Whenever there is an increase in India–Pakistan tensions, some of our TV channels rush instinctively to invite Pakistani panelists for their view point. Ever since the Kargil conflict happened, the bilateral relationship has been brittle and the flash points regular. Consequently, the Pakistani participants are a familiar fill on our TV screens.
This should be welcome under normal circumstances. They are our neighbours after all, and till recently a part of India. A section of our electronic media, therefore, feels that objectivity demands the other side’s views should also be projected. This is how it should be in an ideal world; a misconception that also led Nehru to drag the Kashmir issue to the UN.
Alas, the participation from Pakistan has consistently failed these noble expectations. Instead of informed debate, it leaves the Indian viewers cold and wondering what it was all about. The Pakistani participants begin to spew venom from the word go. They become steadily more abrasive, domineering and louder. The studio descends to a street level. Invariably the Pakistani participants outshout and outlast everyone else, including the anchor. And they get paid for doing so.
If the intent on our side was fair and objective debate, that hope gets trashed within the first five minutes. Then they keep on mounting pressure, side tracking and completely derailing the discussion. Invariably they deliver their coup de grace by demanding an end to the alleged human rights violations in Kashmir and a final settlement of the Kashmir issue failing which, they go on to threaten, there can be no resolution of bilateral issues.
There the matter ends; Pakistanis succeed once again in obfuscating the issue. But what is more disconcerting is the manner in which they use and abuse the platform provided to them. Some of our TV channels extend this courtesy in the hope that it might make just that slightest bit of difference and encourage better understanding. Instead, the Pakistani participants get away by using this opportunity for free propaganda.
The latest example of this was the farcical turn given to some of these programmes by the Pakistani participants after the recent killing of two Indian soldiers and brutalisation of their bodies in the Indian territory. It became an exercise in futility as they stone walled and trivialised the tragedy; it was quite plain that they insensitive to Indian hurt.
In fact that is in line with Pakistani record. The barbarism against Capt Saurabh Kalia and his five men is too well known to bear any reiteration. Pakistan maintains, perhaps in a confusion of identities, that animals rather than their soldiers were responsible for those beheadings and the burn marks on their bodies! A year later in 2000, seven soldiers were killed and an eighth beheaded in a joint operation by Pakistan army and some irregulars led by Illyas Kashmiri. When Illyas Kashmiri presented the soldier’s head to Pakistani army, the then army chief Pervez Musharraf gave him a reward of Rs 1 lakh!
But we will delude ourselves if we bring ourselves to believe that these were aberrations. Sadly, this culture of brutality runs deep in the Pakistani army. Had they even the slightest bit of moral compunction, they would have remembered that India had 94 thousand Pakistani officers and soldiers as its prisoners. Indian army could have brutalised them, but it preferred to deal with them in the best manner that a civilised country should and returned the entire lot to Pakistan with grace.
In return, what did Pakistan do? True to form, it incarcerated the Indian POWs in one of its worst jails. Even a known India baiter like Zulfiqar Bhutto, who shared that prison for a while, was moved by the crying and wailing of some of these prisoners. Obviously, they must have been tortured. Pakistani soldiers were equally brutal with Bangladeshi women, children and men before and during the Bangladeshi freedom struggle.
In the more distant Jordan, Pakistani troops were posted in 1970 under the then Brigadier Zia ul Haq (who later became president). While suppressing an uprising against the Jordanian King, they killed so many Palestinians during the Operation Black September that Moshe Dayan remarked: “More Palestinains have been killed during 11 days of Black September than during 20 years of war with Israel.” That’s how clinically cruel Pakistani soldiers are.
To its good fortune, or rather due to its dictatorial control over Pakistan, Pakistani Army is backed by propagandists who specialise in denials and in convincing the world of their version. This well-oiled machine has performed to perfection in this latest episode; their clear intention being to internationalise the Kashmir issue again. Must we become their unwitting platform in this design?
A former ambassador, the writer is a novelist and an artist