Tensions are simmering, yet again, on the India-Pakistan border. In the latest iteration of a long-running conflict, the two South Asian neighbors are engaged in a media war, each claiming to “expose” the other’s “lies”.
It began with the Indian army releasing a video to TV channels showing its rocket launchers, anti-tank guided missiles and recoilless guns systematically pounding Pakistani army bunkers across the Naushera sector of Kashmir’s Line of Control in response to firing by Pakistan.
The video was probably shot on May 9, just days after the beheading of two Indian soldiers by the Pakistani army in the Krishna Ghat sector of Poonch district, in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) province.
Pakistan immediately rubbished India’s “fake” video. In a tit-for-tat move, it posted a video clip (below) on May 23 showing Indian “bunkers” in the Naushera sector being blasted to smithereens by Pakistani mortars.
Islamabad says the video was shot on May 13 while India claims it was lifted from YouTube and edited to make it look original.
India argues that, unlike its video, Pakistan’s clip does not show the trajectory of its shells. The suspicion is that bombs were more likely to have been planted inside Pakistan’s own bunkers and detonated. Moreover, the walls of the bunkers shown on the video are thinner than those of Indian army bunkers.
Fears of the conflict escalating heightened last week after a report from Islamabad said Pakistan Air Force chief Sohail Aman was on board a Mirage-5 fighter jet that flew, along with four other jets, “near” Siachen Glacier, a Himalayan ice floe that is known as the world’s highest battleground.
Indian media reported that Aman’s jet flew “over” Siachen Galcier without violating Indian air space.
]Indian media also replayed a former Pakistani military general’s statement to a Pakistani Urdu TV channel that Khulbushan Jadhav, an Indian facing death sentence in Pakistan for “spying”, was kidnapped from Iran and not from Baluchistan, as claimed by Islamabad.
Rubbishing the statement, a Pakistani barrister told an Indian news channel that the views of the retired Lieutenant General Amjad Shoaib do not matter.
The saber-rattling from Islamabad and New Delhi is first and foremost aimed at domestic audiences.
In Pakistan, where the military holds enormous sway over the civilian government, the posturing helps to boost the image of generals as strongmen before the public.
For India, meanwhile, the strikes on Pakistani bunkers send a message that its army can easily deal with Pakistan’s terror launch pads and cross-border infiltration. With Kashmir’s snows melting, Pakistani infiltration is bound to increase in the coming weeks.
It is no coincidence that Pakistan’s Border Action Team (BAT) tried to attack an Indian military patrol along the Line of Control at Uri, on Friday (May 26) just as the Narendra Modi-led federal government was celebrating three years in power.
Two BAT members were killed in the encounter. The same group was behind the May 9 beheading of the two Indian soldiers along the Line of Control.
For India, the strikes on Pakistani bunkers send a message that its army can easily deal with Pakistan’s terror launch pads and cross-border infiltration
Modi’s government has said it is willing to hold talks with the legal stakeholders in J&K – but not with separatists like Hurriyet leader Syed Geelani, who lives in “occupied Kashmir” and instigates Kashmiri Muslims to rally against army personnel and take the law into their own hands.
However, opposition leaders such as Mani Shankar Aiyar of the Congress party have been knocking on the doors of Geelani, Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front chief Yasin Malik and Democratic Freedom Party chief Shabir Shah to instigate talks.
So far, the Peoples Democratic Party, which rules J&K in coalition with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has not taken a pro-active approach to reining in elements that undermine democracy in the province. This was evident from the low voter turnout in a violence-marred by-election held in Srinagar last month.
The BJP-led federal government does not want J&K to come under President’s Rule despite the reputational damage the saffron party is suffering due to the PDP’s poor handling of matters. It still wants the continuance of a democratically elected government in J&K.
Peace may only be restored in J&K if people in the Valley isolate militant and separatist groups and join hands with the government to strengthen democracy in the state.