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October 22, 2019

Deadly day


October 22, 2019

Sunday became one of the deadliest days in terms of the tensions between India and Pakistan for several months, with cross-border firing killing at least 10 people. The violence takes away hope that the hype and frenzy being built up since early this year following the Pulwama attack, and aggravated by India’s actions early August in revoking Article 370 of its constitution, will end quickly and be replaced by the kind of rationality the region badly needs. There are various claims and counter-claims over the firing incident, with the ISPR stating that nine Indian soldiers were killed in retaliatory firing across the Line of Control. An Indian military spokesman had said a terrorist camp in Azad Kashmir was attacked and a number of persons killed. This has been strongly denied by Pakistan, with the DG ISPR asking the Indian side to show any foreign media or diplomat what (non-existent) camps they are referring to.

The mood of the Indian government remains aggressive with Prime Minister Modi insisting that he will achieve what he aims for. This can be interpreted as annexation of Kashmir. It is however clear that there is no Indian intention of responding to the many peace overtures made by Pakistan with Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi again calling for dialogue. The foreign minister has also said that India would not be able to shut down the Kartarpur Corridor being set up by Pakistan as a symbol of peace. Prime Minister Modi has also been in touch with Bollywood celebrities, urging them to make films and write scripts on Mahatma Gandhi on his 150th birth anniversary. This is seen as a thinly-veiled effort to project the hardline nationalism and Hinduism that the BJP government advocates through their hugely huge popular Indian film industry. Shahrukh Khan, Amir Khan and a host of other well-known faces from the Bollywood industry were among those who met the Indian prime minister. While they have not in most cases voiced specific opinions, in the past there have been strong comments against Pakistan from actors including Anupam Kher and others. Only a few, including director Shyam Benegal had called for better ties to be established with Pakistan and the BJP rhetoric against minorities in the country ended.

There is however little evidence that Prime Minister Modi wishes to seek any change in direction. While some international players have spoken out against the Indian actions in Kashmir, the silence is still too grave. The volume of protests from world leaders and opinion makers will need to expand if any real pressure is to be brought on India and the government which is also backed by a powerful media that has taken an increasingly hardline position against Pakistan. Amidst all this it is the Kashmiris who continue to suffer most.

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