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Media’s Constructivism and the India-Pakistan Peace Process

Shamshad Ahmed Khan was Research Assistant at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here to for detailed profile
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  • February 02, 2010

    Two media groups - Jang from Pakistan and the Times of India from India recently launched a joint campaign to promote peace between the two countries. Their joint statement for achieve lasting peace seems very emphatic: “Public opinion is far too potent a force to be left in the hands of narrow vested interests. The people of today must find its voice and force the rulers to listen. The awaam (people) must write its own placards and fashion its own slogans. The leaders must learn to be led and not blindly followed.”

    Their efforts to generate “public opinion” to “force the leaders to listen” suggest that they are knowingly or unknowingly employing constructivism, which defines that social movements (social constructivism) influence the state’s international affairs by mobilizing citizens to press their governments through appeals and measured proposals, to adopt a policy which they deem fit for their country.

    There are two examples in recent history where “social constructivism” has been very successful - the Vietnam War and the campaign against the superpower nuclear arms race. During the Vietnam War, protests across the world generated concerns against war and mobilized public opinion against it. The masses across the globe urged the warring parties to stop the war and were successful in realizing their goal. Second, when the Cold war was at its peak in the late 1960s and the prospect of nuclear war was looming large, the anti-nuclear groups across the Atlantic, with an objective to bring an end to the nuclear arm race, called the United States and the Soviet Union to stop the development, testing and the deployment of nuclear weapon. Their effort contributed to the signing of the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty in 1972.

    It is too early to predict whether the two media groups will be successful in achieving a similar result by generating positive public opinion among the masses of the two countries. “Public opinion”, which the media groups want to shape, has always been prone to emotions and since the memories of 26/11 terrorist attacks still remains fresh among Indians; it puts a question mark on whether the media would be able to sustain their campaign. Even if they are successful in shifting public opinion for peace talks, a terrorist attack will eliminate their all efforts.

    A recent opinion poll conducted by the Times of India and Jang suggests that 72 per cent of Pakistanis and 66 per cent of Indians want peaceful relations between the two countries. A lower percentage of peace backers in India than that of Pakistan is reflective of the fact that it is terrorism and the wounds inflicted by terrorist activities that have adversely impacted Indian sentiments. Pakistan needs to take corrective measures in this regard, if they really want peace with India. Since the Pakistani right wing media have already launched a campaign against the Aman ki Asha initiative, public support for peace is likely to plummet as well. A day after the launch of the campaign by the two media groups, the Nawa-e-Waqt editorial criticised the declaration of peace which emphasizes the common culture of the two countries noting, “they should not forget that it was on the issue of culture and economy, the two nation theory came into being and became the basis for the division of India.” The daily further stated that “raising slogans merely focuses on economic interests, the media groups can not achieve their goals….” ( The Nawa-e-Waqt, editorial, January 2, 2010).

    Yet another right wing media group, Ausaf Urdu daily in its editorial commenting on the issue wrote that “isn’t it strange that on the one hand India is preparing a military doctrine but on the other hand two media groups are hoping for “Aman ki Asha”. The paper asks whether “India’s efforts to destabilize Pakistan especially in Balochistan will lead to peace? The editorial stated that peace can be achieved by the leaders not by the people of the two countries as “the masses can not influence policy decisions of the two countries” (The Ausaf, editorial, January 2, 2010). However, the campaign found some appreciation from a few Pakistani columnists. Noor Qidwai, lauding the move wrote that “media groups from India and Pakistan should be commended for their effort to launch a movement to ease tensions between the two countries.” In an atmosphere of tension, it is the people of the two countries who can influence the policy decisions of their government. However, he suggested the media groups be cautious about “extremist” and religious fanatics who could create a hurdle in realizing their goals. Qidwai opined that “since the public platform has been chosen for restoration of peace and negotiation, the need is to identify the stumbling blocks because of which past negotiations could not materialize despite progress.” (Jang, opinion, January 5, 2010)

    Opinion columns on the pages of the Times of India and Jang Urdu daily is indicative of the fact that it has been welcomed by the intelligentsia in both the countries. Whether the media groups succeed in achieving their “Aman ki Asha” is yet to be seen. But if they can sustain their vigorous campaign, the desire for peace in the region may deepen further.