My smartphone, whose workings I am still trying to come to grips with buzzed late Friday afternoon. The number displayed was unfamiliar and from the code appeared to be from abroad. On my answering, a very polite gentleman introducing himself as Sanjay asked me if I would participate that night in a TV talk-show being hosted by his TV channel from Mumbai on the subject of the indiscriminate firing across the disputed Kashmiri Line of Control and the working boundary by both India and Pakistan.
He further elaborated that a panel of three Indian experts will present their country’s point of view on the issue while three guests from Pakistan including me if I accept, would articulate the Pakistani angle. Arrangements to transport me to an international broadcasting TV station in Karachi were made and soon my mug appeared on the TV screen of the Indian channel and the show began.
The other two panelists from Pakistan were Vice Admiral (Retd) Javed a colleague of mine from the Pakistan Navy and Mosharraf Zaidi, a renowned Pakistani columnist and a frequent guest on Pakistani TV channels. The three Indian guests and the anchor, Arnab Goswami, a much celebrated Indian talk-show host were unknown to me. Arnab, after a brief introduction of the panel of experts, delivered a scathing condemnation of Pakistan blaming it entirely for the ongoing crisis. Next, the three Indian experts vented their anger in the same mould and this went on for quite some time.
Much later, Mosharraf Zaidi was first delivered a stern lecture and warning by Arnab and finally asked if Pakistan would learn to behave itself and mend its ways or else face the wrath of the Indian military might. Zaidi was incensed by this absolutely unacceptable line of questioning and within a minute of his response where he vehemently rejected the Indian assertions but before he could put forward his views the three Indian panelists goaded by Arnab intervened making Mosharraf’s point of view completely inaudible.
Admiral Javed has meted out a similar treatment and when he too responded aggressively defending Pakistan’s stance on the current crisis, his voice was also drowned by a cacophony of loud and boorish Indian interruptions that turned the entire debate into a farce.
Next was my turn. The question put to me was in the same vein: was my country ready to apologise for its follies and would promise to behave in future (this is a gist of what Arnab had asked in his diatribe). I gently answered that what was being asked was a loaded question: in fact, not even a question but an indictment of my country which I reject point blank and unless he was willing to listen to my side of the story there was no point in any further discussion. Surprisingly Arnab relented and asked me to continue.
I tried to explain that in the current acerbic atmosphere where nationalism and jingoism trump all logic and reason, for any one of us without being privy to inside information about what is actually going on in the Kashmir border, to categorically blame one side or the other would be both unethical and unprofessional. I would rather begin by stating the undisputed facts on the ground and from there try to draw to some logical conclusions.
What we do know and mutually agree so far about the crisis is: first heavy firing is going on across the Kashmir border by both sides and in the process, it is the civilians rather than the military men who are getting killed. Second, if the situation is not diffused it could easily snowball into a much wider armed conflict between two nuclear armed neighbors and finally both claim that they are merely responding to indiscriminate and unprovoked firing from the other side.
Why would Pakistan want to open another military flashpoint in the east when on both the political and military fronts it has its hands full, I asked? One of the Indian experts had opined that the firing from Pakistan was an attempt to provide artillery fire cover to anti-Indian elements infiltrating in their part of Kashmir.
I responded that the entire Indo – Pakistan border, especially along the working boundary where the current shelling is going on is so heavily fenced and guarded that only airborne infiltrators armed with self-propelled jet packs can hop over. Since such a capability does not exist in the country and even if it did, the need for artillery fire cover would not arise as it would give away the element of surprise – hence this line of reasoning just did not gel or add up.
The Indian delegation had argued that Pakistan Army’s compulsion to continue to project India as an existential threat to justify its current size the Indian delegates was the principal reason for the initiation of the current hostilities across the LOC by Pakistan.
This argument might have held water when India was the sole adversary which the national armed forces had to confront. In today’s environment when the Pakistan Army and the PAF are engaged in full-fledged military operations on its western flank against the local and foreign militants, the need to voluntarily open a new front where an uneasy ceasefire had held since an unwritten agreement dating back to 2003 would be utter madness that can only be undertaken by suicidal maniacs, I pointed out.
“But you are mad, suicidal and insane, considering that you sheltered Osama in your soil knowing the risks involved,” piped Arnab. “Let us not go there as both nations have much to answer for their past deeds and instead focus on the present” I retorted, adding “and how do you explain the assassination of your nation’s Bapu, Mahatma Gandhi by your very own radical Hindu elements belonging to RSS, the mother party of your current Prime Minister Modi.” There was a moment of silence at the other end and then all hell broke loose.
The debate for all practical purpose was over and Arnab ended the programme with another vitriolic diatribe against Pakistan painting the country’s armed forces as the mother of all evil and blaming it for destabilizing its Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who deserved all the help and support to ward off the evil designs of his own military.
I wondered if Arnab realized that in the current ambience show of support by the Indian media to any political figure in Pakistan at the cost of the national army could virtually amount to signing his political death warrant – or perhaps the wily anchor by making such an assertion meant to further destabilize the Pakistani PM as he struggled to grapple with the political crisis brewing in the country.
Given the opportunity, I would have explored the likelihood of India being the culprit in the present crisis. Consider the following: how does India justify an over a million strong army, the third largest (in numbers, not capability) air force and a navy aspiring to achieve ‘blue water’ capability.
After the separation of the subcontinent even the experts at your end, dear Arnab, have ruefully concluded that a full scale India – Pakistan war similar to the ones in 1965 or 1971 is a thing of the past, lamenting the loss of advantage which their nation had enjoyed because of the conventional military superiority it had established over it at a great cost. With the armed conflicts between the two adversaries limited to mere border skirmishes at best, how can such a huge Indian military set up be justified – unless Pakistan is demonised as a war-mongering nation crazy enough to initiate a full scale military offensive against India at the slightest pretext.
Continuing to project Pakistan and its Armed Forces as an existential threat to India, therefore, has become an even greater compulsion in today’s setup for the Indian military. This line of argument continues to find ready acceptance among the Indian public given the history of the subcontinent where in the past armies from the west (where Pakistan is located) would periodically invade, conquer and rule over large portions of northern India.
As long as the Janus-faced Karzai was the President of Afghanistan, his double-speak made any peace between Afghanistan and Pakistan impossible. With his departure and the election of Ashraf Ghani, a rapprochement between the two countries is on the card once the present military campaign in North Waziristan succeeds in eliminating and expelling the Taliban, including the Haqqani group, from the Pakistani soil.
For India, which has left no stone unturned to befriend Afghanistan at the cost of Pakistan and which sees the improvement of Afghanistan – Pakistan relationship as a serious threat to its strategic interest in the region, the success of the current military campaign by Pakistan against the Taliban is being viewed with serious alarm by the Indian hawks. Raising the military temperature by indiscriminate firing across the LOC could well be a ploy to force Pakistan to divert forces from the western border in a crude attempt to ensure the anti-Taliban campaign does not succeed is possible – indeed likely.
The Indian think tanks would do well to remember that the campaign Pakistan is waging in its western border is against a force that threatens global security and has the full backing and support of the international community. Any effort to sabotage the campaign would be short-sighted and will boomerang.
In conclusion Arnab, I am grateful to you for revealing the true face of the Indian media and if the huge popularity you enjoy back home is to be believed, that of your public as well. However, I would be seriously remiss if I do not mention the very courteous email I received immediately after the end of the programme from one very prominent Indian scholar who profusely apologised for the almost crass behaviour of the host and added that Arnab Goswami was one of his kind, well known for the obnoxious manner he conducts his shows and in the Indian academic circles his programme is often referred to as the ‘Comedy night with Arnab Goswami.’
There are saner elements in India as the email indicates and as long as people like him exist across the border there is still hope one day sanity will prevail and the spectre of war between the two nuclear armed nations in the subcontinent will dissipate hopefully on a more permanent basis.
A final word of caution to my friends in India: Pakistani Armed Forces are better prepared and more effective in their primary role of warfighting partly because of late they have not been distracted by responsibilities besides their profession. And more importantly, its Army and the Air Force have been perpetually operating on a war-footing especially since 2009, fighting a very tenacious adversary under very challenging environment – engaging fanatic, ruthless and shadowy elements who hold no brief for the Geneva Convention and are hard-nosed, cold-blooded killers takes much courage and skill.
No peacetime training can be a substitute for actual combat with live ammunitions where lives are taken and lost. Our troops and aircrew are battle-hardened, combat-experienced war veterans flush with battlefield victories and are ready to take on the adversary at any level. Initiating hostility against such a force on false pretext is best avoided.
For my fellow Pakistanis, pick the TV talk-show host/anchor you consider the most obnoxious and raise his bias and unprofessionalism to the power three – you will get close to Arnab Goswami.
The article on the attitude and mindset of the Indian television talk show anchors is based on a real-life experience. This particular episode may not appear to have any direct association with either air power or national defence, the two themes central to the objectives of the Centre for Aerospace Power Studies. Examined closely, however, it does disclose an important link with one of the key strategies of warfighting in the current era – the media war. Media war has gained far more prominence in modern warfare especially the kind being fought or likely to be waged
The nuclear factor, however, has practically stymied the Indian military superiority unless both sides are prepared for the doomsday scenario. Proxy Wars, hence is the preferred in the 21st century.
In the India – Pakistan scenario serious unresolved disputes exist that has the potential to escalate into a full scale armed conflict where the former would enjoy a formidable conventional arms superiority over the latter and only viable option with India to militarily browbeat and hurt Pakistan.
India is currently pursuing such a strategy by covertly supporting non-state actors inimical to the security of Pakistan and are also operating a vast spy network that besides espionage, coordinates and untrustworthy. This would, in their opinion, help dismiss as baseless propaganda even the fund’s terror acts especially in the province of Balochistan and the megacity of Karachi, which is the provincial and the financial capital of the Sindh province and the country respectively.
To prevent being exposed in the eyes of the world as a nation guilty of state terrorism India goes to great lengths by the Machiavellian employment of its media to malign Pakistan. In any Indian television talk shows where Pakistani guests are invited, their media policy appears to bait the guests with outrageous statements in the hope that they (the guests) will lose their cool and react in a manner that will portray to their public and the international community that the Pakistani nation as a whole is unstable and most credible proofs of Indian state terrorism activities which Pakistan has collected and presented to the world forum.
Compared to the almost maniac manner in which some of the Indian electronic media talk show hosts tend to treat its Pakistani guests, the Pakistani television anchors are far more courteous and objective when dealing with guests from across the border. They do not necessarily shy away from asking the Indian guests tough questions but almost always maintain the decorum of civility.
The discussions on occasions do turn out to an unacceptably rude slanging match but in almost all cases not because of any deliberate provocation of the anchorperson but due to the participants themselves, from both sides of the border. Perhaps the anchors need to exercise greater control over the manner the discussion is proceeding and step in if the show begins to degenerate into an ugly brawl.
Overall the Pakistani anchors when dealing with the foreign guests conduct themselves in a far better and civilized manner than their Indian counterparts. This is a sensible policy that pays rich dividend as it helps to significantly counter the Indian efforts to malign Pakistan as a maverick nation.
My advice to my Pakistani colleagues is to be aware of the Indian trap when appearing on any Indian talk shows. They must respond firmly but in a cool manner without resorting to any derogatory language. And where the hosts cross the limits of decency and fair play, disengage without getting down to their level.
Since the episode mentioned below, I have been approached over half a dozen time to reappear in their programme and on every occasion I have politely declined. When on their insistence to explain my reluctance I responded in the following manner: common sense dictates that when threatened by a mad dog, one should either be able to put it to sleep and if that is not possible one should avoid any further confrontation and quietly disengage. The periodic calls for a revisit by the Indian television channels have almost ceased and when an odd one still materializes, recognizing the 91 prefix as Indian origin, I quietly press cancel.
Air Cdre (Retd) Jamal Hussain has served in Pakistan Air Force from 1966 to 1997. He was awarded Sitara-e-Basalat for his services in the year 1982. He regularly contributes articles on defense issues in the Defence Journal from Pakistan, Probe Magazine (Dhaka – Bangladesh) and national newspapers including Dawn, The News, and The Nation. He is the author of two books on ‘Air Power in South Asia’ and ‘Dynamics of Nuclear Weapons in South Asia’. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.