It is a thankless job to talk peace, especially when it comes to India and Pakistan. Attending a conference on the India-Pakistan dialogue in Dubai recently organized by the German organization FES, I could only wonder what are options are and how we have to move ahead. It is far more easier for us to advocate war and confrontation despite all the evidence that suggests that peace will yield dividends for both sides, especially for Pakistan.
In my presentation, I said that war-mongering brings ratings. The Indian media is better than us at this game. There are daily shows on some channels where Pakistan-bashing helps raise revenues. But at what cost.
The Indians ask, given Pakistan’s flirtations with terrorism and militant outfits, why should they even be talking peace with Islamabad. There is an element of looking down on us. Are we even worth the time and effort? More important, can we be trusted.
The Pakistanis respond that if the Indians don’t talk, the consequences could be even more dire. Pakistan wont take the bullying lying down. Also, India needs to talk to a democratic government so as to strengthen democracy in the Pakistan. In the past it has talked to dictators.
We also say that if India tries to show us teeth, we also have teeth to show. The same questions are asked each time. The same answers are articulated. There is point scoring and some honest debate.
In my view as a journalist, possibly the role of the media in all this is more important than we think it is. We need to give both sides of the story, something that we have not been honestly doing. These days Pakistan’s media is less shrill than India’s when it comes to war-mongering, but that has more to do with the fact that we are more focused on the war within our country.
We are talking at an interesting time. There are three significant developments that take place in 2014. The withdrawal of ISAF troops from Afghanistan, elections in Afghanistan and elections in India. Strategists in Pakistan are seeing how we can use all three to our national advantage.
Amidst a feeling that if the BJP comes to power in India and Namo (short form for Narinder Modi) becomes PM, chances are that more honest dialogue will take place. After all, they say, most meaningful steps between the neighbours took place when a BJP government was in power in India and either a dictator or a PML-N government was in place this side. Either that, or things will get only worse.
These are all theories. More work for peace may have been done by the Congress and the PPP. But in many instances it was shot down or hijacked. Yes, such initiatives are also sabotaged in India.
As far as telling the story is concerned, we are now reporting statements. Whether it is the Kashmir issue of the water crisis, there is little in terms of correct and unbiased information. This at a time when the media on both sides is more free than it has ever been. This is a shame.
Coming back to national perceptions, India’s consistent interest in Afghanistan irks us. We believe that it has spread a network on consulates in many towns across Afghanistan. India believes that China has taken over parts of Gilgit and there are now Chinatowns across GB. We think India is stealing our water. India thinks we are lying to them with regards to non-state actors. The accusations and the mistrust is never-ending, based on misinformation and half truths.
We cannot talk peace if we lie to each other. Of course, there are many amongst us who say that confrontation is a better option. These lobbies are not honest either. They are quick to blame and accuse others of selling out to the other side but then go ahead and do exactly that when an opportunity arises. They sell us out more cheaply. Also in this day and age, war cannot be an option for nuclear-armed states.
More important, we are lying to ourselves. That is more worrisome. How can we move ahead if we don’t even know the full story. That is where I feel the media has not lived up to expectations.
The writer is Editor of The Express Tribune and the write up was published in the same newspaper on Nov. 11