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January 19, 2021

Allegorizing Arnab Goswami’s WhatsApp


January 19, 2021

The Arnab Goswami Whatsapp chats that have come to the fore during the Mumbai police investigations into the Indian talk show host’s conduct represent an important and powerful allegory for Pakistani national security.

That India’s national public discourse had jumped the shark was obvious for several years to anyone following India. The sans-apologia gymnastics that were conducted in 2014 as Narendra Modi went from international genocidal pariah to ‘reformist’ prime minister to ‘global statesman’ should have been warning enough. But it is on the issue of Pakistan that India really comes into its own as far as what it has become and what it really represents today.

After the Pulwama bombing, in which over three dozen Indian soldiers were killed, India sought and secured the support of the American, British, French, German and Australian governments, to attack Pakistan through aerial bombing at Balakot. Unlike the civil and military leaders of those pro-Delhi Western nations, Pakistan’s generals and politicians (maligned so viciously both at home and abroad) kept their nerve, did not act out of malice, and managed the fallout of Balakot.

A more than competent showing in the battlefield, where Pakistan downed at least one Indian aircraft, and an even more temperate and mature showing in the committee rooms, led to the handing over of a downed Indian pilot. Instead of nuclear war, India’s rabid national discourse was left only with the fantasy of a victory. But the greater damage of the Balakot strike had been done. India’s politicians realised that the Indian news media’s bloodlust could be fed, successfully, without triggering an all-out war.

The politician (in this case, Narendra Modi) wins. The news channels (in this case, Republic and a horde of copycats) win. The anchor (in this case, Mr Goswami) wins. And best of all, thanks to the West’s sustained romance for Jaishankar’s Bollywoodesque overacting, India and its Western allies pay no price for their acquiescence to India’s regional bull-in-a-China-shop approach (pun intended).

What allegorical meaning or substance should those entrusted with Pakistan’s national security derive from the Goswami WhatsApp chats? There are three key lessons that need to inform Pakistan’s preparedness, or readiness.

First, the Indian media is a weapon aimed at Pakistan. India’s national public discourse is a weapon of far greater potency than any weapon of mass destruction and is in fact more powerful than the entire Indian military itself. It now completely controls the people and assets belonging to India’s national security infrastructure. The R&A Wing, military intelligence, South Block, the BJP, RSS, Congress, Lutyens’ Delhi, the Tejas programme, the Rafales – all of it.

The entirety of India’s national security paradigm is subservient and subject to the whims of the Indian national discourse. This discourse is not a wild beast with no self-control. The exchange at the LAC with China is proof of this. India does not treat all its borders and all its border disputes the same. When it faces off against China, India’s anchors, news channels and politicians have limits. They escalate fast, but they deescalate faster. When India faces off against Pakistan, the rules change. The game changes. The lines – green, orange, pink and red – they all change.

Pakistan is the secret red meat of the Indian national discourse’s diet. It is the one area of true national consensus in India. All terror is imagined as being rooted and sourced from Pakistan. All fear and loathing is reserved for Pakistan. All vengeance is targeted upon Pakistan. Knowing the unique and unreserved hatred that is the basis for the India media’s approach to Pakistan is vital to understanding how singular the threat of the Indian national discourse is to Pakistan.

What does this mean for Pakistan? Pakistan and Pakistanis must establish a means of engaging with the Indian media on terms that alter the end result of the engagement. Unless the Indian national discourse changes how it processes the word Pakistan, any peace or compact between the two nations will be fragile and short-lived.

Second, the West is firmly and solidly behind India, no matter what India does in Kashmir, or how India treats its people, including minorities. Whatever the Mumbai police is uncovering and leaking into the public domain today, Western intelligence has had access to, and been aware of, for years. The fiction that somehow the histrionics of Jaishankar and Co are genuinely effective in immunizing the braincells of Western analysts simply does not stand. Not after the obvious and explicit nature of the Balakot scam.

Western governments, national security establishments, think tanks and academics are cognizant and aware of the moral hollowness of India’s position on Kashmir and India’s territorial aggression toward Pakistan at large. The choices Western governments have made in selecting India as their proxy for the physical containment of China is not the singular informant of that alignment.

Western nations that have unsuccessfully occupied Afghanistan blame Pakistan for their failure. Pakistan is, for all its rampant and deep dysfunction, a uniquely competent, stable and strong Muslim majority democracy in a mould all its own. Pakistan’s relationship with the West needs to be altered at a paradigmatic level – and the measure of that relationship must be altered away from the axis of whether Western governments still support India’s occupation and annexation of Kashmir. A new axis of geoeconomic cooperation and interdependence between Pakistan and the West must be fashioned from the peace and stability that could still be the outcome of the Taliban-US peace deal.

India depends on Pakistan’s definition of itself and the world through the India lens, to continue to press Pakistan. Pakistan must remove this lens altogether. Pakistan’s relationship with not only the West, but with other nations – including Afghanistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the UAE – must not be allowed to be framed by India. Pakistan must frame these relationships autonomously and independently. Otherwise, clowns like Arnab Goswami and his backers in government enjoy a cheap lease on Pakistani sovereignty.

Third, Pakistan is not immune to the disease that afflicts India. I have had conversations with people in the news media in Pakistan in which the underlying question has been, “Where is our Arnab?”. My response has always been: I hope we never find him or her.

Money is a strange and powerful motivator. It can destroy the soul of even the most upright and thoughtful among us. India’s mass media represents a runaway freight train as far as a reasonable moral dimension is concerned. Media manipulation may happen everywhere, but the incentives and disincentives that frame individual behaviour are only as good as the outcomes they drive. Ultimately, those responsible for Pakistani national security should be extremely concerned about the presence of a thousand wannabe Arnabs in India, and even more concerned that such characters may already be in the test tube, here in Pakistan.

Much has been said about how poorly Pakistan has responded to the revelations about the fake news operations run out of Geneva (and beyond) by India through the ANI, and by extension Reuters. But there may be something to be said about being incompetent at such ghastly games. It may in fact be the case that there is something redeeming about a national discourse that is not so easily manipulated and orchestrated. It may in fact be the case that a noisy, cantankerous and unmanageable discourse is a credit to the democratic aspirations of a country.

A country with no Arnab Goswami is a country that is likely incapable of the kind of horrors that the Goswamis of India support and sustain on a daily basis. That isn’t something to lament. It is something to build on. May Allah protect and guide us all.

The writer is an analyst and commentator.