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February 22, 2019

A perilous path from Pulwama


February 22, 2019

Pulwama couldn’t have come at a worse time for all those who believe in peace, humanity and a shared destiny for South Asia.

I am shocked and incredibly sad over the wanton killings and loss of human lives in Kashmir as well as the devastating blow that this attack has dealt to the efforts for peace, dialogue and healthy relations between India and Pakistan.

I know this is not the best of times to bat for peace and reconciliation between the subcontinental twins. At the moment, the majority of Indians, even those who do not subscribe to the worldview of the BJP, are apoplectic with rage over the most audacious attack on security forces in decades in Kashmir, killing at least 40 of them.

The Pulwama strike, carried out by a Kashmiri youth, was promptly claimed by Jaish-e-Mohammed. A Reuters report soon after revealed that the bomber had undergone radicalisation after being beaten black and blue by security forces.

Doubtless, the public outrage over the Pulwama is even more fierce and palpable than what had been seen in the wake of the 2008 terror attacks on Mumbai or the 2001 attack on parliament. The whole country appears consumed by an unprecedented jingoistic fervour, demanding summary and swift retribution against the pesky western neighbour once and for all. The angry protests and demonstrations across India, amidst the parade of coffins of security personnel killed in Kashmir, have been demanding the immediate obliteration of Pakistan.

Indeed, if you were to tune into any of the myriad Indian television channels – as against those in Pakistan that seem to pretend as if Pulwama exists on Mars and all is well with the world! – you would think the South Asian twins were already at war.

As veteran editor and MP, Kumar Ketkar, notes in ‘The Print’: “Jingoistic messages like ‘decimate and destroy Pakistan’, ‘wipe the country off the map’, ‘show the Pakistanis what superpower India can do under Modi’, or ‘tell them that their Islamic gangs are not dealing with weak Congress now, but brave heart Hindus’ are gaining traction.”

Ketkar adds: “Some channels went to the extent of discussing which Indian missile will hit Islamabad, Lahore or Karachi in the shortest time, and that too in a surprise attack! The media experts also analysed the consequences of a possible (again surprise) nuclear attack on Pakistani cities. Both the anchors and self-styled military experts waxed eloquent on the necessity of ‘teaching’ Imran Khan a few lessons in warfare.”

In the never-ending war for TRPs and eyeballs, India’s corporate media – more than 70 percent of it owned by the country’s richest business house – would stop at nothing, no matter what the cost for the wellbeing of the nation and democracy. This when the lynch mobs freely roaming the land targeting anyone who looks like a Muslim have already been a major menace under this order.

The stark raving madness of television studios reflects itself and is ably supported and complemented by the marauders of social media like Facebook and WhatsApp, dispensing and amplifying brazen lies, hearsay and rumours with deadly efficacy. No wonder there have been scores of attacks on the Kashmiris and Muslims all across the country within hours of the Pulwama attack.

Not surprisingly, the attack on the CRPF contingent has come as a godsend to the BJP and Modi less than two months ahead of the 2019 Elections. In the shock and anger over Pulwama, everyone has forgotten all about the Rafale ruckus and the ever new, inconvenient questions that Rahul Gandhi has been infuriatingly raising about the defence deal and how the PMO sidestepped the defence ministry to strike the bargain with the French, favouring a certain Anil Ambani of the Reliance Group. Also unlikely to be raised now are the questions about the massive unemployment crisis or the acute distress of suicidal farmers.

Opposition parties, including the Congress, which had all been ganging up against the BJP, aggressively confronting it on the mess it has made of the country and governance over the past five years have all either fallen silent or are making suitable noises supporting the government against Pakistan in this hour of national crisis. No one can afford to plough a lonely furrow at a time when the country cannot wait to teach Pakistan a lesson.

In this climate of hyper-nationalism and political obsequiousness, no one can muster the audacity to raise some basic questions about this attack. Like how did the bomber manage to put together the truckload of deadly explosives and transport it to the target on the busy Jammu-Srinagar highway in a state that has been under the blanket control of half a million security forces?

If it was the biggest attack in Kashmir since 1989, it was also the biggest failure of intelligence and security agencies, and above all, the government in Delhi that directly rules the state through its governor. Who can forget how after the 26/11 attacks, the then chief minister of Gujarat, a certain Narendra Modi, had demanded the sacking of the Congress government of Dr Manmohan Singh, accusing it of abject failure and surrender to Pakistan? Who will account for the criminal failure of this government now? It is a shame that the opposition and the vigilant media warriors are not demanding answers to these questions.

Be that as it may, what should really worry India’s leaders and security czars right now is the new and alarming phenomenon of suicide bombing in Kashmir – something that has been a feature of insurgency in Afghanistan eventually humbling the Americans. Even more worrying is the fact that the bombing was carried out by a local Kashmiri, and not an ‘infiltrator’.

If India is keen to avoid more Pulwamas, it needs to change its strong-arm tactics in Kashmir. Under this regime’s ‘take no prisoners’ policy and refusal to engage the separatists and Pakistan, the Valley has fast unravelled forcing educated youths, even PhDs, to pick up arms. As a rights group revealed last month, 2018 was the deadliest year for Kashmir, recording at least 160 civilian killings, many of them women and children. India cannot kill its way to a ‘solution’ in Kashmir. It must win the Kashmiri hearts and minds if it wants to win Kashmir.

It is time for Pakistan, the other party to this conflict, also to recalibrate its policy vis-à-vis Kashmir and India. Even if the Pakistani authorities had been unaware of the coming shock of Pulwama, the fact that outfits like those headed by Masood Azhar and Hafiz Saeed continue to exist and operate with impunity in the country does not reflect well on Pakistan. Indeed, no country in this time and age, especially one that is battling so many crises, can afford this. By exorcising the ghosts of the past, Pakistan has the potential to match the progress that India has registered over the past couple of decade.

Imagine the heights of progress India and Pakistan could touch if they buried their toxic past and moved on for a shared future. A progressive Pakistan that is at peace with itself and with its neighbours can be a role model for the whole of the Islamic world, as envisioned by its founding fathers. This is heart-felt advice from someone who sees himself as a true friend and well-wisher of Pakistan. In Iqbal’s words: “Khugar-e-Hamd Se Thora Sa Gila Bhi Sun Le!”

The writer is an independent writer and former editor.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @AijazZaka

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