Civil, accommodating, yet firmly nationalistic

IN Media Monitoring | 22/04/2005
That was the tenor of discussions on the two state broadcasters when Singh and Musharraf met in New York, though PTV did insert an irrelevant riot clip from Kashmir.

Indo-Pak Monitoring  II

Continuing our Panos-funded monitoring series on Indo-Pak news coverage. The second part of an analysis of TV coverage of the Singh-Musharraf summit in New York, in September 2004.         


Shubha Singh

The latter half of September 2004 was a newsy period in India-Pakistan relations. With Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh due to address the United Nations General Assembly and then hold a bilateral summit, media  interest in  Indo-Pak relations was high. On news bulletins there was blow by blow coverage on those two days, and the tenor of studio discussions on the state-owned channels was optimistic and non-chauvinistic while focusing on separate core concerns of the two nations.  Doordarshan and PTV carried discussions both before and after summit.

A comparison of the discussions on the two government channels gave an indication of the mood in both capitals regarding the first meeting of the two leaders and the assessment of the outcome of the meeting. The participants in the studio discussions included retired diplomats, analysts, academics and journalists. The format of the discussion was the same on both channels, two experts talking on the subject with an in-house moderator, who asked questions leading the discussion into specific areas.

The emphasis on the Indian channel before the visit to the UN General Assembly was on the question of India’s candidature in an expanded UN Security Council, as also on whether India would raise the issue of terrorism. The Pakistani discussants on the other hand examined the likely trend of India’s Pakistan policy under a new government and the new Prime Minister’s capacity to maintain the course. After the summit meeting, the Doordarshan discussion continued to focus on the UN Security Council seat together with a greater attempt to analyse the actions of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. PTV’s post summit take was Kashmir-centric. 

Taken together, the two sets of discussions underscored that relations between the two countries will be seen through a nationalistic prism, but when the countries are officially in talks mode, commentators will echo that mood. In speculating about Manmohan Singh’s ability to deliver, the Pakistani commentators were positively expansive.

Doordarshan’s studio discussion before the two leaders met in New York had former secretary Ministry of External Affairs, VK Grover and Vinod Sharma, Bureau Chief of the Hindustan Times as the two participants. The symbolism may or may not have been intended, but the anchor was a Muslim.  PTV’s studio discussion before the summit was between a former diplomat and an academic, former Foreign Secretary Tanvir Ahmad Khan, and Professor of International Relations, Dr. Parvaiz Iqbal Cheema.

On the PTV programme the anchor wondered whether the Indian Prime Minister was in a position "to give and take on some crucial issues" since it was a coalition Government and the Prime Minister was not the head of his own political party. Mr Tanvir Ahmed Khan replied that Mr Manmohan Singh should not be underestimated. "He is a man of outstanding calibre, outstanding will. One should not sort of think in narrow terms as just an economist. I mean he is not a professional politician but he is man of deep insight and he is a man of vision, vision for India, and I think man of vision for South Asia."

Dr. Parvaiz Iqbal Cheema had a similar opinion. He said: "I admit that Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is in a relatively more difficult situation, in the sense they are heading a coalition Government." He added that the Communist Party was also part of the coalition, who had fairly open views on some issues. "So considering all that, my perception is, if Mr. Manmohan Singh comes up with some kind of a positive approach and gives direction to his foreign minister and his delegation that this is the way to go. We need to be little more flexible, we need to be a little more accommodative, we need to be extremely sincere .I think there is a way out."  The state broadcaster was conveying the language of accomodation.

Former foreign secretary Khan said: "I think we have to recognize the fact that there is a coalition Government in India that certainly creates a degree of complexity but not insurmountable difficulty. The real difficulty lies in the fact that in India you have several schools of thought. I saw a opinion piece in the Indian Express the other day where the learned writer has said the negotiations must proceed from one very clear assumption that India cannot conceive even an inch and therefore Pakistan has to adjust their policies towards India on that basis. But then there is another school of thought, which certainly argues that Pakistan flexibility should be matched with Indian flexibility and that this problem of Kashmir should be solved in a reasonable frame of time."

On Doordarshan Vinod Sharma’s opinion was that the Indian Prime Minister would talk about terrorism and about reforms of the Security Council. Both issues have a Pakistani link which was examined. As the anchor, Saleha Khan asked whether there were any obstacles (to India’s inclusion in the UN Security Council) since America was not convinced. "Kyunki jo balancing act usko rakhna padta hai Pakistan aur Bharat ke beech main ye ek rodda ho sakta hai" (Because the balancing act it has to maintain between India and Pakistan, can this become an obstacle).

Mr Grover however was of the view that the decision was in the hands of America. He explained that British Prime Minister (Tony) Blair had backed India, so had France, Russia had given its support, which China has said nothing so the decision is in America’s hands. According to the former diplomat, once America decided whether Pakistan approved or not, would not matter.

The UN seat became a benchmark for judging the success of the visit.In the discussion after the summit, Doordarshan’s anchor asked how close India was to getting a permanent seat in the UN Security Council. Former diplomat Hamid Ansari, who had served as  Indian Permanent Representative to the UN, said  that the matter required a consensus as well as a change in the charter of the UN. Even if there was a consensus to give India a seat tomorrow, it would still take a long time, he said.

Regarding the opposition from Pakistan. Ansari said: "This is a matter which Pakistan will oppose. Our neighbour will not want us to go and sit on a chair where it cannot reach. It is not that size, not as powerful. So Pakistan will continue to oppose it, till that time when the whole world will approve, it will also have to give its approval."

On PTV, there was just a passing reference to the subject of the expansion of the UN Security Council in a news report when the Pakistani leaders said: "The vast majority we know of the United Nations and that includes us - Pakistan, we don’t agree with this view. We think that we must not expand the number of countries with special privileges, enjoying special advantages. What we propose is the expansion of the non-permanent member taking various reasons into account. That would be better solution towards developing more participation rather than expanding the permanent members of Security Council."

President Musharraf’s speech at the UN General Assembly was analysed. Doordarshan’s anchor pointed out that there is a lot of media comment in India that Pervez Musharraf did not utter "the K word". Since President Musharraf’s speech at the UN General Assembly was quite restrained, was there a view that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh would respond to the President’s speech in the same manner, the anchor asked. Sharma opined that if India wanted to become a member of the UN Security Council, then the Prime Minister’s speech would not be Pakistan-centric. The scope of his speech would be very wide and would include terrorism, weapons of mass destruction. He said Pervez Musharraf’s speech was a significant one, and it has generated a hope that the next day’s meeting with the Prime Minister on the fringes of the UN General Assembly would be fruitful).

Mr Grover agreed that this was the first time that Pakistan had not stressed on the Kashmir issue in any international forum. President Musharraf did say that Kashmir issue must be resolved, but he did not lay emphasis on Kashmir alone. "He said we want to discuss every issue, and want to have a peaceful dialogue, we are sincere. In my view this is the first time a good atmosphere has been created for the meeting."

On PTV, the anchor asked, "Do you think it is a welcome sign that the President said at the UN that Pakistan is ready to go any extra mile in order to bring peace and salvation.?" Mr Tanvir Ahmad Khan said that Pakistan had reiterated its position time and again and so had the President, that Pakistan is prepared to go to the extra mile. "I think the only condition Pakistan may be attaching is that it should be a solution that is acceptable to India, acceptable to Pakistan and acceptable to the people of Kashmir."

According to Mr Khan, when the President of Pakistan underlined that he was not laying down any rigid time frame, "he is not saying we have to settle it within next three months or six months. What he wants is to demonstrate progress, progress as part of the composite dialogue, and other issues too. India emphasizes economic issues, Pakistan does not deny that and Pakistan would be certainly willing to discuss them and discuss them with sincerity and earnestly. "I mean there is a great deal of room for things to improve and let`s hope the result of this summit would have a clearer direction for future," Mr Khan said.

Dr Cheema referred to President Musharraf’s comments regarding the complexities of the issues, adding that if one made sincere efforts involving flexibility and boldness, then there was a likelihood that complex issues could be resolved. Dr Cheema agreed with Mr Khan that the two sides were entering into a relatively more difficult stage. The first stage, he said was more or less like acclimatisation. "But now you are heading towards a solution, some of the problems particularly I think, the dispute over Jammu & Kashmir is not an easy one to solve." He added that on the notion of flexibility, President Musharraf had already given his four point formula on Kashmir, adding that the solution should be a win-win situation should satisfy the India and the Pakistan and the Kashmiri people.

In the post-summit discussion on Doordarshan, former Indian Permanent Representative at the UN, Hamid Ansari spoke to Kirit Shah of the Planning Commission while PTV’s discussion was between Qaivar Ahmed, a former Ambassador and commentator, Dr Talat Vazarat. The issue of terrorism was raised at the UN was discussed on Doordarshan. Hamid Ansari said: "Lekin is saal jo fiza hai vahan bahut acchi hai." (The atmoshpere is very good). The Pakistani participants praised President Musharraf for getting his point of view accepted. They felt that the centrality of Kashmir as the main issue was accepted. as was his comment on the need to show flexibility on the subject. (lachak dikhane ki zarurat hai varna 57 saal se jo ho raha hashar wohi hota rahega).

Doordarshan’s anchor asked whether the Prime Minister had avoided talking abour cross border terrorism because Pakistan did not raise the Kashmir issue at the UN. Dr Parikh replied: "Lekin kai baaten aisi hoti hain ki (there are some matters that) doesn’t need to rub it in, its much better to hint a little bit what needs to be done and I think he has given a right hint to both Pakistan and United States that we need to really do something about terrorism."

According to Hamid Ansari: " Yesterday whatever Prime Minister said was expressed in a very good way. It is not correct that he did not speak about terrorism. He spoke clearly about India’s policy without taking any names. It is not necessary to mention names. The wise understand a hint." It was interesting to see how each side thought their leader had carried the day.

With Dr Talat Vazarat the question came up about President Musharraf’s remark that there was need to remove some misconceptions. Dr Vazarat said that he agreed that there was no relation between terrorism (dehshad gardi) and Islam. The international media has tried to link Islam with terrorism. "I believe that to handle the situation we should have a big programme that should include leaders of Muslim countries and the people of Muslim countries and the media."

The discussions on both State owned channels were held in a positive tone. The only negative note was the file clip shown by PTV of a riot situation in Kashmir while the discussion centred on the possiblity of forward movement on the Kashmir issue. Old habits evidently die hard. The pre-summit discussions were optimistic in their anticipation of the outcome of the meeting between the leaders.  During the post summit discussions each side deduced what it wished to. The participants on PTV agreed that the Pakistani viewpoint had been accepted on the need for flexibility on the Kashmir issue, while the Indian participants felt that the PM had scored on the issue of terrorism in his own way.

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