setting a call from a not so friendly show, from a not so friendly neighbour makes you think twice on the best of days and you certainly do not want to be entertaining any requests on Eid day. Imagine my horror when they inform me they want to talk about the violence and civilian deaths on the border recently. I am tempted to say 'No' but am curious to understand why our channels have not given it much coverage. Is it the dharna hogging the headlines, is it lazy journalism, is it that we don't really care about Kashmir or, are we the guilty party? The Indian media paints themselves as the aggrieved party with emotional packages of civilian deaths and a display of machismo. Whether they have any intention or ability of “pulverizing” Pakistan is debatable. However, the attacks from the Indian media were even louder than the mortars, the working boundary heard during Eid. I interview the usual suspects – the army, the ISPR, the defence analysts – and get nothing better than what google would provide. A quick browse through the Pakistani news channels shows them telling viewers about tensions on the LOC (Line of Control); a boundary line that separates Pakistani Kashmir i.e. Azad Kashmir and Indian Held Kashmir or Jammu Kashmir. In fact the violations occurred in eight sectors, the worst hit was Sialkot. This is not the LOC but the line that separates Pakistani Punjab and Jammu Kashmir, also referred to as the Working Boundary. As I come out shell shocked of the Indian talk show, I have several questions of my own. One of them, which also remains my main motivation of working in Pakistan, is why do we allow others to shape the narrative about us as a nation and country. Is it lack of vision or capacity or, are we all on agendas of foreign 'donors' as the conspiracy theorists allege. We complain of negative labels attributed to us but what do we do to dispel these myths. I am particularly appalled by the allegation of the Indian news anchor that I'm an Aabpara tout and any footage I would show would be manufactured. What does a self respecting journalist do (who has incidentally been unlucky every time if ever, or if at all the 'lifafas' went round) but to pick up the phone and complain that the whole world thinks we are your mouthpiece but we can't get you to email across simple statistics to us in time for our shows. Next I grab my cameraman and start shooting from location in Sialkot. I can see the Ranger's anxiety clearly as I stand atop a roof within firing range of the Indian post but he probably senses that this lady can't be dictated to. Behind me is a tranquil scene of lush green fields typically associated with Punjab and more suitable for a film song location than a scene of violence. This piece of 193 km long stretch of the working boundary was disturbed once again this Eid-ul-Azha and it is said to be one of the worst exchanges here in decades. The Director General of Pakistan Rangers (Punjab), Major General Khan Tahir Javed Khan says, “although border violations crop up sporadically, the recent spate of violence can be traced to an incident last year on Eid-ul-Azha when a jawan was killed in a sniper attack.” It was followed by severe clashes and a DGMO level meeting in December after which there was a six month respite. But the short breather was followed by heavy shelling during Ramadan and Eid-ul-Fitr, and then again when the dharnas were in full swing. Mysteriously, it seems that the violence only occurs on Muslim festivals while Hindu festivals go by peacefully This Eid-ul-Azha, it went too far when the sound of shelling woke up 200 families in the village of Dhamala Hakimwala. Over 3300 mortars were fired from the Indian side. In the past, on many occasions, our side did not respond with shelling to maintain peace but during recent weeks and months in view of the escalation in attacks, Indians have been handed matching response by our brave soldiers. Every day that week, the Indian shelling increased to a level unseen before. Suspicions have been raised on the timing of the offensive. It followed hot on the heels of Nawaz Sharif's strong speech in the UN with a mention about Kashmir and the joint communiqué issued by the US and India. Neighbours rushed to help each other as this unusually heavy shelling destroyed their humble homes. One such man tells me the tale of devastation as he reached his next door neighbour Jamil's house to find five members of the family affected; four year old Hammad and eight year old Aqeel dead and the rest suffering from severe splinter injuries. He is one of the thousands of families who fled his home and had only returned for few hours while the risk of shelling continues. As he cradles his two year old, I see the vulnerability in his eyes. Are his eyes lying? Is the death count made up? Why are we being attacked with mortars and media simultaneously? House after house tells the same story of death and damage. The empty shells leave a trail of evidence enough to convince any neutral observer. Next stop is the Combined Military Hospital (CMH) struggling to cope with the casualties. The specialist surgeon tells me that due to a shortage of beds, the injured are spread across all wards. The nature of injuries is similar in most patients because of the unforgiving shell splinters which damaged different part of the bodies. In just a couple of days the civilian death count went upto 15 and the injured to around 100. Young Humaira lies in her bed alone, immobilized by her severe injuries. She tells me bravely that the pain is bearable now and that her mother with a splinter injury to her neck couldn't be treated here and has been flown to Lahore. The courage of this young ten year old stare back defiantly at Indians who feel that these people can be intimidated. Is her story not true? Are her injuries self inflicted? Are these scenes manufactured? If so, then I am gullible enough to believe Jameel's story that his young sons will never come back, and Saima that she was asleep with her children when the Kafirs attacked and all those who spent Eid day attending Namaz-i-Janaza instead of Eid namaz. But one must ask why did it take a phone call to wake me up from my deep slumber? How many wakeup calls do we need before we realize what is happening around us? ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
The writer is a journalist who works for a private TV channel as an anchor.
Current Indian hostility, along the LOC and the Working Boundary, is third major escalation post-2003 ceasefire. First was in 2008 after Mumbai Attack; whereas the second happened during 2012-13, when Indians alleged that Pakistan Army had killed two soldiers and beheaded one; and the third is ongoing, with Indian accusation that Pakistan had started the firing. In all three confrontations, the pattern of escalation remained singular. In 2008, after Mumbai Attack, Indians had international sympathies so its main reliance was on international diplomacy to pressurize Pakistan to accede to Indian demands. It failed and the incident still haunts Indian ego. To put pressure on Pakistan, India warned Kashmiris of a possible nuclear attack and suggested certain precautionary measures but practically kept the escalation restricted to LOC and to a specific sector. The situation de-escalated after the DGMOs' talks but Indians remained visibly unsatisfied. BJP then was not in the government, put a lot of pressure on the Congress and vowed that had it been their Sarkar, they would have dealt with Pakistan with iron fist. The present escalation is different in character and scope. Till now it has mainly been confined along the Working Boundary. Indians are targeting the civilians and are disproportionately aggressive. Interestingly, Indians have not come up with any specific reason, other than saying that Pakistan started the crossfire. Similarly, though, on the Pakistani side, DG Punjab Rangers has termed the present escalation a “mini war.” The question is: what are the drivers of current Indian belligerency? Of late, Indian strategic community is increasingly presenting a view that Pakistan nuclear weapons do not prohibit New Delhi from initiating military operations in response to aggression traced back to Pakistan. Indians insist that Pakistan's dissatisfaction with the status quo in Kashmir and its conventional negative force differential with India lead it to use nuclear weapons as a shield, challenging the territorial division of Kashmir without fear of all out-retaliation. Simultaneously, they also grudge that Pakistan uses the crisis resulting from its provocative behaviour to attract outside attention to its dispute with India. Therefore, it was not a surprise when on October 12, 2014, in the Capital Talk show, an Indian retired Lieutenant General Raj Kadyan said, “…the world is no more interested in Kashmir and India needs to call Pakistanis' bluff that there is no space-for-war between two nuclear armed nations.” He was parroting the same viewpoint with visible frustration, knowing Pakistan is in no mood to acknowledge his fallacies. Current escalation has three drivers. Firstly, BJP being from hyperrealist's school prefers dealing with the security threats by flexing military muscles – India is in search for a position of military advantage. Secondly, domestic politics, elections in Maharashtra and Haryana, require BJP to show highhandedness in her dealing with Pakistan. Thirdly, a strategic signaling that India can handle Pakistan irrespective of international consequences. Normatively, these drivers sound coherent but past experience suggests that such a behaviour could lead India to an Escalation Trap. These military actions like other compellence efforts by India since 2008 will fail and with it, Indian deterrent postures will succumb to “progressive entropy of threat” and eventually these acts will be perceived as empty rants. Besides, India must stop breeding its people over staple of hatred with Pakistan. Gujarat model will not work here. Pakistanis are not like downtrodden Gujarati Muslims, who after getting severe beating, came around and voted for BJP. Modi must read Sheikha Gakkar, Dulla Bhatti, Chakar Khan and Khushal Khan Khattak to understand Pakistan's “rationality of being irrational.” India, under BJP, is fast undergoing transformation in her strategic thinking – from Gandhian to Kautilayan school of thought. The emerging parabellum culture will encourage Indian strategic community to perceive force as the preferred route to security. India, in future, is expected to leverage military power differential vis-à-vis Pakistan to operationalize its compellence strategy; current escalation along Working Boundary is a material dimension of such a capability demonstration. Indian inability to understand that such a compellence strategy does not ensure ready-made desirable outcomes. Sniffing space-for-war in such a manner will pilot India towards unintended consequences. Her obsession to dominate Pakistan, like her other neighbours, is a strategic naivety at best, projecting India as a destabilizing factor in South Asia.