Blurry reflections: Differing media accounts of Balochistan

A study of recent discussions on Balochistan in the Indian and Pakistani press indicates a lingering crossborder neurosis about the other country's interference.

For one month starting 15 January 2006, the Media Foundation and Panos South Asia monitored four daily newspapers from India and Pakistan — Dainik Jagran, Amar Ujala, Daily Ibrat and Nawa-i-Waqt. The first two are Hindi-language papers, while Ibrat is Sindhi and Nawa-i-Waqt is Urdu. This exercise, which followed several themes and issues common to readers on both sides of the border, was undertaken on the assumption that a difference in language implies different constituencies and (at times) differing political attitudes towards the same event. As violence has again erupted in Balochistan over the past year, the province's name has become a byword in Pakistan's media for Indian interference in Pakistani affairs, mirroring a paranoia in India about Pakistani meddling in Kashmir. While such strongly held convictions as were found during the survey reflect an undeniable difference in generally-held opinions on either side of the border, the disparities also raise the question of, to what extent, in the face of such polemic and bombast, this type of media culture will be able to contribute to a progressive, cooperative peace process.

Pakistan perspectives

In a 15 January editorial, 'Indian interference in Balochistan', Nawa-i-Waqt quoted the former provincial governor and current rebel leader, Nawab Akbar Bugti, who declared that although India was not supporting the insurgents, the rebels would accept India's offer of help. This declaration was then editorially condemned and refuted. "There is strong evidence of the Indian support to various sardars in Balochistan," its editors wrote. "There have been reports of money, arms and ammunition being transferred to various sardars through the Indian consulates based in Kandahar and Herat." Accusations such as this parallel the frequent (and often unsubstantiated) allegations in the Indian media, which allege that Pakistani consulates in Kathmandu or Dhaka are either terror-cell hubs or conduits for counterfeit Indian currency, aimed at financing terrorism in India or generally undermining the Indian economy. The editorial went on to remind Akbar Bugti of the debt he owes Pakistan: "Nawab Akbar Bugti and other such sardars are in such high positions only because of Pakistan. Otherwise, in India princely states were abolished soon after 1947, all property of rajas and sardars was confiscated and they were forced to stand in the queue of ration depots." There is a perverse pride expressed here, both in the preservation of feudal structures and in the refusal to consider that those inequities might need to be addressed.

In mid-January, a Pakistani delegation including Foreign Secretary Riaz Mohammad Khan traveled to New Delhi for the Composite Dialogue talks. On 19 January, during the delegation's visit to the eastern neighbour, Nawa-i-Waqt carried the following headlines on its front page, some of which were statements made by the Pakistan foreign ministry spokesperson while in the Indian capital: 'India should stop interfering in Balochistan otherwise peace will be in danger. Balochistan is our internal problem' and 'India has been told to find a permanent and acceptable solution to the Kashmir issue'. Sandwiched between these two was another banner: 'Pakistan involved in explosions in Bangalore and Delhi', a contention that the body of the article subsequently refuted. That these charges and counter-charges were traded while the peace talks were taking place indicates the significant levels of distrust. On the same day, a back-page Nawa-i-Waqt article further highlighted this suspicion and paranoia. "Due to Indian interference in Pakistan's internal affairs," the piece noted, "Pakistan has asked federal ministers, members of parliament and government officers to seek NOC [No Objection Certificates] before accepting any invitation from the Indian High Commission for parties, private dinners from Indian diplomats, or any other invitation that requires traveling to India to participate in any conference or meeting."

In a commentary from 22 January, 'India-Pakistan relations at a turning point', former Pakistani ambassador Afzal Mahmood stressed an asymmetry of trouble spots. "It is hard to digest the Indian concern towards Balochistan, as the two do not have a common border from which infiltration is feared, neither has Balochistan a problem vis-à-vis religious fundamentalism which might pose a danger to India," he wrote. "Therefore, this Indian concern is quite disturbing and it would be as surprising if Pakistan were to show concern for the Naxalite movement in AP, or a demand for freedom in Assam, Nagaland or Mizoram." In comparing Balochistan to Nagaland and Mizoram, Mahmood implicitly accepts that there may be a problem in the former, but holds out the veiled threat of India's vulnerabilities and Pakistan's potential exploitation of them.

The concern over Indian interference in Balochistan was also addressed on the letters page, for instance in a missive carried by Nawa-i-Waqt on 29 January written by a Karachi reader. Titled 'Jaswant Singh's new ploy', the writer saw the former foreign and defence minister's peace mission to Pakistan as part of a larger plot: "The army operation in Balochistan and the ensuing chaos and India's statements on the situation are enough evidence to wake us up. Jaswant Singh's scheduled trip is part of the same conspiracy. It has just one purpose and that is to prove that India has a spiritual and religious link with Balochistan." While the reader admitted to Pakistani army operations in the province (unlike the other articles surveyed), he too saw the province's troubles as a means of extending Indian influence, leading ultimately to the dismemberment of Pakistan.

No self-reflection

Chairman of the National Language Authority Fateh Mohammad Malik's 12 February commentary, 'India's nefarious activities and the Balochistan situation', further stressed Pakistan's fears of the Akhand Bharat ideology of 'greater India'. "Kashmir is India's 'atoot ang' [unbreakable limb] and Balochistan is the unresolved agenda of the Partition," Malik suggested. "This Indian logic is the result of the Western theory of calling an enemy a friend, and which has now been adopted by our leaders as well." Malik went on to catalogue aspects of India's interference, including: "Balochistan CM has disclosed that India has established 40 terrorist camps where the terrorists are given a monthly stipend of PKR 10,000 per month … to give impetus to the freedom movement in Balochistan."

Malik also delved into history in an attempt to assert that Balochistan is an inalienable part of the country: "Whereas there were military interventions in Hyderabad, Junagarh and other estates, Balochistan opted for Pakistan through a clear democratic process." The irony is obvious, in that the inalienability predicated by such a democratic process is now under threat precisely because of the lack of democracy. Yet in his conclusion, Malik was surprisingly candid: "It is true that we are responsible for the present situation in Balochistan and India is just making use of the bad situation, like it did with East Pakistan. The greatest sin of our rulers has been that they have never tried to better the economic and political conditions in Balochistan, despite repeated promises from them since the creation of Pakistan. The present-day situation demands that we make the dreams of the Pakistan Movement a reality and do not just continue pleasing India for the sake of the American goodwill."

Articles such as this represent a direct mirroring of the ways in which the Indian media details Pakistani help for Kashmiri militants, as well as a paranoid sense of being surrounded by the enemy. Just as Ujala and Jagran portray the ubiquitous Pakistani terrorist within India, so too does Nawa-i-Waqt project a larger Indian plan to dissect Pakistan. It is significant that the historical frame for this fear is the Indian role in the creation of Bangladesh. While Bangladesh is the archetype of India's perceived desire to fragment Pakistan, there are no contexts that explain the motivation for the freedom movement in erstwhile East Pakistan. The creation of Bangladesh thus becomes an example of Indian perfidy and hegemony — and Pakistan's role is erased. Malik did rectify this lack of self-reflection and recognised a need for internal reform, lest India capitalise on the provincial discontent. Yet the failure to realise the "dreams of the Pakistan movement" was attributed not so much to faulty internal policies as to getting into the good graces of India and the US. Once again, it was easier to make a scapegoat of the neighbour than to analyse internal problems in depth.

The Daily Ibrat joined this chorus of accusations, although without the intensity of Nawa-i-Waqt. On 2 February it carried the headline, 'Proofs of Indian involvement in Balochistan have started to become visible: Zafarullah Jamali'. The article cited former Pakistan Prime Minister Jamali: "Improvement in relations with the neighbouring country, India, is welcome, but our neighbours have never been faithful to us … there has been evidence about the Indian involvement in Balochistan. However, no concrete evidence has been received, so we cannot say much in this regard … Balochistan is not a political issue, but it is an economic one."

Indian representations

With such rhetoric, Ibrat seemed to be echoing an earlier piece from the Indian paper Amar Ujala, 'General Musharraf on same path as dictator Saddam'. On 21 January, that article had cited Quetta senator Sanaullah Baloch: "According to Sanaullah, Balochistan is rich in gas, minerals and other natural resources. Pakistan has been exploiting it since 1952. But unfortunately, the people of Balochistan are obliged to live in the Stone Age." The senator pointed to the symbiotic relationship between politics and economics — as opposed to the divergence stressed by Zafarullah Jamali — stressing a type of economic and political colonisation.

In a 2 January editorial, 'India-Pakistan over Balochistan', Amar Ujala also took umbrage at Pakistan's reaction to India's comments on the Balochistan issue. "If there is the slightest of brawls in a Muslim-inhabited area in India," the editors fumed, "Pakistan gets enraged enough to threaten to raise the issue in international forums. But if India is to comment on the atrocities and oppression in Pakistan, then it is seen as interference on India's part. Balochistan is such a case." Such language indicates a clear attempt to erase India's recent communal history — including the 2002 Gujarat riots, which cannot be dismissed as "the slightest of brawls" — while maximising such oppressive instances from across the border. This type of historical amnesia and prickliness are inimical to any attempt at peace between the two countries.

The editorial went on to articulate its real anxieties about the ways in which Pakistan is perceived to meddle in Indian affairs with impunity. "Pakistan cannot expect India to be blind to its activities and consider legitimate whatever steps it may take in the region, while its secret agency, ISI, may have a free hand in India," the editors warned. "Pakistani seals were found on the grenades used in the terrorist attack on the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. Does Pakistan imagine that India's statement would have an adverse impact on the peace process and that its own actions would give a boost to peace? Actually, the root of the various problems of Southasia is ISI, the control of which is the need of the hour. Therefore, Pakistan should cleanse itself before adopting a venomous attitude towards India."

The Ujala editorial harks back to the old strategy of blaming outsiders for internal problems. At one time, it was the 'foreign hand' (read: CIA) that was to blame for all of India's ills; now it is Pakistan's ISI. Foreign policy is predicated here on a simplistic tit-for-tat strategy. The Ujala editorial, however, goes further: 'various problems' is an all-encompassing phrase that indudes not only terrorism and security issues (presumably the main cause of the editorial ire), but also any other problem faced by Southasian states. Thus, there is an implicit opposition created between a terror-sponsoring – and therefore irresponsible – Pakistan on the one hand, and their victims on the other. Whether or not India has designs on Balochistan is a moot point, but media intolerance on the Indian side of the border feeds paranoia and fear-mongering in the neighbouring state.

While Pakistani papers in this one-month period carried more articles on Indian interference in Balochistan than did Indian media – seven as opposed to two – there seemed to be a symmetry of suspicion. Furthermore, the Pakistani media relished pointing to the Indian hand in the troubled province, just as the Indian media took delight in painting the problem as indicative of Pakistan as a failed state – also a favourite notion of the mainstream English-language media. Of course, coverage of Balochistan still pales in comparison to that of Kashmir. Nawa-i-Waqt, for example, had four pieces on Balochistan, compared to 71 Kashmir-related articles. Nonetheless, Balochistan was significant in that it allowed the Pakistani media to turn the tables: to blame India for meddling and fomenting disaffection in its internal affairs, in much the same way as the Indian media does with respect to Kashmir. The cycles of accusation and counter­accusation thus remained intact.

In general, this survey revealed a mirroring of suspicions and stereotypes. The exceptions to this straitjacketing of the 'other' as the perennial enemy were few and only seemed to bolster the rule. 'Language papers' – particularly the two Hindi ones surveyed from India, Dainik Jagran and Amar Ujala – have larger circulations than do their English-language counterparts. Given their statistical reach, they can notionally influence larger sections of the population about issues such as Balochistan, Kashmir, terrorism, Islam or the peace process. By and large, that influence would seem to negate hopes of mutual regard and peace between the two nations, as the old fears and anxieties continue to circulate. Indeed, for Nawa-i-Waqt, Balochistan provided additional ammunition with which to nail India. If regional media provides some reflection of national consensus and if it is to be a force multiplier for goodwill, some major paradigm shifts are necessary. Until such a time, perhaps the only spaces for moderation and dialogue lie in articles on cricket or Bollywood stars.

This is an adaptation of an original article at www.thehootorg, which is part of a series.

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