Archive for ‘suicide attack’

11/03/2019

Modi’s former ally in Kashmir urges India to talk to Pakistan

SRINAGAR, India (Reuters) – India should talk to Pakistan and separatists in Kashmir to defuse tension raised by a suicide attack on an Indian paramilitary convoy that was claimed by Pakistan-based militants, a former chief minister of the state said.

Mehbooba Mufti, who was the chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir from early 2014 to June last year when Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist party withdrew support for her regional party, said an ongoing crackdown on militants and those supporting secession could further alienate the people.

India has vowed to kill all the militants in the country’s only Muslim-majority state if they don’t give up arms, after a 20-year-old local man killed 40 paramilitary troopers in a suicide attack last month.

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, who has sought to speak with Modi amid the hostility, said no militant group would be allowed to operate from his country to carry out attacks abroad, days after his government announced a sweeping crackdown against Islamist militant organisations.
“This confrontational attitude – no talks, no discussion -has an impact,” Mufti said. “Whatever relationship we have with Pakistan, it has a direct impact on Jammu and Kashmir and we are the worst sufferers of this animosity.”
Indian authorities have arrested many separatist leaders in Kashmir in the past few weeks, and the chief of Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said recently that the government had made it clear to them that “if they want to live in India, they will have to speak the language of India, not Pakistan’s”.
Mufti, whose father was also a chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, said the tough stance by Indian authorities would only lead to “some calm on the surface” that won’t last. India killed 248 militants in Kashmir in 2018 – the highest in a decade.
“Once you start choking the space for dissent in a democracy, people feel pushed to the wall and then it leads to further dissent and alienation,” she said.
Mufti said India’s general election – starting April 11 and whose results will be declared on May 23 – could delay the process of any inter-party talks on Kashmir.
Source: Reuters
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10/03/2019

India and Pakistan: How the war was fought in TV studios

An Indian man watches live news channels broadcasting images of Indian Air Force (IAF) Wing Commander pilot Abhinandan Varthaman returning to India from the India-Pakistan Wagah border in New Delhi on March 1, 2019.Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionAn Indian man watches the news broadcasting images of the released Indian pilot

As tensions between India and Pakistan escalated following a deadly suicide attack last month, there was another battle being played out on the airwaves. Television stations in both countries were accused of sensationalism and partiality. But how far did they take it? The BBC’s Rajini Vaidyanathan in Delhi and Secunder Kermani in Islamabad take a look.

It was drama that was almost made for television.

The relationship between India and Pakistan – tense at the best of times – came to a head on 26 February when India announced it had launched airstrikes on militant camps in Pakistan’s Balakot region as “retaliation” for a suicide attack that had killed 40 troops in Indian-administered Kashmir almost two weeks earlier.

A day later, on 27 February, Pakistan shot down an Indian jet fighter and captured its pilot.

Abhinandan Varthaman was freed as a “peace gesture”, and Pakistan PM Imran Khan warned that neither country could afford a miscalculation, with a nuclear arsenal on each side.

Suddenly people were hooked, India’s TV journalists included.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi gestures as he speaks during the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) "Sankalp" rally in Patna in the Indian eastern state of Bihar on March 3, 2019.Image copyrightAFP
Image captionIndian PM Narendra Modi is accused of exploiting India-Pakistan hostilities for political gain

So were they more patriots than journalists?

Rajini Vaidyanathan: Indian television networks showed no restraint when it came to their breathless coverage of the story. Rolling news was at fever pitch.

The coverage often fell into jingoism and nationalism, with headlines such as “Pakistan teaches India a lesson”, “Dastardly Pakistan”, and “Stay Calm and Back India” prominently displayed on screens.

Some reporters and commentators called for India to use missiles and strike back. One reporter in south India hosted an entire segment dressed in combat fatigues, holding a toy gun.

And while I was reporting on the return of the Indian pilot at the international border between the two countries in the northern city of Amritsar, I saw a woman getting an Indian flag painted on her cheek. “I’m a journalist too,” she said, as she smiled at me in slight embarrassment.

Print journalist Salil Tripathi wrote a scathing critique of the way reporters in both India and Pakistan covered the events, arguing they had lost all sense of impartiality and perspective. “Not one of the fulminating television-news anchors exhibited the criticality demanded of their profession,” she said.

Media captionIndia and Pakistan’s ‘war-mongering’ media

Secunder Kermani: Shortly after shooting down at least one Indian plane last week, the Pakistani military held a press conference.

As it ended, the journalists there began chanting “Pakistan Zindabad” (Long Live Pakistan). It wasn’t the only example of “journalistic patriotism” during the recent crisis.

Two anchors from private channel 92 News donned military uniforms as they presented the news – though other Pakistani journalists criticised their decision.

But on the whole, while Indian TV presenters angrily demanded military action, journalists in Pakistan were more restrained, with many mocking what they called the “war mongering and hysteria” across the border.

In response to Indian media reports about farmers refusing to export tomatoes to Pakistan anymore for instance, one popular presenter tweeted about a “Tomatical strike” – a reference to Indian claims they carried out a “surgical strike” in 2016 during another period of conflict between the countries.

Media analyst Adnan Rehmat noted that while the Pakistani media did play a “peace monger as opposed to a warmonger” role, in doing so, it was following the lead of Pakistani officials who warned against the risks of escalation, which “served as a cue for the media.”

What were they reporting?

Rajini Vaidyanathan: As TV networks furiously broadcast bulletins from makeshift “war rooms” complete with virtual reality missiles, questions were raised not just about the reporters but what they were reporting.

Indian channels were quick to swallow the government version of events, rather than question or challenge it, said Shailaja Bajpai, media editor at The Print. “The media has stopped asking any kind of legitimate questions, by and large,” she said. “There’s no pretence of objectiveness.”

In recent years in fact, a handful of commentators have complained about the lack of critical questioning in the Indian media.

Indians celebrated on hearing news of the strikesImage copyrightAFP
Image captionIndians celebrated news of the strikes

“For some in the Indian press corps the very thought of challenging the ‘official version’ of events is the equivalent of being anti-national”, said Ms Bajpai. “We know there have been intelligence lapses but nobody is questioning that.”

Senior defence and science reporter Pallava Bagla agreed. “The first casualty in a war is always factual information. Sometimes nationalistic fervour can make facts fade away,” he said.

This critique isn’t unique to India, or even this period in time. During the 2003 Iraq war, western journalists embedded with their country’s militaries were also, on many occasions, simply reporting the official narrative.

Secunder Kermani: In Pakistan, both media and public reacted with scepticism to Indian claims about the damage caused by the airstrikes in Balakot, which India claimed killed a large number of Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) militants in a training camp.

Hamid Mir, one of the most influential TV anchors in the country travelled to the area and proclaimed, “We haven’t seen any such (militant) infrastructure… we haven’t seen any bodies, any funerals.”

“Actually,” he paused, “We have found one body… this crow.” The camera panned down to a dead crow, while Mr Mir asked viewers if the crow “looks like a terrorist or not?”

There seems to be no evidence to substantiate Indian claims that a militant training camp was hit, but other journalists working for international outlets, including the BBC, found evidence of a madrassa, linked to JeM, near the site.

A cropped version of a satellite image shows a close-up of a madrasa near Balakot, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, Pakistan, March 4, 2019. Picture taken March 4, 2019.Image copyrightPLANET LABS INC./HANDOUT VIA REUTERS
Image captionThe satellite image shows a close-up of a madrassa near Balakot in Pakistan’s Khyber Paktunkhwa

A photo of a signpost giving directions to the madrassa even surfaced on social media. It described the madrassa as being “under the supervision of Masood Azhar”. Mr Azhar is the founder of JeM.

The signpost’s existence was confirmed by a BBC reporter and Al Jazeera, though by the time Reuters visited it had apparently been removed. Despite this, the madrassa and its links received little to no coverage in the Pakistani press.

Media analyst Adnan Rehmat told the BBC that “there was no emphasis on investigating independently or thoroughly enough” the status of the madrassa.

In Pakistan, reporting on alleged links between the intelligence services and militant groups is often seen as a “red line”. Journalists fear for their physical safety, whilst editors know their newspapers or TV channels could face severe pressure if they publish anything that could be construed as “anti-state”.

Who did it better: Khan or Modi?

Rajini Vaidyanathan: With a general election due in a few months, PM Narendra Modi continued with his campaign schedule, mentioning the crisis in some of his stump speeches. But he never directly addressed the ongoing tensions through an address to the nation or a press conference.

This was not a surprise. Mr Modi rarely holds news conference or gives interviews to the media. When news of the suicide attack broke, Mr Modi was criticised for continuing with a photo shoot.

Imran KhanImage copyrightAFP
Image captionImran Khan was praised for his measured approach

The leader of the main opposition Congress party, Rahul Gandhi, dubbed him a “Prime Time Minister” claiming the PM had carried on filming for three hours. PM Modi has also been accused of managing his military response as a way to court votes.

At a campaign rally in his home state of Gujarat he seemed unflustered by his critics, quipping “they’re busy with strikes on Modi, and Modi is launching strikes on terror.”

Secunder Kermani: Imran Khan won praise even from many of his critics in Pakistan, for his measured approach to the conflict. In two appearances on state TV, and one in parliament, he appeared firm, but also called for dialogue with India.

His stance helped set the comparatively more measured tone for Pakistani media coverage.

Officials in Islamabad, buoyed by Mr Khan’s decision to release the captured Indian pilot, have portrayed themselves as the more responsible side, which made overtures for peace.

On Twitter, a hashtag calling for Mr Khan to be awarded a Nobel Peace Prize was trending for a while. But his lack of specific references to JeM, mean internationally there is likely to be scepticism, at least initially, about his claims that Pakistan will no longer tolerate militant groups targeting India.

Source: The BBC

06/03/2019

‘War’ and India PM Modi’s muscular strongman image

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi gestures as he speaks during the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) "Sankalp" rally in Patna in the Indian eastern state of Bihar on March 3, 2019.Image copyrightAFP
Image captionMr Modi is accused of exploiting India-Pakistan hostilities for political gain

A gaffe is when a politician tells the truth, American political journalist Michael Kinsley said.

Last week, a prominent leader of India’s ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) appeared to have done exactly that. BS Yeddyurappa said the armed aerial hostilities between India and Pakistan would help his party win some two dozen seats in the upcoming general election.

The remark by Mr Yeddyurappa, former chief minister of Karnataka, was remarkable in its candour. Not surprisingly, it was immediately seized upon by opposition parties. They said it was a brazen admission of the fact that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party was mining the tensions between the nuclear-armed rivals ahead of general elections, which are barely a month away. Mr Modi’s party is looking at a second term in power.

Mr Yeddyurappa’s plain-spokenness appeared to have embarrassed even the BJP. Federal minister VK Singh issued a statement, saying the government’s decision to carry out air strikes in Pakistan last week was to “safeguard our nation and ensure safety of our citizens, not to win a few seats”. No political party can afford to concede that it was exploiting a near war for electoral gains.

A billboard displaying an image of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi holding a rifle is seen on a roadside in Ahmedabad on March 3, 2019.Image copyrightAFP
Image captionThe BJP has put up election posters of Mr Modi posing with guns

Even as tensions between India and Pakistan ratcheted up last week, Mr Modi went on with business as usual. Hours after the Indian attack in Pakistan’s Balakot region, he told a packed election meeting that the country was in safe hands and would “no longer be helpless in the face of terror”. Next morning, Pakistan retaliated and captured an Indian pilot who ejected from a downed fighter jet. Two days later, Pakistan returned the pilot to India.

Mr Modi then told a gathering of scientists that India’s aerial strikes were merely a “pilot project” and hinted there was more to come. Elsewhere, his party chief Amit Shah said India had killed more than 250 militants in the Balakot attack even as senior defence officials said they didn’t know how many had died. Gaudy BJP posters showing Mr Modi holding guns and flanked by soldiers, fighter jets and orange explosions have been put up in parts of the country. “Really uncomfortable with pictures of soldiers on election posters and podiums. This should be banned. Surely the uniform is sullied by vote gathering in its name,” tweeted Barkha Dutt, an Indian television journalist and author.

Mr Modi has appealed to the opposition to refrain from politicising the hostilities. The opposition parties are peeved because they believe Mr Modi has not kept his word. Last week, they issued a statement saying “national security must transcend narrow political considerations”.

‘Petty political gain’

But can the recent conflict fetch more votes for Mr Modi? In other words, can national security become a campaign plank?

Many believe Mr Modi is likely to make national security the pivot of his campaign. Before last month’s suicide attack – claimed by Pakistan-based militants – killed more than 40 Indian paramilitaries in Kashmir, Mr Modi was looking a little vulnerable. His party had lost three state elections on the trot to the Congress party. Looming farm and jobs crises were threatening to hurt the BJP’s prospects.

Now, many believe, Mr Modi’s chances look brighter as he positions himself as a “muscular” protector of the country’s borders. “This is one of the worst attempts to use war to win [an] election, and to use national security as petty political gain. But I don’t know whether it will succeed or not,” says Yogendra Yadav, a politician and psephologist.

Indian people feed sweets to a poster of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi as they celebrate the Indian Air Force"s air strike across the Line of Control (LoC) near the international border with PakistanImage copyrightEPA
Image captionMany Indians have celebrated India’s strike in Pakistani territory

Evidence is mixed on whether national security helps ruling parties win elections in India. Ashutosh Varshney, a professor of political science at Brown University in the US, says previous national security disruptions in India were “distant from the national elections”.

The wars in 1962 (against China) and 1971 (against Pakistan) broke out after general elections. Elections were still two years away when India and Pakistan fought a war in 1965. The 2001 attack on the Indian parliament that brought the two countries to the brink of war happened two years after a general election. The Mumbai attacks in 2008 took place five months before the elections in 2009 – and the then ruling Congress party won without making national security a campaign plank.

Things may be different this time. Professor Varshney says the suicide attack in Kashmir on 14 February and last week’s hostilities are “more electorally significant than the earlier security episodes”.

For one, he says, it comes just weeks ahead of a general election in a highly polarised country. The vast expansion of the urban middle class means that national security has a larger constituency. And most importantly, according to Dr Varshney, “the nature of the regime in Delhi” is an important variable. “Hindu nationalists have always been tougher on national security than the Congress. And with rare exceptions, national security does not dominate the horizons of regional parties, governed as they are by caste and regional identities.”

Presentational grey line

Read more from Soutik Biswas

Presentational grey line

Bhanu Joshi, a political scientist also at Brown University, believes Mr Modi’s adoption of a muscular and robust foreign policy and his frequent international trips to meet foreign leaders may have touched a chord with a section of voters. “During my work in northern India, people would continuously invoke the improvement in India’s stature in the international arena. These perceptions get reinforced with an event like [the] Balakot strikes and form impressions which I think voters, particularly on a bipolar contest of India and Pakistan, care about,” says Mr Joshi.

Others like Milan Vaishnav, senior fellow and director of the South Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, echo a similar sentiment. He told me that although foreign policy has never been a “mass” issue in India’s domestic politics, “given the proximity of the conflict to the elections, the salience of Pakistan, and the ability of the Modi government to claim credit for striking back hard, I expect it will become an important part of the campaign”.

But Dr Vaishnav believes it will not displace the economy and farm distress as an issue, especially in village communities. “Where it will help the BJP most is among swing voters, especially in urban constituencies. If there were fence-sitters unsure of how to vote in 2019, this emotive issue might compel them to stick with the incumbent.”

How the opposition counters Mr Modi’s agenda-setting on national security will be interesting to watch. Even if the hostilities end up giving a slight bump to BJP prospects in the crucial bellwether states in the north, it could help take the party over the winning line. But then even a week is a long time in politics.

Source: The BBC

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