Post Pulwama India-Pakistan Relations and Indian Media

On February 14th 2019 a native of the Pulwama district in the Indian occupied Kashmir named Adil Ahmed Dar carried out a suicide attack and killed 40 Indian security personnel. This was the deadliest terrorist incident in Kashmir in three decades. This incident propelled yet another war of narrative between India and Pakistan which had the potential to start a real one. Before any investigation was conducted Indian media, political leadership and Indian military started jingoistic propaganda against Pakistan, asserting that Pakistan was responsible for the attack. Indian media through its electronic, print and social channels tried their best to create a war hysteria by adopting war-mongering aggression against Pakistan and thus brought the diplomatic relations between India and Pakistan to its lowest ebb.

One of the documentary filmmaker commented on Pulwama attack that “Every time an incident like this happens, before a government can respond, before the military responds, the media immediately jumps the gun asking for war”. After the Pulwama incident occurred Aljazeera conducted a report on the Indian media and noted that media descends into unjournalistic rating especially during the prime time. For example a famously aggressive news anchor Arnab Goswami said the day after the attack “We want revenge not condemnation… it’s time for blood, the enemy’s blood”. Even the wife of one of the soldiers was attacked online when she questioned the failure to prevent the attack and advocated peaceful dialogue with Pakistan. Indian media tried its best to link Pulwama with Pakistan but their hurried approach embarrassed them on many occasions. For example the Indian media claimed that a Pakistani cleric named Abdul Rasheed Ghazi who died in 2007 was behind the attack. Some of them also claimed that he was killed by Indian army after the Pulwama attack. Indian media kept on shouting for revenge for the crime Pakistan had not committed.

The nationalist BJP government answered the call for revenge when they apparently launched a surgical strike against Pakistan by invading Pakistan’s airspace. They claimed to have killed 300 terrorists in Balakot. Pakistan however agreed that its airspace was violated by Indian jets but no terrorist base was destroyed apart from some trees. Indian media, adopting their official narrative went hysterical with pride, one of the news anchor Gaurav Sawant tweeted India should strike again and again. In an attempt to validate their surgical strike Indian media used the video of a flying jet as an evidence to the attack. This attempt also backfired as it was the video of a Pakistani jet flying over Islamabad 3 years ago. Moreover the Indian rhetoric was shot down by the international media when New York Times published views from two western military analyst and security officials, who maintained that no terrorist base in Balakot was attacked. High resolution satellite images by the San Francisco based company also proved that the buildings that were targeted were still standing.

Pakistan and India later on indulged in a dodge fight when Pakistan shot down two Indian jets which had entered Pakistan’s airspace. One of the pilot was captured by the Pakistan army. Indian media accepted that India lost a singular MiG-21 but also claimed that India had also downed F-16. Pakistan refuted the false claims yet again. The international media also supported Pakistan because India failed to provide any evidence of shooting down an F-16. Pakistan proved it had captured wing commander Abhinandan by showing the footage of his downed jet. Indian media was once again proven wrong and bogus. Picture and video of alleged F-16 flashed everywhere by India media also proved false as the exhaust of the jet shown was similar to R-25 engine found on MiG. Moreover wing commander Abhinandan himself criticized Indian media by saying that “Indian media always stretches the truth. The smallest things are presented in a very provocative manner and people are misled”.

Pakistani media on the other hand behaved in a responsible manner. It strictly relied on fact checking while successfully smashing the Indian false propaganda around Pulwama. Pakistan even decided to release the captured Indian pilot Abhinandan within 24 hours as a gesture of goodwill and peace. Even though this gesture of peace was appreciated by the international community, Indian media claimed that Pakistan obligated to do so under the law of “Geneva Convention”.

Hence one can evidently see how Indian media continues to play a huge role in deteriorating India-Pakistan relations. The rhetoric was to put pressure on the already hawkish government to retaliate in some way especially because elections were around the corner. It was really alarming to see the way Indian news media, especially television contributed to that pressure, trading journalistic responsibilities for tabloid hysteria. Instead of behaving as medium to resolve conflict between the two countries, Indian media is still misleading its people with dangerously misplaced ideas about the glories of battle and victory.

Sher Bano
Sher Bano
The writer is working as a Research Affiliate at the Strategic Vision Institute (SVI), a non-partisan think-tank based out of Islamabad, Pakistan.