Media not playing its proper role in India-Pakistan peace process
Dhaka, Monday March 9, 2009
Since Mumbai terrorist attack the India-Pakistan peace process has received a serious setback, pushing the region towards the danger of mortal fatality, primarily because peace constituencies in both the countries were fragile, disorganized and confined to elite group of peace activists, especially in the media.
For a considerable period peace activists in both the countries were able to break through the mental barriers and communicate with the people at large, despite widespread mutual lack of trust. People to people contact were possible only because the media in both the countries highlighted the role of civil society in promoting peace and its dividends. But only a handful of people on either side of the divide were bold enough to be vocal and persistent, despite their government’s policy which was tailored to keep the people of their countries apart and under perpetual threat. We witnessed frequent visits of intellectuals, cultural exchanges, cross-border and LoC bus service and open debate on the various out of box solutions to the so-called core issue of Kashmir etc. Many taboos had been broken and intelligentsia in both the countries thought that success was around the corner and Berlin wall was about to fall. But when the terrorists mounted attack on the Indian Parliament, the two countries suddenly drifted close to an all out war and everything stopped. No one talked about any CBM for some times.
But again saner elements in the media, who also enjoyed support of political personalities in their respective countries, pushed their government to resume the composite dialogue and move towards visa free regime, and free trade and broad-based people to people contacts, which remain a dream.
Things were moving with a rapid pace, perhaps also because the international climate was conducive for strengthening the front against terrorist threat.
But what happened following Mumbai terrorist attack was most shocking because the manner in which the war hysteria was orchestrated gave the impression that the two nuclear arch rivals have nothing to do with peace dividends and there were no peace constituencies.
Exponents of India-Pakistan peace were pushed to the wall in both the countries as jingoist elements in the government and in the media on either side indulged in the so-called “patriotic punch” reflecting their “competitive nationalism”, at the cost of truth. The frenzy was orchestrated without realizing the negative fallout on truth and objectivity in reporting that truth. Media deviated from its real job and became a tool of serving the so-called national interest.
A section of the media, both print and electronic has indulged in jingoistic and frenzied reporting, encouraging mutual hatred. We witnessed the hate campaign against Pakistan by a section of the Indian media as Mumbai terrorist attack took place. Even before it was established who the culprits were, the guns were targeted at Pakistan, its secret agency and the jihadi non-state actors. But the Indian media was not prepared to discuss the linkages with the murder of Hemant Karkare and the possible involvement of Col Prohit, former Indian military intelligence officer, who was allegedly involved in attack on Samjhota Express and Malegaon killings.
In Pakistan the media toed the official line of denial but those who exposed Ajmal Kassab’s links with Faridkot were hounded. While Indian media was out rightly blaming Pakistan, a section of the Pakistani media also gradually drifted in the same mode with the passage of time and behaved in the same manner when terrorists attacked the Sri Lankan Cricket team in Lahore. It was not liked by the viewers despite their lack of trust of India.
Having said that, such state of affairs only prove that peace constituency in the media in both India and Pakistan is weak because of the corporatization of media , and also due to lack of political will on part of the political parties to pursue the course of peace despite stumbling blocks.
Peace process and its advocacy face setback every now and then because civil society has not broadened its base in the real term. Its activities are confined to the “elite group” which is smaller and primarily urban in character, despite a huge rural and deprived section of population. It is truer of the media, especially the emerging electronic media, which is primarily urban and elitist in character. They are the new found weapon of corporate interests of the vested interest groups. Those who are writing about the need for India-Pakistan peace and mutually beneficial relations are very few but those who are subservient to corporate interests are much more in number and are generally those who tend to follow establishment’s “nationalistic” line.
Corporate interest in both the countries follows the official bureaucratic line which does not necessarily reflect aspirations of the teeming millions on either side of the divide. It is therefore essential that civil society and progressive political parties in both the countries improve their networking for peace.
Unfortunately as trade and business relations between the two countries have not improved despite SAFTA, and there are many stumbling blocks in the way of free movement of rolling stocks across South Asia, business community which finance the political parties, is not backing the peace process with same vigour as the civil society. What they are talking is mere posturing and deceptive and not sincere effort. If the business community becomes serious in supporting the agenda for peace by pushing for more bilateral trade, the acrimony can gradually disappear. Media in both the countries will also get a boost and can become effective vehicle for regional peace if the two countries followed the Sino-US model and Sino-Indian model in this context.
At the moment it appears that civil society and political parties and establishment are confronting each other. It should not be the case because civil society represents various shades of opinion of the society who the political parties also claim to represent. But it appears that none of the political parties have the peace caucus that could serve as a bridge for preventing relations from derailment.
It is sad that all of us talk about peace and serving the millions of impoverished people in the region, and also make solemn pledge for having good neighbourly relations, but the situation turns ugly when there are elections which are generally dominated by hate campaign. If peace caucus within different political parties is strong and has established good networking with their counterpart across the border, jingoistic frenzy will die down.
In order to strengthen peace constituencies in both the countries it is also essential that besides traditional media, print and electronic, peace activists should launch Cyber peace offensive to reach the down trodden. In this peace caucus in the political parties, trade unions, student unions and farmers must be targeted on permanent basis. This will help in scuttling the corporate media, which has its own agenda. It is also essential that civil society should focus on vernacular media in both the countries, and also in other members of the SAARC community.
Media in both India and Pakistan should project anti-terrorist policies. Confronting terrorism and the terrorist, no matter who they are and from where they are, should also be media’s major concern. There should be no distinction between Ajmal Kassab and Col Prohit, because both of them have killed innocent people and indulged in terrorist activities. There is no need for being nationalist in this regard.
In Pakistan the media is under attack from the various interest groups, including jehadi militant groups and the intelligence agencies and it has become impossible for the journalists operating in the conflict zone. Murder of Musa Khan Khel in Swat is a glaring example. The situation now is so bad that reporters are avoiding giving live beepers from the region as they are under constant threat. Most of them are working without appointment letters and protective gear or insurance convener from the organizations they work for. The situation is the result of cross media ownership issue which has created media barons who are not fulfilling their legal obligations.
Being under attack from the jihadis and terrorist, besides government functionaries and political and religio-ethnic groups, the media in Pakistan is day by day finding it difficult to operate. But it is continuing its struggle. I am sure in India also media persons think alike. It is therefore necessary that they both link up and create a common platform to build peace constituency so that truth can be protected. It would be much better if the peace constituency was enlarged at SAARC level.
Mr. Shamim-ur-Rahman is a Senior Correspondent with Daily Dawn - Pakistan