A clinical analysis of the reportage, commentary and related conversations on social media reveal a concerted campaign to dis-inform and discredit but more importantly to re-hyphenate a battered Pakistan with an assertive India. From state media in the extended neighborhood to global news wire agencies and from celebrated international newspapers to social media celebrities the past two weeks have been witness to an effort to reduce the punitive strikes to a spectator sport where somehow the scores even.
Before one gets into the anatomy of this campaign it would be pertinent to ask why this eagerness to re-hyphenate ? The answer to this question lies in the fact that the punitive strikes not only altered the calculus between an assertive India and a battered Pakistan but they also caused significant damage to the edifice of global geopolitics that for decades sought to box and label India into a corner of great power choosing. This apart from the several inconvenient questions that are emerging for Pakistan’s western patrons from that aerial dog fight that saw the felling of a relatively modern fighter jet of their making. With a high stakes domestic political environment ahead of general elections in India, this campaign has also become an instrument for manipulation of the democratic process in the world’s largest democracy.
A clinical analysis of the campaign to dis-inform, discredit and re-hyphenate reveals broadly the following fronts on which this campaign is being waged.
The first front in this campaign is blatant fake news being put out by mainstream media outlets in Pakistan through the use of old photographs from unrelated incidents and wrongly reporting current events to feed the narrative of the deep state. The impact of fake news put out by Pakistan is evident from the manner in which state media agencies of nations like Iran, Turkey carried photographs of fighter jet wreckage from past accidents without any due diligence or verification. Wrongful reporting on incidents such as the fire in an office building in Delhi by certain Pakistani media outlets is an example of the extent to which fake news has become an instrument of Pakistani deep state policy to deflect attention from the Balakot battering.
The second front in this campaign is the false narrative being created through the use of so called “independent” media agencies to put out a distorted version of the truth. It would be pertinent to point out the role of a leading international news wire agency in this front given the steady flow of reports from its stable of apparently “pliable reporters” in advancing the Pakistani version of truth. The insidious role played by this news wire agency needs to be called out for the extraordinary lengths it has gone to debunk claims of damage to the terror nursery while on deep state sponsored treks to the hills of Balakot without actually gaining access to the facility in the immediate aftermath of the strikes. It is also interesting how a news agency of international repute as reduced itself to an instrument of propaganda, thus endorsing the state sponsorship of Islamist terror. Did it never occur to the editorial management of this agency that its reportage of “no damage” to a terror nursery would follow up with inconvenient questions on why it did not report on the continued existence of a terror nursery with state sponsorship ?
The third front in this campaign is being waged from the op-ed columns and news analysis pages of leading western newspapers to sow doubts on the effectiveness of the airstrikes and to discredit the professionalism of the Indian Air Force. It is important to call out the journalistic subterfuge being attempted by these celebrated newspapers that have for long abused their international repute to propagate the western world view. The most definitive claims regarding the nature of the punitive airstrikes, their targets, their impact and the subsequent defensive actions leading up to the aerial dog fight, were made in official on the record briefings by the highest leadership of the Indian Air Force. This campaign to sow doubts on the effectiveness of the airstrikes are in reality a campaign to undermine the professionalism of the Indian Air Force and in the process hyphenate it with the dishonest junta running the Pakistani deep state. The motivation to do is quite understandable for at stake is the credibility of the multi-billion dollar business of the western defence manufacturing complex which clearly took a big hit in that aerial dog fight.
It needs to be said loudly, clearly and unambiguously that the burden of proof to disclaim the impact of the punitive airstrikes and the subsequent aerial dogfight rests solely with those who took a battering and not with the professionals of the Indian Air Force who have been measured and precise in their claims.
The last front in this campaign is through social media where orchestrated hashtag campaigns originating from Pakistan are seeking to take advantage of the partisan political environment in India and thus manipulate the democratic processes ahead of general elections. This attempt is unlikely to make much headway given the vast capacity of the Indian Democracy to absorb negativity while preserving its integrity. In the closing a word to the social media celebrities on their clever by half punditry that sought to keep score between the world’s largest democracy and a failed state, that they have unwittingly become “useful idiots” in this campaign to re-hyphenate, being waged by the deep state next door along with its western defence manufacturing patrons. They need to come to terms with the reality that an assertive new India will stand its ground and play by its own rules.
Shashi Shekhar Vempati CEO of Prasar Bharati (India’s autonomous Public Service Broadcaster). Views expressed in the column are personal.