Queer­ing the Pitch

Southasia - - COMMENT -

It seems In­dia has again upped the tem­per­a­ture against Pak­istan. On the one hand, the con­tin­u­ous In­dian shelling on the work­ing bound­ary with Pak­istan, has caused deaths of sev­eral in­no­cent Pak­ista­nis in the Sialkot sec­tor. On the other is In­dia’s cul­tural in­va­sion of Pak­istan. It is not quite clear as to why In­dia has felt the need to pound the Pak­istan side of the in­ter­na­tional bor­der with un­pro­voked mor­tar shelling whereas the Pak­istan army has ex­er­cised rel­a­tive re­straint and has not re­tal­i­ated with the same venom. Sub­se­quently, a team of UN mil­i­tary observers has vis­ited the bor­der ar­eas to see the dam­age caused. Known as the UNMOGIP (UN Mil­i­tary Observers Group in In­dia and Pak­istan), these observers have been lo­cated at the ceasefire line be­tween In­dia and Pak­istan in Jammu and Kash­mir since 1949 and su­per­vise the truce be­tween the two neigh­bours. How­ever, In­dia has been main­tain­ing that the UNMOGIP has out­lived its util­ity and has be­come ir­rel­e­vant af­ter the Simla Agree­ment and the con­se­quent es­tab­lish­ment of the Line of Con­trol (LoC).

In an ear­lier de­vel­op­ment, Pak­istan scrapped sched­uled talks with In­dia (due to start on Au­gust 23, 2015), say­ing the In­dian con­di­tion to keep Kash­mir off the agenda was a hur­dle in the talks. This was prob­a­bly in re­ac­tion to a state­ment by the In­dian For­eign Min­is­ter Sushma Swaraj that the talks be­tween In­dia and Pak­istan should only fo­cus on the is­sue of ter­ror­ism. There were also re­ports that In­dia had briefly put Kash­miri sep­a­ratist lead­ers un­der house ar­rest and this had fur­ther soured the en­vi­ron­ment be­fore the talks be­tween the In­dian Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­viser Ajit Do­val and his Pak­istani coun­ter­part Sar­taj Aziz. In call­ing off the talks, Pak­istan said that if dis­cussing ter­ror­ism was the only pur­pose of the dis­cus­sions, this would only in­ten­sify the blame game. It may be re­called that in 2014, In­dia had called off sec­re­tary-level talks with Pak­istan fol­low­ing In­dia’s crit­i­cism of Pak­istani High Com­mis­sioner in In­dia, Ab­dul Ba­sit meet­ing Kash­miri lead­ers. Pak­istan had said at that point that it was a long­stand­ing prac­tice that, prior to any Pak­istan-In­dia talks, meet­ings with Kash­miri lead­ers were held to fa­cil­i­tate their mean­ing­ful par­tic­i­pa­tion in the dis­cus­sions on the is­sue of Kash­mir.

This time, how­ever, the very is­sue of Kash­mir was com­pletely left out by the In­di­ans and all they wanted to talk about was Pak­istan’s pur­ported role in ter­ror­ism. It did not quite register with the In­dian side that ter­ror­ism was a key is­sue in the re­gion and a prob­lem that the Pak­istan gov­ern­ment, army and the peo­ple at large were also bat­tling at all lev­els. The In­di­ans also needed to un­der­stand that, along with the ‘how,’ ‘why’ and ‘who’ of ter­ror­ism, which was equally im­por­tant for the Pak­ista­nis, any mean­ing­ful di­a­logue be­tween In­dia and Pak­istan needed to in­clude Kash­mir, the mother of all is­sues, as well as the prob­lems of Sir Creek, Si­achin and river wa­ters, for the talks to make any head­way vis-à-vis. im­prov­ing re­la­tions be­tween the two ma­jor South Asian neigh­bours. In­dia has now sin­gled out Pak­istan as a per­pe­tra­tor of ter­ror­ism in the re­gion while Pak­istan is lick­ing its wounds over hav­ing left out Kash­mir from the agenda in Ufa. All that the two coun­tries now seem to be do­ing is go round in cir­cles while se­ri­ous prob­lems con­tinue to fes­ter be­tween them for well nigh seven decades and the South Asian re­gion is left way be­hind on the hu­man de­vel­op­ment and so­cio-eco­nomic fronts.

In­dia is a much big­ger coun­try than Pak­istan in ev­ery re­spect but since the peo­ples of both coun­tries share al­most sim­i­lar cul­tures and an al­most com­mon lin­gua franca (Urdu-Hindi), the media in both coun­tries, par­tic­u­larly cin­ema and tele­vi­sion, cater to an au­di­ence of al­most 1.3 bil­lion peo­ple. In­dia takes full ad­van­tage of its supremacy and feeds a high level of cul­tural pro­pa­ganda to the Pak­istani masses, pri­mar­ily through cin­ema. In­dian films were banned in Pak­istan fol­low­ing the 1965 war. But the gates were thrown wide open with the ad­vent of video tech­nol­ogy, the re­vival of In­dian film im­ports and now the easy to ac­cess online media. It was in this back­drop that the In­dian film ‘Phan­tom’ fo­cused on the so-called ter­ror­ism that was al­leged to be per­pe­trated in In­dia by cer­tain Pak­istani ter­ror­ist groups. It is good that the ex­hi­bi­tion of such films has been banned in Pak­istan be­cause these ven­tures only serve to queer the pitch in an al­ready volatile po­lit­i­cal en­vi­ron­ment.

Syed Jawaid Iqbal

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