The media blackout that is currently in place in Kashmir is a throwback to 2010 when the government used the same strategy to control the mob. According to the authorities, the gag will expire in three days and whether they stick to their word will be the real test. It just so happens that tomorrow, July 19, is also the day Pakistan has decided to observe a ‘black day’ for Kashmir.
Broadband is now working in some parts of Kashmir and with the little exchange of information one can afford, the authorities seem divided on the media gag. Conflict zones usually operate in a blur where one is never sure who is in charge. When I asked Shiv Sahay, Additional Director General of Jammu and Kashmir Police, about the crackdown on local media, his response was this: go and ask the people who take decisions.
Media blackouts have been temporarily effective in the past. They stop live feeds of protests from being seen and fomenting unrest. However, in today’s new media, where information can go viral in a millisecond, it is counterproductive and archaic to send soldiers to newspaper offices and use methods that only reinforce the idea of Emergency, which is anyway in force in Kashmir.
The Editor’s Guild of India has condemned the censorship calling it a “muzzling of media”. Considering the websites like Greater Kashmir and Rising Kashmir are updating their news feeds regularly, it’s evident that stopping them from going to press was only partially effective as a gag and phenomenally successful in terms of plastering egg on the existing administration’s face.
However, it is the anti-India rhetoric from across the border, which has seen a spike in the past one week, that should worry India and is doing so. Authorities say the blackout of cable TV was targeted at shutting out the rhetoric of Pakistani television channels.
Ever since BurhanWani was killed on July 8, talk shows in Pakistan have more or less centred around two questions — why are international human rights organisations silent, and how can Pakistan highlight this issue at a global level?
All shows begin with mandatory images of Indian security forces firing on protesting Kashmiris, crowds chanting and deserted streets with downed shops shutters. Former ambassadors, retired senior army officers, Hurriyat leaders and clerics constitute the panels who parrot the same line: condemnation of “Bhartiqabizaur us kibarbariyat” (“barbaric crimes committed by Indian occupying force”) and Pakistan should exploit the situation to its maximum benefit.
Panellists such as ex-ambassador ZafarHilaly on July 10, during the show Night Edition on 92 News urged Pakistan to raise the issue at the United Nations Security Council. Ayaz Amir, a well-respected columnist for mainstream English dailies and a former army man, argued for taking a principled stand on the issue under the United Nations resolution. “We should have peaceful relations with India but on this there should be no flexibility,” he said on a talk show on the same channel on July 12. Hilaly, however, was dismayed by the Americans, whom he alleged to be in love with India. On July 10, he exclaimed, “Amreekako India se ishqhai! They say love is blind but love is also dumb!”
Quite a few panellists across the Pakistani media smorgasbord have called for the resignation of MaulanaFazlurRehman, chairman of Special Committee on Kashmir Affairs, pointing out his lack of interest in Kashmir. “He is not doing anything about Kashmir,” said IkramSehgal, army-man-turned-security analyst, who equated the current uprising to Palestinian intifada. (No wonder the police used pellet guns — it’s what the Israelis used against the Palestinian stone pelters). Others said Rehman was simply enjoying the perks and privileges of his post. One answer that the Maulana has offered is that Kashmir is the government’s responsibility. “What kind of answer is that it is the government’s responsibility,” said one `22appalled panellist.
Speaking to the editor of Kashmir Narrator and a local resident, ShaukatMota, Dr FarrukhSaleem, columnist for daily The News of Jang group, was unable to ferret out a coherent answer to the question: what is the real issue? All Mr Mota, currently in Srinagar, could proffer was: “This is a symptom of an old problem. People were waiting for six years to give vent to their feelings and Burhan’s killing provided that outlet.”
On a July 13 show 92 at 8, host SadyaAfzaal had issue with the language used in Western media. BBC: Kashmir violence: “16 die after key militant killed.” CNN: At least 20 killed in Kashmir clashes after militant’s death.The Washington Post: This violent militant was a folk hero on social media, now his death has roiled Kashmir.BurhanWani is being called a “militant”, which is an Indian viewpoint, she complained.
Afzaal even took issue with The New York Times story (“They attacked police stations, set fire to vehicles and government buildings”)for incorporating police version. She posited the premise that champions of human rights — in other words international human rights organisations — had turned “a blind eye on atrocities committed by Indian occupying force”.
Mishal Malik, wife of Hurriyet leader Yasin Malik, didn’t completely agree with this viewpoint. On 92 At 8, she said,“Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have issued statements.” Responding to what Pakistan can do in response to Kashmir, she suggested calling a joint session of parliament. (The Cabinet has decided to do so, but the date for the session has not been announced.)
Masood Khan, ex-ambassador and former permanent representative to the UN, also appeared at the same show, claimed that the offices of UN secretary-general and United States of America’s Foreign Office were puny. He even alleged “correspondents, editors and subeditors of international newspapers and wire agencies were Hindus”.
Religious leaders of all stripes and colours were also putting their two cents on the issue. “This is Pakistan’s foremost issue. Slogans are being raised in Kashmir in Pakistan’s favour. Kashmiris are taking bullets for us. The situation is ripe,” said FaridParacha, deputy secretary-general of the Jamaat-e-Islami.
India’s favourite terrorist, chief of JamaatudDawa, Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, is a popular guest on talk shows in Pakistan these days. In Tonight with Fereeha onAbbTakk News, Saeed’s replies were filled with rhetoric and he was dismissive of Indian TV shows who kept dragging his name. After showing him clips from Indian TV channels such as AajTak, Zee News and IndiaTV, Fereeha asked him rather naively: “What in the world are you doing to rile the Indian media so much?”
Clad in his trademark white salwarkameez, black waistcoat and white cap, Saeed thundered: “Indian media is all about propaganda. Why are they not talking about people being attacked in hospitals? They only see Hafiz Saeed. They are doing this to hide their barbarity and atrocities.”
Fereeha then asked Hafiz Saeed a close-ended question about Burhan: “Was he a terrorist?”
Obviously, Saeed refuted this. “He kept in touch with Kashmiris through social media. He highlighted humiliation of women by Indian forces. He inspired the youth. Every youth is Burhan. All graduates are Burhan. When zulm is at its peak, this is what happens,” was Hafiz’s version of the latest Kashmir uprising.
Ahmed Qureshi, controversial anchorperson especially because of his anti-India, anti-Balochistan pro-army positions, made an appearance as a panellist in Tonight with Fereeha. He just added to the Burhan lore: “He is Che Guevara of Kashmir. The world did not want to know that Kashmiris boycotted India’s national day every year and tuned their watches to Pakistan Standard Time. Indians have the second largest army in the world but look at the way they celebrated the killing of a child [BurhanWani].”
The media blackout has reflected poorly on India without improving the situation on the ground. In North and South Kashmir people are defying curfew as well and there have been incidents OF over the last 24 hours. The apprehension is that the worst is yet to come.
What one would like to know is how did this situation develop? Was killing BurhanWani the only way out? Is Pakistan playing any part in fomenting the latest troubles? If they’re the target of the media blackout, then why not just come out and say as much? But wait. We can’t do that. Admit to Pakistan’s influence in Kashmir and the government lays itself open to queries about the Indian central government’s Kashmir policy and why it’s not working. Perhaps it’s time those of us who are not gagged to raise these questions.
The author can be contacted on Twitter @Kishalay