguing the same, BBC correspondent, Secunder Kermani, stated that where the Indian anchors were demanding military action, Pakistani journalists “were more restrained, with many mocking what they called the ‘war mongering and hysteria’ across the border.” The preceding is true as many Pakistani anchors did try to tone down tensions and called for calm (albeit while supporting their country). A media analyst stated that in comparison, the Pakistani media played “peace monger as opposed to a war monger” role. A media outlet reported, “As opposed to the rabble-rousing, baying-for-blood Indian media, their Pakistani counterparts have been, barring certain exceptions, relatively more muted.”

When the Pulwama event unfolded, the Indian state and media (as mentioned) attacked Pakistan without any evidence. Pakistani media began by fact checking Indian claims and disproving Indian falsities around the Pulwama attack. The media scoffed and invalidated the Indian media’s claims that the already deceased Ghazi Abdul Rasheed was involved in the Pulwama attack. The Pakistani state and media narrative emphasized that the Pulwama attack was an Indian security lapse. During this time, the Pakistani media remained relatively composed. They did, however, become gaudier when India entered Pakistani airspace and claimed that 200-300 terrorists were killed, but still things remained in control. During this incident, the Pakistani media refuted that 200-300 people died by providing pictures of the bombed site that were made public by the Armed Forces’ media wing, ISPR (Inter Services Public Relations). The ISPR was in fact the raison d’être why Pakistan’s narrative was victorious with even retired Indian generals, Syed Ata and Rajesh Pant, stating that the ISPR played a masterstroke. In their ambitious endeavours to disprove Indian propaganda, some Pakistani journalists went to investigate the actual site that was bombed (Jaba, near Balakot) – a sagacious move on their part. Well-known Pakistani journalist, Arshad Sharif of ARY News, trekked at night with his media team and showed, live on a program, the craters where Indian bombs fell. Out of breath, he went inside one of the craters and stated, “This crater’s depth is around 4 feet and the width is around 6 feet when the Indians claim they dropped a 1,000 kilogram bomb.” As mentioned before, the Pakistani narrative was later substantiated by the international press (especially when the ISPR and the military escorted them to the bombed site). The Independent stated “The ‘300-400 terrorists’ supposedly eliminated by the Israeli-manufactured and Israeli-supplied GPS-guided bombs may turn out to be little more than rocks and trees” while villagers pointed to Reuters that besides four bomb craters and some broken pine trees, there was “little other impact from the series of explosions”.

When Pakistan retaliated the next day against the Indian incursion (which led to the dogfight), the Pakistani media began plummeting down akin to the Indian MiG. After the Pakistani military confirmed in a press conference that they downed two Indian jets, journalists present started yelling “Pakistan Zindabad” (Long Live Pakistan). Due to the hysteria of winning the dogfight and capturing an Indian pilot, the media trapped itself several times by airing incorrect pictures and videos. India’s fact-checking website Alt News, was a breath of fresh air as they exposed fake news coming from both countries.For example, Alt News debunked a picture of a shot down plane aired by ARY News who claimed it to be the one downed by Pakistan, when it was in reality a MiG-27 that crashed into a building in India in 2016.

After capturing the pilot, the Pakistani media became conceited – craving further Indian embarrassments, they displayed fake news about the Indian Armed Forces. For example, Pakistani channel, AbbTakk, ran the news: “21 Sikh Regiment Refused To Fight For India” – claiming that Indian Sikh soldiers had refused to fight against Pakistan. The picture was photoshopped and made its way from social media to Abb Takk. There should have been an apology for running such bewildering statements but none could be found. Furthermore, a few days after the dogfight, there was huge news in Pakistan that India sacked its air marshal, Hari Kumar, when in reality he retired after a 39-year long career. The lack of investigation by some Pakistani channels in airing stories often mirrored the lack of checks-and-balances present while sharing information on social media. Besides these three examples, however, there was not much fake news circulating around unlike on the Indian side. Vis-à-vis the Indian pilot, Pakistan’s media aired the video of him sipping tea and extolling the professionalism of the Pakistani Armed Forces. This footage was obviously a feel-good moment for the country and the media and was soreplayed continuously. The pilot expressed that he was treated well and that he would not change his statement when released – which he has not still.

Conclusion

Overall, as commentators stated, the Pakistani media was not as egregious as the Indian media. The main reason for this, despite issues with unprofessionalism and some instances of fake news, was the media’s general reliance on reporting the truth regarding events unfolded. The Pakistani media shared real images of the bombed site in Jaba, went there to investigate, debunked various Indian lies, and continually perpetuated Imran Khan’s message of dialogue and peace. They came off relatively more mature due to Pakistan’s government and its armed forces (via ISPR)calling for restraint. Imran Khan even released the captured pilot as a symbol of goodwill while calling for dialogue. Furthermore, since the media relied on the Pakistani government and the ISPR’s version of the events – which were based on impartiality and facts – they came out looking more trustworthy. The reverse was true for the Indian media as their narrative was based on speculation and lies stemming from the bellicose Indian government and in reporting this version, their media was exposed ad nauseam for lying. Media analyst Adnan Rehman stated that the Pakistani officials who continuously warned against escalation inspired the “peace monger role” of the Pakistani media. While both countries’ media need drastic reforms and a professional makeover, in this war Pakistan not only downed two Indian jets, but also downed India’s biased narrative.

Sarmad Ishfaq works as a research fellow for the Lahore Centre for Peace Research. He completed his Masters in International Studies and graduated as the 'Top Graduate' from the University of Wollongong in Dubai. He has several publications in peer-reviewed journals and magazines in the areas of counter-terrorism/terrorism and the geopolitics of South Asia and the GCC.

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Curfewed Night- Book Review

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Curfewed Night by Basharat Peer, Vintage by Random House India, 2009

Kashmir – A Paradise Lost?

In ‘Curfewed Night’, Basharat Peer, launches his core narrative, with the remark, that it was from a very early age that he had a “sense of the alienation and resentment that most Kashmiri Muslims felt and had against Indian rule” (p.11). It is from this vantage point that the reader is catapulted in to an evocative account of a Kashmir he knows (so intimately), in a style which seamlessly switches between nostalgic reminiscing and straightforward reportage. As he tells us, it was the absence of “books about the Kashmiri experience” (p.95) which invoked in him the desire to “write about the people and places that had haunted him for years” (p.96). Basharat spent his formative years under the watchful eyes of his grandfather enjoying the company of books introduced to him by his father. It was January 1990, when he was 13 years of age that his war of adolescence began and events were set in motion which were to change Kashmir forever.  

In this intensely personal account of Kashmir, Basharat, goes on to describe the transformation of Kashmir from a land of immense natural beauty, into one where “armoured cars and soldiers” (p.229) were now casting an ominous shadow on the once idyllic landscape. According to him, the night of January 20,1990 marked a watershed in the Kashmiri demand for freedom, from an oppressive central government. On that night the paramilitary  had come down heavily to crush what was seen to be an “incipient rebellion” (p.14) and the infamous Gawkadal Bridge massacre was to follow just a day later(Haq, 2019).  Starting with the consequent spurt in growth of home grown militancy under the aegis of the pro-independence JKLF, he in the course of the book then traces the changing complexion and complexity of militancy as it moved to one which endorsed a pro-Pakistan stand as advocated by Hizbul Mujahideen and later the Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed. As a concomitant we are exposed to his references to the growing presence of the Indian Armed Forces and the consequent, at times unspeakable atrocities.    

While still in school, Basharat Peer, could have said to have been lucky when he heeds the words of his grandfather, who tells him that “you don’t live long, in a war son”(p.28). This takes place when he aspires to join the militants in a moment of boyish hero worship, only to be thwarted in his attempt through active intervention by his family. The irony lies in the fact that in the same time frame, Tariq, his cousin meets a violent end after having embraced militancy. This inevitability of a violent end, in case of militancy, is later underlined by Basharat when he mentions that, “even Yusuf had not gotten out alive” (p.221). Yusuf was his childhood acquaintance who had various dalliances with the law, militancy and politics before being gunned down. It is indeed thought provoking and sad to find that the graves of those killed in the conflict were mostly those of the young, really young.

With this early brush with militancy, it is not long before, Basharat is sent away to study at the Aligarh Muslim University followed by enrolment at a university in Delhi. This leads him to a job as a reporter and a mellowing phase in his personal development when he discovers, the “various Indias that existed” (p. 69). All along visiting and keeping in touch with the valley it is a militant attack on his parents which unnerves him and prompts his return to the valley after having resigned from his job as a reporter. Wanting to write an intimate account of Kashmir, he now spends his time tracking down events and people with “militants and soldiers” becoming “ghost like presences”(p.206). This marks an extremely traumatic, tumultuous phase of intensely felt emotions, just as we are witness to the paralytic pain that engulfs him in his failed attempt to visit Kunanposhpora where twenty women were raped by armed forces.  

There is also a sense of the tragic especially in the latter half of the narrative, when Basharat poignantly reminds us (repeatedly)of the tremendous human cost brought upon his beloved valley which gradually became a conflict zone before his very own eyes. Whether it is the reference to the ‘Association of the Parents of the Disappeared’ (p.132) or his schoolmate Mubashir’s falling victim to a grenade attack as an innocent bystander, the pain is searing. Even his own grandfather’s brother Nabi suffers from “fear and paranoia” (p.77) after his brush with militants and is resigned to taking anti-depressants in order to cope with the trauma. This psychological distress does not take sides and even an army officer is quoted to say, “I was a different man before I joined the force and came to Kashmir” (p.232). It is no wonder that Basharat writes sub consciously or otherwise about the “violence of a shoe brush” and his aeroplane is seen to execute a “violent sprint on the runway” (p. 235).  

All said and done, whatever one’s political orientation, ‘Curfewed Night’, is undeniably a rich tapestry of reportage, personal experiences, reminiscences while at the same time it works as a social commentary on the Kashmir of our times. Basharat Peer does not always shy away from the unpleasant, though his narrative does shy away from digging deeper in to some uncomfortable truths like the forced migration of 100,000 or more Kashmiri Pandits following the events of the night of January 19,1990 (India Today , 2016). Also brushed aside is the role played by Pakistan when it meddles in matters of the sovereign state of India through its active and complicit involvement in an ongoing state sponsored proxy war(Towle, 1981).

To end on a more positive note, looking to “return, leave, return, leave, and return again” (p.234), an emotional Basharat looks for erasure of the “lines of control” (p.239) and a return to a world where individuals are not just suspects or military targets. He does indeed sum it up so well with his heart rending expression of the hope that the war in his valley “would disappear like footsteps on winter snow”! (p.223)

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Proxy War and the Line of Control in Kashmir

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Who has not heard of the Vale of Cashmere, with its roses the brightest that earth ever gave.Thomas Moore

The Backdrop

Kashmir has a way of arousing strong emotions, even among those like the Irish poet Thomas Moore, who never set foot on its soil. At the time of partition of British India, Kashmir was one of the largest princely states and like the rest of the princely states, it had the option of joining either of the two dominions of India and Pakistan or else declare independence. Maharaja Hari Singh of Kashmir had a similar choice to make but unable to take a stand he chose to sign a Standstill Agreement with Pakistan in order to buy time. India delayed signing such an agreement. It was following this agreement, that Pakistan with an eye on taking over Kashmir, started to act up and enforced a virtual economic blockade of this landlocked state, in a bid to force the Maharaja to accede to Pakistan (Singh, 1989).

The Maharaja desperate for supplies turned to India for help and matters soon took a turn for the worse, when Pashtun Tribals funded and equipped by Pakistan, invaded Kashmir, in October 1947(Haque, 2010). Facing imminent takeover of his state, Hari Singh again turned to India for help, but the Indian Government expressed its inability to intervene militarily in the absence of an Instrument of Accession. The Maharaja had dithered for too long to his detriment, he then signed the agreement and Indian troops were airlifted to the valley, immediately. The Indian Army successfully routed the tribal force,code named ‘Operation Gulmarg’,and it was the Pakistani Army which now took up the slack and stepped in continue the battle. 

With winter creeping in, fighting was resumed only in the spring of 1948. It was to be almost a year before a UN sponsored cease fire took effect in January 1949, and the cease fire line became the de facto border pending resolution of the dispute. In retrospect, the Pashtun invasion was in effect the first proxy war waged by Pakistan and the resulting cease fire line was to become the Line of Control in a later ‘avatar’. It is in the context of Kashmir that we shall examine the coming in to being of these twin concepts of ‘Line of Control’ and ‘Proxy War’ and see how they created and shaped the flow of events as they un folded, in the intervening decades. Also examined, will be the role of the two state actors in a bid to identify likely outcomes and possible course corrections.

Proxy War and Kashmir

Proxy wars cannot be understood, unless they are placed in the context of their existence and usage. For Pakistan, the benefit in this manner of engagement, lies not only in its deniability (for political reasons) but also because it minimises the chances that such a conflict could escalate into a full blown act of war (Byman, 2018).

 As an added corollary, there is the added incentive of reduced financial and human costs. Contextually, of even more significance, is the fact that India has military superiority which Pakistan would find hard to counter, if it were to engage in direct combat in a bid to annex Kashmir. Moreover, from a strategic point of view, when Pakistan plays the religion card for motivation, the results exceed expectations as it radicalises Islam in a Kashmir which originally subscribed to Sufi Islam. The incentive of ‘Azaadi’ is just a metaphor for annexation.

In Kashmir, there is a chain of causality, that began when, Major General Akbar Khan, a serving Pakistani Army officer, used Pashtun Tribals to stage an armed insurrection in Kashmir in October 1947 (Haque, THE KASHMIR CONFLICT: WHY IT DEFIES SOLUTION, 2010). The tribals in this operation were the first in a long list of non -state actors used by Pakistan in the relentless proxy war being waged, across the line of control, till today. Praveen Swami chooses to call this an “informal war” and rightfully says it has had a greater impact than both the 1947 and 1965 wars, as it set the stage for a seemingly endless engagement (Talbot, 2007).

Line of Control and Kashmir

In international parlance there was no such term like the line of control, until it was coined in 1972, when the Simla Accord was signed between India and Pakistan, after the post war (1971) negotiations between the two countries. The physical origins of the line of control, date back to the first Indo-Pak war in 1947, an invasion, gone wrong. Pakistan had committed this act of aggression, covert and overt, in spite of having signed a standstill agreement with the Maharaja of Kashmir, and for no identifiable reason except to further Jinnah’s interpretation of the Two Nation Theory. In spite of speculation about the exact timing of the signing of the Instrument of Accession by the Maharaja, the fact remains that Indian troops intervened with this accession instrument in place and the UN mediated a cease fire between the two countries and the cease fire line was formalised in a Karachi agreement signed in July 1949. Approximately one third of Kashmir was now with Pakistan and India had the balance two thirds. In the following years, there were three major wars with Pakistan and out of them it was the 1971 war which metamorphosed the cease fire line in to the Line of Control (LOC), as part of a larger political settlement. This line of control was in effect ‘cordon sanitaire’ based on military realities and political exigencies. Virtually unaffected by the wars of 1965 and 1999, the 742 km LOC still traverses majorly mountainous terrain with the Siachen Glacier as its end point. It has now been fenced over much of its length to discourage infiltration from Pakistan.

Proxy War and Line of Control

 In Juxtaposition

Regardless of nomenclature, with the war of 1947, the matters of proxy war and the line of control, became inextricably linked to the very existence of the countries of India and Pakistan. Just like the first war of 1947, Pakistan, unsuccessfully tried the proxy route again in 1965, with ‘Operation Gibraltar’ but the infiltrators could not garner local support and ‘conventional’ war broke out. The UN then negotiated a cease fire, and the Tashkent Agreement restored the sanctity of the 1949 cease fire line. In subsequent years, the 1971 war mutated the cease fire line, in to the LOC, and this war was more to do with the liberation of East Pakistan, anyway. Finally, it was Zia, who ultimately formalised this bid to “bleed India with a thousand cuts”(Katoch, 2013). The juggernaut he set rolling in 1988, never quite stopped and the Kargil war of 1999, was to see the pattern repeated, in terms of the use of non-state actors.

In the intervening years, since, only the ‘face’ of proxy war has changed and evolved, the heavily militarized LOC is a constant. To start with, in the eighties, it was the pro-independence JKLF with indigenous recruits, which held sway, only to be replaced by a pro-Pakistan, Hizbul-Mujahideen and later the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-Mohammed. Even now, the youth of Kashmir, is being radicalised and trained in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, for ‘Jihad’, but ‘terrorism fatigue’ is setting in. Militants are losing support of the local population, more and more, just as Pakistan uses its Afghan experience to use different nationalities as cannon fodder. Peace talks make no headway in this paradigm and there are no winners in this war, social and economic development is the casualty, damaged goods abound amongst the public and the security forces, alike.   

 In Search of a Settlement

Taking the time of partition as a point of reference, Pakistan was convinced in its mind that given geographical contiguity, and the fact that the state was predominantly Muslim, Kashmir should be its own. Clearly this was a political issue which Pakistan turned in to a military conflict. From thereon, Pakistan’s strategies ensured that the situation was turned in to a regional conflict with international dimensions. So much so Clinton referred to the LOC as the “most dangerous place in the world”(Popham, 2000). Playing its cards well, Pakistan turned a political stalemate in to a militaristic, socio-religious and political quagmire. With no noteworthy democratic institutions to speak of, Pakistan wants to liberate Kashmir, choosing to forget that accession was the instrument of choice when the princely states decided their fate at the time of partition. How was Kashmir’s choice being invalidated if this was so.

Today, the Kashmir Valley is a land transformed. From a paradise of untold natural beauty, it is a landscape of concertina wire fences and concrete bunkers. Its residents are in a state of siege, emotionally scarred, unable to cast off the twin yokes of militancy and counter-insurgency, with the military and militants lurking at every corner (literally). Brutality abounds. Opportunistic politicians, flawed elections, corrupt bureaucrats, a protecting force which behaves like an occupation force, are faces of this brutality that have been  unleashed on the people of Kashmir. This was not always so.

Clearly, somewhere along the way India lost her bearings. It failed to take in to account the aspirations of the people. Kashmirayat, was secular, but it was not taken seriously and it did not take much to ignite the flames of ‘Azaadi’ which almost engulfed the valley. The secular bond was broken with the forced migration of the Kashmiri Pundits out of the valley. Regardless of the prevailing political dispensation, over time, with the growth of militancy, repression was the dominant reaction and the ‘mailed fist’ gained precedence. Radicalised Islam began to replace Sufi Islam((RETD), 2018).  Fear and suspicion ruled the psyche of the people. The youth felt disenfranchised. India had fallen in to the trap of enforcing a siege instigated by Pakistan. Kashmiris felt betrayed. Article 370 which granted unprecedented autonomy, had been diluted until it was just symbolic, when it was abrogated in 2019, by a fiercely nationalistic government which had only just snapped ties with an electoral partner perceived as soft on separatists.

Coming back to the time of independence, Dionisio Anzilotti, former President of the Permanent Court of International Justice, says that Pakistan’s invasion in 1947 was “against all canons of international law” and “a clear violation of the Charter, the Security Council’s resolution of 17 January, 1948” (Pan, 1998).Just as interesting is the fact that, the accession document is deemed to be legal under international law even if it is signed under duress(Ayoob, 1967). As for the oft touted failure to institute a plebiscite, the UNSC resolution signed by both countries, clearly calls for first off withdrawal of Pakistani troops from Kashmir, with India keeping its forces at a minimum. Pakistan will never pull back and the stalemate therefore continues.

Clearly, there is an impasse and an impossibility for either side to blink. In Pakistan, the army cannot possibly abandon a conflict through which it exercises control over the body politic that sustains its economic, political and economic interests. It is almost as if, Kashmir is the very reason for the existence of the army and for the public of Pakistan, Kashmir’s liberation and annihilation of its bête noire, India, is the only national priority. Muhammad Shaffi Qureshi, a Kashmiri politician put it well when he said, that the Pakistan Army has “been feeding the tiger for a long time” for it to just walk away(Kifner, 2001). The danger in proxy warfare being that after a time proxies begin to “act according to their own interest and impulses”(Byman, ORDER FROM CHAOS Why engage in proxy war? A state’s perspective, 2018)(ibid).Pervez Musharraf and others have realized this truth much to their chagrin.

 India, too is riding its own tiger, as it is caught in a ‘low-level equilibrium trap ‘in terms of being, in a state of no war accompanied by no peace(Carciumaru, 2015). The fear being that any let up in military presence will escalate militancy. The abrogation of Article 370 and the division of the state of Jammu & Kashmir in to centrally administered divisions, has destabilized already vulnerable democratic processes, turning Kashmir in to a simmering cauldron. The current political dispensation at the centre is still going ahead andrapidly making changes in domicile laws, in a bid to alter the demographics of the region. Previous state governments had done this for different reasons when they allowed the settling of Rohingya refugees in Jammu and thereabouts, for obvious reasons. Admittedly, matters can take a serious turn from hereon, with resentment boiling over among the populace at large.

Attempting to deal with the abrogation of Article 370, Pakistan is consequently changing its strategy. A leaked policy document from the ‘Green Book 2020’,indicates that the proxy war will now move towards, a‘non kinetic domain’(Osborne, 2020).Cyber warfare and psychological warfare being  used to aid and abet a native uprising, so as to be able to defend Pakistan’s position on international forums. With a defensive and weakened Pakistan,   India, too must move differently and realize that it cannot have a decisive win against militancy, using brute force. With militancy, currently at an ebb, the time is in fact opportune to move towards a ‘negotiated settlement’ as the militants are politically discredited in a scenario where India has the moral high ground as it does not believe in building terror launch pads on its soil.  Its people of Kashmir are decidedly at an advantage economically, when compared to their ‘compatriots’ across the LOC and they have a ‘voice’, in a country where rule of law still prevails. Aberrations like the AFSPA, can surface in any dispensation, you don’t throw the baby with the bath water.

In Conclusion

Bashir Manzar wrote on twitter, “From Geelani to Farooq Abdullah, we have a luxury to say anything and everything against India, ridiculing it for rejecting our right of self-determination,independent Kashmir, autonomy, self-rule etc. But when Pakistan rejects all these things, we turn into non-speaking species. Are we more scared of Pakistan than India?”

Seven decades later, peace is still intractable in the Kashmir Valley.Violations across the line of control continue, by both sides and the proxy war initiated and sustained by Pakistan, has been a constant for long.Kashmir  is ina ‘mutually hurting-stalemate’(Carciumaru, Beyond the ‘Low-Level Equilibrium Trap’: Getting to a ‘Principled Negotiation’ of the Kashmir Conflict, 2015) (ibid).Perhaps, the most elegant solution to this imbroglio would be acceptance of the line of control as an international border with greater autonomy for Kashmir (as suggested by Farooq Abdullah)so that the people of Kashmir couldthen move on with their lives, which in a paradoxical manner seem to be in a state of suspended animation, as long as the conflict continues to play itself out. This is not utopian, all it needs is political will and some give and take(Sharma, 2017).

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South Asia

Increasing Need for Global Cooperation and Solidarity- Interview with Dr. Tandi Dorji

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Covid-19 has invoked challenges worldwide that require us to formulate innovative solutions. Dr.Tandi Dorji , the foreign minister of Bhutan talks about the need to foster and increase transnational cooperation during these trying times.

Dr. Tandi Dorji has played a significant role in fostering Indo-Bhutan relations, and in the interview, he discussed future areas of collaboration, cultural understanding, and international engagement among the youth of the two countries. Having been a public health researcher before, Dr. Dorji reflects that the pandemic has rendered the population of Bhutan really vulnerable, and thinks that a challenge of such nature and scale can be surmounted only with global solidarity, cooperation and diligent efforts.

Some nations have a lot of financial, technical and human resources to tackle the pandemic, but others with weak public health systems and constrained by lack of resources cannot be sustained by sole efforts. There is a need to recognize this disparity and acknowledge that a weak link could jeopardize efforts aimed at global collaboration. Governments, health organizations, private sectors, scientists and researchers need to work with a common aim.

Countries that have research and financial capabilities need to come forward and support organizations like WHO that are responding to the current crisis through vaccine research. The collaborations in vaccine research need to be speeded up, and in order to make them more accessible and affordable for all countries, there needs to be a proper regulatory framework put in place.

This calls for a renewal in diplomatic efforts and increased funding programs by nations that already possess resources to tackle the crisis.

As someone who studied and lived in India for more than 15 years of his life, Dr. Dorji really appreciates the cultural richness and diversity present across states in India. He says that cultural understanding can play a very vital part in creating empathy within a population for the other side’s paradigm and mindsets. Being informed of a person’s or a culture’s peculiarities enables us to comprehend them better.

Cultural differences, according to him, have not prevented people from working together. Rather, the fact that different countries in the past have come together under the purview of common international frameworks has provided opportunities to different cultures to reach out to one another, and to understand as well as accept the differences among them.

Dr. Dorji also believes that the principles and values that construct out society play a crucial role in informing our education system, so the need of the hour is to collectively create an environment that would make the youth feel more involved and develop the ability in them to engage in constructive discussion and exercise other forms of proactive citizenship, including in the areas of foreign affairs and international relations.

From politics to economics to health, the world has become a lot more interconnected than before, and to succeed in this global age it is very important to instil in students the ability to think globally, communicate across cultures, and act on issues of global significance; and while school education could play a role by incorporating foreign affairs and international relations in the curriculum, to foster greater awareness and intercultural empathy among nations we would also need to enable young minds to understand how the foreign policy objectives constructed by a nation affects their daily lives and the society at large.

More exchange programs between the schools and colleges of India and Bhutan in the fields of sports, culture and science and more youth-focused programs is one way to enhance the probability of intercultural understanding.

Dr. Dorji also says that India being one of the largest economies of the world, and predicted to become the second largest by 2050, there is much scope for collaboration between India and Bhutan within sectors such as Science, technology, tourism, Information technology, space and satellites, and pharmaceuticals. Indian investments in such sectors could be explored in the near future.

His Majesty the King of Bhutan (Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuk) has particularly stressed the importance of STEM in harnessing technological advances, which can only happen by investing in these subjects. Economies are progressing and the world is gradually becoming more digital, so the national labour market is also going to require skills with an added emphasis on technical abilities, and it is highly important that our children are prepared to participate in discoveries and technologies that would unfold in future. One of them is space, and although Bhutan lacks resources and is a small country, it is important for more Bhutanese young people to realise the value of, and take up space studies.

The government, as per Dr. Dorji, shall be ready to encourage and promote the same.

Dr. Tandi Dorji concluded by saying that he appreciates the strong cultural heritage of India and how the country has managed to preserve and promote it.

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