The Balochistan coverage Part III

BY subarno| IN Media Monitoring | 03/10/2006
Kashmir represents the most obvious echo of Balochistan but in all the moral tub thumping it was seldom mentioned in the Indian media.

     Indo-Pak Monitoring: a Panos supported project on The Hoot

 Subarno Chattarji

With print monitoring by Shubha Singh 

(a)  Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) statements: 

Parul Malhotra in ¿India, Baloch put Mush under pressure¿ (CNN-IBN, 28 August) mentioned India¿s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) reaction to the Bugti killing: ¿No shrill rhetoric, no direct condemnation of use of excessive force. A sensitive India stuck to paying rich tributes to Akbar Khan Bugti and offered some gentle advice to Pakistan. MEA spokesperson Navtej Sarna says, "The heavy casualties in the continuing military operations in Balochistan underlines the need for a peaceful dialogue to address the grievances and aspirations of the people of Balochistan."¿ 

The NDTV story, ¿Tragic loss: India condemns Bugti killing¿ (28 August), was less diplomatic than Malhotra in its representation of what the MEA said. ¿In a remarkably strong statement, India has slammed Pakistan for the killing of iconic Baloch rebel Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti. In the statement released by the foreign office, New Delhi called the killing a tragic loss for the people of Balochistan and Pakistan. The description of Balochistan as a separated entity is bound to anger Islamabad.¿ NDTV pointed to a history of mutual suspicions: ¿India had accused Pakistan of having a hand in the Mumbai blasts and Pakistan has in the past accused India of backing the separatist violence in Balochistan.¿ 

NDTV also mentioned the Kashmir parallel: ¿By saying military force cannot solve a political issue, New Delhi is using Pakistan¿s rhetoric on Kashmir to beat Islamabad.¿ Indian media glee at Pakistan discomfiture was evident in the way the reactions to Bugti¿s killing were covered. In that sense it was a sad mirroring of Pakistan reportage on Kashmir (see ¿Jagran and Nawai-e-Waqt stoke paranoia¿ - Indo-Pak monitoring Part I, While referring to this tit-for-tat political and media response, NDTV offered no comment or analysis because it was itself implicated in that Pavlovian cycle of accusation and counter-accusation. 

The print media also reported on the MEA statements. The Asian Age carried the story with the headline ¿Pak: Keep off, it¿s an internal matter¿ (29 August) and the Hindu front page box had a sub-heading: ¿Put your house in order: Pakistan¿ (29 August). The Hindu correspondent did cite Pakistan¿s spokesperson, who said that the Indian statement ¿"is not only against the well-established norms of inter-state relations but also a blatant interference in the internal affairs of a neighbouring country."¿ Pakistan rightly pointed out that India¿s purported ¿concern¿ was ill-advised considering it had so many insurgencies of its own - giving a list of insurgencies in the north east that were suppressed by force. Apart from the north east, Kashmir represents the most obvious echo of Balochistan. In all the moral tub thumping, however, it was seldom mentioned in the Indian media and when it was, it was either without comment as in the NDTV report cited above, or with a smugly positive spin. 

(b)   The Kashmir parallel: 

In an editorial on 29 August the Hindustan Times said that the manner of Bugti¿s death spoke for the values which govern Pakistan. It contrasted India¿s handling of its many separatist insurgencies, asserting that in recent times, there had been no instances where air power and artillery had been employed against them, ¿even in the trying circumstances in Jammu and Kashmir. The chosen method is, instead, police action and negotiation.¿ The editorial said that Baloch resistance to their forced annexation has never ceased despite the Pakistan army¿s brutal repression dating back to the 1970s. ¿There is no victory in brutally suppressing your own people and so it is up to the Musharraf government to convince the Balochis that they are an equal constituent of the Pakistani State. But expecting a military government to do so is perhaps asking for too much.¿ The moral hypocrisy of this stance and its convenient elision of history and facts are quite remarkable. For instance, there is no mention of repressive measures such as the Special Powers Act in India¿s north east. It ignores India¿s problems and projects democracy as an absolute value. The operative ¿in recent times¿, the reference to ¿police action and negotiation¿ in Kashmir are absurd in the extreme and reflect the sort of automatic patriotism displayed by the Indian media during the Kargil conflict. Media credibility is heavily undermined when facts are either ignored or twisted to suit dominant political discourses. 

The Asian Age found another way of mentioning Kashmir and giving it a positive spin vis-à-vis Balochistan. On 29 August Seema Mustafa interviewed two top Baloch leaders over the telephone on conditions of anonymity. These leaders compared their situation with their counterparts in Kashmir. One of them pointed out that ¿"Kashmiri leaders travel to New Delhi, where they are given red-carpet treatment, they are able to meet your Prime Minister and other top leaders, and they go back to Kashmir secure about their basic safety. Not a single Baloch leader can speak about his grievances in Islamabad, he will be arrested, and his wife and children at home will be immediately picked up."¿ While this is not entirely fictitious - some Kashmiri separatist leaders do occasionally meet the Prime Minister in New Delhi - the quote paints a picture of freedom for Kashmiri leaders, and by extension Kashmiris, that is not quite true. The Indian Army has a huge presence in the state and human rights violations by Army personnel are documented, just as terrorist ones are. ¿Police action¿ is a banal euphemism for what the military does and means to the people of the state. While Kashmir currently has a democratically elected government the insurgency in the 1980s arose directly out of disaffection with the rigged election of 1986. These and many other nuances and contexts are sought to be sidelined as the virtues of Indian democracy and ¿negotiation¿ are contrasted with the undemocratic, indeed fascistic, elements of Pakistani governance. 

Munizae Jehangir¿s interview with Nawab Bugti enabled her to travel to Balochistan. Pakistan allowed Indian media into the state which is quite unlike the media access available to Pakistani journalists in Kashmir. One wonders how the Indian government would react if Pakistan Television or GeoTV were to air an exclusive interview with a Kashmiri separatist leader. While Kashmir is reported in detail in the Indian media, when it comes to comparisons with affairs within Pakistan Kashmir becomes a ¿police action¿, rather than the long-drawn, full-blown, and often brutal insurgency that it is. Media double standards are but a reflection of government double speak in India. The MEA assumption of a moral high ground and its media mirror are reflections of the illusions of the perfections and virtues of Indian democracy that permeate dominant discourse in India. 







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