The Kashmir Dispute & Role of Media

The Kashmir Dispute & Role of Media

National Defence University, Islamabad

Mohammad Zahid, Columnist, Srinagar

January 27-28, 2014
Mr. Chairman,

Good Morning,

I am highly thankful to the NDU for inviting me to this international workshop on Kashmir titled, Kashmir: Looking beyond the peril.

The subject chosen for this session is Role of Media in Kashmir Conflict.  Had title of this session been Role of Media in the resolution of Kashmir conflict perhaps I would have structured my presentation differently. This title binds me to history. I am comfortable with the title, as my belief is delinking Kashmir dispute/ conflict from its historicity is as good as delegitimizing the narrative of Jammu and Kashmir. 

Since October 27, 1947 a lot has been written about the Kashmir Dispute. On this day at 9.30 A.M, officially first sortie with Indian troops landed at the Srinagar airstrip.  Sorties after sorties raising dust to skies and clouding the sun continued for days.  Thereafter number swelled, touching a colossal figure of .7 million making Jammu and Kashmir highest militarized zone in the world.   

Every year Scores of books on different dimension of the dispute are added to Kashmir bibliography. I see it as sign of great encouragement, sixty-six years after the dispute was born it not only retains its interest for academia and think tanks across the world but also has renewed interest amongst    young scholars. They have been looking at the dispute in a wider perspective- regional as well as global.   Every year at an average ten international scholars visit Kashmir for doing research on this dispute that now with one voice is now considered as most dangerous nuclear flashpoint in South Asia.

What is pleasing to note is that young Kashmiris have started telling their story to the world.  One can comfortably say literature on Kashmir dispute is as vast as that on Palestine problem- but unfortunately its impact at the international level is not felt as intensely as that of Palestine.

Despite suffering immensely, we have not been able to generate waves of sympathy for Kashmir or move the global powers for renewing their cold-war interest in the dispute. Perhaps we need a person like Jimmy Carter’s (Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid) standing to tell Kashmir story to the world.

 The subject chosen for this session is of great significance. Notwithstanding a lot of research has been so far done on Kashmir but this area has been almost neglected by historians, scholars and media professionals. 

Media has had its role in the past and with the technological advancement in communication   its role in conflicts like that of Jammu and Kashmir has significantly increased. 

 Compared to the times, when the Kashmir dispute was born and it had caused two newly born dominions of South Asia to go for war the role of media has significantly changed both in   fomenting conflicts and in resolution of conflicts. People around the world now   know much sooner about the developments in the international relations.’ And they know much more about the conflicts around the world.

In fact,   ‘evolution in communication technologies has changed the meaning of power in international relations.’

In this presentation, I will endeavor to explain how media played role of a spoiler in defeating resolution of the Kashmir Dispute when leaders in India Pakistan had shown interest in addressing the conflict. Moreover, how some influential journalist by exhibiting “ultra-nationalism” subverted the idea of peace in South Asia and   throughout history kept the two countries in battle ready mood. In this presentation, I will also try to look for an answer for questions like, how changed concepts of media can help in the resolution of the Kashmir dispute and bringing lasting peace in the region.

Historically, Kashmir has been a victim of communally biased media much before India and Pakistan became two independent nations and Kashmir emerged as a conflict between them.   This communally biased media later on in its ‘ultra-nationalist’ avatar spoiled every move for the resolution of the dispute.

Lahore newspapers started highlighted the suffering of Kashmiri Muslims under the tyrant rule of the Dogra Maharaja. Stories of the brutal and grueling tax system that made artisan to chop their thumbs, finger, and peasantry to run into deep forests leave their fertile filed untended and in hundreds to take refuge in twin cities of Punjab- Amritsar and Lahore got reflected in the Muslim press of Lahore. It was these stories, which made the All India Muslim League as early as 1919, to adopt resolutions highlighting plight of people of Kashmir and denounced brutal rule of the Dogra Maharaja. In 1924, when Kashmiris first raised their voice against the discriminatory Hindu ruler it was the Muslim press in Punjab that gave voice to the struggle of labour class of Kashmir. In 1931, when an organized movement started in Kashmir, it were the newspapers published from Lahore that made world to know about the soldiers of the Hindu Maharaja shooting unarmed people like ducks for a sport outside the Srinagar central jail. These reports mobilized Muslim not only in Lahore but allover India against the atrocities committed against the Muslims in Jammu and Kashmir. The newspaper report published in newspapers in Lahore shook the British and made them intervene and appoint Glancy Commission for looking into the grievances of the Muslims that overall comprised eighty percent of the total population. As against this newspaper published from Jullundur – Milap, Partap and many others edited and owned by Hindu exuding communal bias instead of sympathizing with the bereaved Kashmiris in their editorials hailing the Dogra soldiers for gunning down Muslims asked Maharaja Hari Singh to crush uprising under heavy boots.   Even newspapers like the Tribune owning allegiance to the Indian National Congress not only sided with the Maharaja but also encouraged him to suppress the movement for restoration of basic rights to people and abolishing discriminatory brutal tax system.

This bias and prejudice against the overwhelming majority of Jammu and Kashmir did not diminish after the British sailed across India, lock, stock and barrel instead it got sharpened. Seen in historical perspective the biased media subtly contributed to the birth of the Kashmir conflict after  1947 and served as a “co-belligerent” by supporting the lies and wrongs of their  leaders and ignoring the facts.

One may approve of the alibi that New Delhi based journalist in 1947 and 1948 perhaps did not know the whole truth about the ‘forged’ document of accession’. So news reports, editorials and opinions were only to be   dictated by the official versions. But, they were not stone deaf, not to  have heard  first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru  pledging at every available forum, public meetings at Srinagar, Indian Parliament and in radio broadcasts that people of Jammu and Kashmir will be given an opportunity to decide their future under the aegis of the United Nation. Ironically most of them knew the truth that how annexation of Kashmir was planned and how Mountbatten was prevailed upon to give Kashmir on platter to India. In his recently published, book “The Indian Ideology” Perry Anderson candidly explaining how Nehru using all hideous methods convinced Mountbatten to provide corridor to Kashmir by awarding Gurduspur to India writes, “Radcliff duly awarded it to India. There was never any doubt where Mountbatten’s sympathies lay. But legal cover was still required for military intervention by India, and on October 26, this was duly provided by Menon, with a forged declaration of accession to Maharaja, supposedly brought back by him from Srinagar.[1]” 

It needs to be noted on the strength of this “document”, on January 1, 1948 India went to   the United Nations Security Council, it would not be an overstatement to say that United Nations did not recognize this ‘forged’ document – meticulously analyzed by Alistair Lamb. Had it done so, then it would not have passed one after another resolution asking for holding of plebiscite in Jammu and Kashmir. It would not have provided an elaborate mechanism for undertaking the exercise and would not have passed the resolution  in 1951 and in  1957  delegitimizing the  Jammu and Kashmir Constituent Assembly and its action vis-à-vis, the United Nations resolutions. 

Jawaharlal Nehru, first Prime Minister had not realized that his move of taking Jammu and Kashmir to the United Nations Security Council would not only fail to get expected dividends but would be also prove first diplomatic   waterloo for the newly born nation. To quote leading historian Ramachandra Guha he would not have “bitterly regretted going to the United Nation, “ later on.

 The debate in UNSC and the resolution thereafter sufficiently suggest it did not recognize the “Instrument of Accession”.  This action prompted India to introduce a temporary provision of Article 370 in its constitution for governing the state till the time a plebiscite under UN supervision was held in Jammu and Kashmir. Speech of Indian Minister Gopalaswami Ayyangar in the Constituent Assembly stands as a testimony this provision was there for facilitating a plebiscite. In his words, “ We are still entangled with the United Nations in regard to Jammu and Kashmir and it is not possible to say when we shall be free from this entanglement. That can only take place when Kashmir problem is satisfactorily settled….We are also committed to ascertaining will of the people by means of plebiscite”.[2]

The New Delhi press which was most influential in India’s policy making at no point of time ever told people of the country this aspect of Article 370 with sub-heading temporary in it, instead people were informed it is “tunnel” for integrating the state with Union of India. Had the then  newspapers reported truthfully, columnists and opinion makers told people the truth, it would taken wind out of the sails of jingoistic political parties and leaders, who have been interestingly asking repealing of this constitution provision nursing a wrong belief that it would fasten integration  J&K with Union of India. Instead these newspapers conjured a “different history” with religious tags attached and made a political issue an emotionally charged religious issue.   Telling truth to people always helps in finding solution even to the most complex.

Even in fifties, some well-meaning people across the globe highlighted the threat that non-resolution of Kashmir could pose to peace in the region. The chauvinistic media ignored these opinions resulting in three wars between India and Pakistan. If these views were projected in right perspective and analyzed dispassionately, the region   perhaps would not have been caught up in the web of terrorism. Let me quote some sample statements of the time:
In 1950, General A.G. L. McNaughton UN mediator said, “So long as dispute over Kashmir continues it is a serious drain on the military, economic and above all, on spiritual strength of these two countries.”

Or Ralph Bunch said in 1953, “Kashmir is one situation you could never localize if it should flare up. It would influence the whole of Muslim world. It is potentially most dangerous.” What Bunch said Bill Clinton, Obama and many others echoed decades later?

Had the India and Pakistan leadership taken McNaughton’s statement seriously and media shed its hard shell of  “ultra nationalism” sixty-five years after freedom perhaps sixty-seven percent people in India would not have been living below poverty line? The graph of defence expenditures in the two countries would have substantially come down.

Had media in India worked as watchdog during crucial years of 1947 and questioned Jawaharlal’s cry, “I want Kashmir” and supplying Mountbatten with memorandum explaining accession (of Kashmir) would be normal and obvious course after partition, and would be absurd to think that Pakistan would create trouble if this happens,”[3] this “serious headache”[4] as Patel put it, obviously would not emerged as a nuclear flashpoint in South Asia.  Even perhaps there would have no wars between the two neighboring countries. 

In this presentation, it may not be possible, how media in India during past sixty-five years instead of looking dispassionately at the Kashmir situation and calling a spade a spade strengthened in the words of Antonio Gramsci the “dominant ideology”. History is full of details how ig names in Indian media dwarfed themselves when it came to writing about Kashmir. 

It was only during 2008, 2009 and 2010, mass uprisings in Kashmir when some important journalists, writers and columnist refused to be swayed by hyper-nationalism and toe the official line.  “This time it was not only people like Gautam Navlkahi, Prof. Angana Chaterjee and Arundhati Roy    but, many more voices like Swaminathan S Anklesaria Aiyar and Vir Sanghvi had joined them and talked granting of right to self-determination for people of JK. These bold voices that had given hope that media in India is coming out of chauvinistic mindset and had given hope that if these voices become louder and stronger the stalemate over Kashmir would end and the South Asia would enter into a new era of peace and prosperity.

To illustrate, it would be good to quote how Swaminathan had looked at Kashmir:     

 “I was once hopeful of Kashmir’s integration, but after six decades of effort, Kashmiri alienation looks greater than ever. India seeks to integrate with Kashmir, not rule it colonially. Yet, the parallels between British rule in India and Indian rule in Kashmir have become too close for my comfort. Many Indians say that Kashmir legally became an integral part of India when the maharaja of the state signed the instrument of accession. Alas, such legalisms become irrelevant when ground realities change. Indian kings and princes, including the Moguls, acceded to the British Raj. The documents they signed became irrelevant when Indians launched an independence movement.  The British insisted for a long time that India was an integral part of their Empire, the Jewel in its crown, and would never be given up. Imperialist Blimps remained in denial for decades. I fear we are in similar denial on Kashmir.”

These voices could not resonate for long. They were first muffled then silenced by what Noam Chomsky calls   “agenda setting media, the ones with big resources that set framework in which everyone else operates.”  In India, this media is popularly known as the corporate media-   how this media operates and strengthens the “dominant discourse” let me quote a recent example of a leading lawyer of Supreme Court of India Mr. Prashant Bushan, On 26 September 2011, in reply to a question on Kashmir he said, “no country or part of its territory could be ruled without wishes of the people with the help of army. I want Armed Forces Special Powers Act removed from Kashmir and people persuaded to remain with India, if people of Kashmir want separation they should be allowed to go.” There was lot of jingoism on his statement in the elite for couple of days as if nothing else had happened in a country of 1.2 billion. The jingoism on television channels, created a vicious atmosphere and poor man   was attacked on 12 October 2011. There after he made no comments on Kashmir.  On 5 January 2014, again when he was asked about continuance of AFSPA in Kashmir he said that a referendum should be held in the state if people want this law or they want to see removed.” Some television channels this time also     drowned his voice and made him to retract his statement and maintain silence. Prashant’s voice was a voice of dissent and it is the voices of disagreement and not jingoistic voices that take nation out of dark tunnels and help in finding resolution of most complex issues.

Even a cursory glance suggests, right from November 1, 1947, when Mountbatten and M.A. Jinnah met at Lahore and exchanged proposals for resolving the dispute, there have been umpteen occasion when leaders in the two countries had showed desire or moved forward for finding a resolution of the dispute but dithered to take a bold decisions, one for the fear of hardliner political parties, media failing to creating space for resolution of the dispute and paving way for sustainable peace in the region.