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Fifth column: Terroristan to mother of terrorism

The 72nd session of the UN General Assembly looked like a Bollywood-style drama that was full of emotive rhetoric as India and Pakistan fought a bitter battle of words to advance their respective narratives. The idiom that caught the attention of an otherwise bored audience in the hall and beyond was a mix of toxic and crass language dripping in vitriol.

In the process, the Kashmiris – who are continuously suffering under the weight of the wanton military might of the Indian state – lost a magnificent opportunity to attract some meaningful attention at the influential world gathering.

Sushma Swaraj, India’s minister for external affairs, launched a scathing attack on Pakistan following the address by Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, who had called for an investigation into the atrocities in Kashmir and demanded punishment for the perpetrators and justice and relief to the victims.

These demands are not new. In fact, several Indian politicians, including pro-India Kashmiri political parties and civil society groups, have been demanding a probe into the growing human rights violations and have emphasised the need to secure justice and compensation for the victims. There is a consensus among progressive forces that the ongoing cycle of state-enacted violence has to stop before a credible peace process can be initiated.

Swaraj’s response to the Pakistani demands was uncouth and terribly hostile – a form of behaviour that is increasingly on display on Indian television or the Hindutva-inspired religious or political gatherings that have morphed into regular conduits for spreading hate through misinformation, commotion and deadly violence. Swaraj variously described Pakistan as “terroristan”, “a geography synonymous with terror” and an “export factory of terror”. She also taunted the country for only building “jihadi factories” while her country had founded excellent institutions of knowledge and inquiry. Indian Prime Minister Modi hailed her speech as “insightful in identifying global challenges” and a “strong message …on the dangers of terrorism”.

The Indian tradition of creating great institutions of learning and making huge strides in science and technology is truly impressive and certainly worthy of celebrating. But Swaraj’s tone and tenor was not only disingenuous and arrogant but her comparisons were also naïve. Equating India, which is several times bigger, with Pakistan is like comparing a grizzly to a koala. Instead, if we compare China and India – as they are more comparable entities – the balance is heavily in favour of the Chinese, outpacing the Indians manifold.

Interestingly, Swaraj’s claim about learning institutions of high calibre has nothing to do with her government, which espouses a regressive ideology and advances mythology as science. The credit for India’s intellectual revolution and technological advancement goes to the Congress, which was recently publicly derided by Modi for giving nothing to India. In the past three years of Modi’s tenure, there has been an increasing focus on building cow shelters, funding research into bovine excreta as a medicine of choice for almost all the ailments and as the only guarantee for the future of the human race because of its supposed quality to act as an anti-nuclear shield. Besides, there is increased talk about the ‘glorious past’ that existed thousands of years ago wherein India had intergalactic ships, performed interspecies plastic surgery and excelled in reproductive genetics.

The new Indian designation for Pakistan being a “terroristan” may sound quite remarkable, but it is consistent with the Modi government’s policy to belittle Pakistan’s anti-terror efforts while, at the same time, diverting attention from the continued repression in Kashmir. Last year in August, when Kashmiris refused to yield to the official brutality, Modi publicly pledged to expose the Pakistani terrorism at play. Despite massive diplomatic efforts, the world community refused to buy the Indian narrative as the overwhelming character of the Kashmiri struggle remains peaceful and guided by the masses. Apart from the US, which is desperately trying to scapegoat Pakistan for its defeat in Afghanistan, no other big powers see Pakistan as a “terroristan”.

There is no denying that in the past Pakistan, like India, massively banked upon the non-state actors – ironically under the guidance and tutelage of the US. There is, of course, enough empirical evidence to suggest a change. Both China and Russia have openly acknowledged Pakistan’s contribution to fight terrorism and pledged their support – both moral and material. The ongoing Pak-Russia joint military drills that have been described as a prelude to an “anti-terrorist superpower alliance” show Pakistan’s growing importance as an important partner in counter-terrorism.

Moscow’s refusal to entertain the Indian diplomatic plea to cancel the exercises shows the growing international faith in Pakistan as a serious partner in fighting terrorism. Global Times, the Chinese English daily, in a recent editorial, criticised the Indian accusations at the UN: “It is politically imbecilic and unsophisticated for Indian elites to conclude that Pakistan exports terrorism. They should have seen the efforts and sacrifice that Pakistan has made to rid the world of terrorism and refrain from mixing disputes over terrorism with their own historical disputes”.

Pakistan’s permanent representative to the UN, Maleeha Lodhi, through her right to response, denounced Swaraj’s remarks as an “orgy of slander”, using an equally reproachful syntax by calling India the “mother of terrorism in South Asia”. In her unusual enthusiasm – perhaps motivated by a tit-for-tat desire – she showed a photograph of a Palestinian woman as a Kashmiri victim. This caused a ruckus as the Indian media and the further responses from the Indian diplomatic corps revolved around that, giving credence to Pakistani and Kashmiri accusation that India was obfuscating the real issue of Kashmiri suffering.

Lodhi’s faux pas created anger in Kashmir as one commentator remarked that it took the attention away from the Kashmiri sufferings as the focus shifted to the credibility of the photograph. While the wrong photograph was embarrassing and points towards institutional inadequacies, Lodhi’s claims about Kashmiri sufferings remains authentic, well-documented and supported by the international and reputable rights bodies, including Amnesty International. Amnesty’s report, which was launched last week, is full of evidence that captures the brutal and disproportionate violence unleashed on Kashmiri civilians, many of whom have been relegated to a lifetime of darkness as the pellets have extinguished their vision.

Murtaza Shibli, "Fifth column: Terroristan to mother of terrorism," The news. 2017-09-30.
Keywords: Political sciences , Social aspect , Social media , Foreign policy , Political parties , Civil society , Technological advancement , Nuclear country , Human rights , Diplomacy , Democracy , Terrorism , Pakistan , India , Kashmir