Queering the Pitch
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