You are here

India-Pakistan Talks: Media’s Role Crucial for Normalisation of Relations

Shamshad Ahmed Khan was Research Assistant at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here to for detailed profile
  • Share
  • Tweet
  • Email
  • Whatsapp
  • Linkedin
  • Print
  • June 29, 2011

    The recently concluded Foreign Secretary-level talks between India and Pakistan have rekindled hope that the dialogue process would soon be taken up to a higher level. However, popular support from the people of both the countries is required for the high-level talks to show results and normalise the relationship. Here media, especially Pakistan’s vernacular press, can play a crucial role.

    In the past, a section of Pakistan’s Urdu media had initiated a campaign to malign India and construct a negative image about it. Keeping this fact in mind, both the Foreign Secretaries in their joint statement have stressed on the need for “cessation of hostile propaganda against each other.” This, however, did not stop Pakistan’s right wing media from hostile propaganda. The Nawa-e-Waqt Urdu daily in its editorial titled “Bad Niyat Makkar Hindu Baniya Maslae Kashmir ke liye Mukhlis nahin …” called on the Pakistani leadership “to use a nuclear bomb” against India and not to “fall prey to the Indian ploy of talks” as the Kashmir issue “cannot be resolved through talks.”1 Nawa-e-Waqt has initiated a sustained campaign against the restoration of the dialogue process and for using military means to resolve the issues of Kashmir and water disputes with India. It terms India as Azli Dushman or “day-one enemy”.

    This kind of thinking which Nawa-e-Waqt is trying to instil in Pakistani minds will certainly not help in normalising ties, especially when both countries are discussing various nuclear and conventional confidence building measures (CBMs) and ways to strengthen arrangements “to build trust and confidence and promote peace and security.”

    In contrast to the Nawa-e-Waqt, the Daily Times, has called for a sustained dialogue process and has stated that “there is no escape from continuing the dialogue.” The Daily Times, in its editorial, opines that “the Indo-Pak nuclear equation is far more dangerous than that of the Cold War. There is very little reaction and/or verification time to ensure mistakes are not made. Despite the history of mistrust between the two sides, for this reason alone there is no escape from continuing the dialogue, no matter what the difficulties in the way of finding solutions to longstanding and intractable problems.”2

    However, the influence of this kind of thinking in Pakistan upon the anti-India propaganda unleashed by some of the Urdu dailies is doubtful. The readership of Pakistani English dailies is limited as compared to the Urdu dailies. The stance of Jang Urdu Daily, which a year back launched the Aman Ki Asha campaign to generate a desire for peace, has been disappointing. The daily says in its editorial that India has “made the Kashmir issue a mockery. Whenever it wants, it refuses to hold talks and starts repeating that Kashmir is its integral part. This kind of dialogue cannot resolve the Kashmir issue. If both the countries want to continue their talks they should tell the people how much progress has been made on the issue so far.”3

    Similar statements have been made in the editorials of Khabrein and Mashriq, which are Urdu dailies. This, despite the fact that the Indian Foreign Secretary has stated that “complex issue” like Kashmir would need a sustained effort and can only be resolved in “an atmosphere free of violence.” However, Express, an Urdu daily, has highlighted and appreciated this part of the Indian Foreign Secretary’s statement in its editorial.4

    While some Pakistani Urdu dailies continue to focus on the Kashmir issue in the Indo-Pak talks, there are some saner voices in Pakistan which believe that “Kashmir would no longer be a hurdle”5 in normalisation of relations between the two neighbours. There is a growing realisation in Pakistan that the confrontational approach towards India has led to economic backwardness in the country. In the backdrop of the Foreign Secretaries’ talk, Kunwar Idris, a Pakistani columnist, wrote in the Dawn that “it would be no exaggeration to say that the chief, if not the only, cause of our political instability, economic backwardness, recurring wars and endemic violence, has been confrontation with India.” He further writes that “Pakistan’s raison d’être for maintaining a half-a-million-strong army and nuclear arsenal is lost if we don’t have to wage a war to liberate Kashmir. If the expenditure on defence was to be cut by half, perhaps, we wouldn’t be borrowing (except for development) or begging for aid from the US and balance-of-payment support from the IMF and could still spend twice as much on education, health and social services than we do presently.”6

    In a different context, Najam Sethi, a seasoned Pakistani columnist, had also expressed similar sentiments much before the Indo-Pakistan Foreign Secretary-level talks. He opined that “there is a demand (in Pakistan) to debate the philosophy of national security especially that of posing India as a threat and entering into an arm race that continues for 60 years which has put peoples’ welfare on stake.”7

    People like Kunwar Idrees and Najam Sethi are still a minority in Pakistan. However, if their voices percolate to the people, it will help arrest the anti-India sentiments, which have been used by the Jihadi groups to continue their terrorist attacks against India. Here the media’s role would be crucial to create a conducive atmosphere so that the push to normalisation of relations between the two countries comes from the people.