India's hyper-nationalist narratives helped Pakistan Army stay relevant

The warmongering narrative, primarily driven by the ruling party and the media at large, may fetch some electoral gains to the BJP  but it has proved to be welcome fodder for the Army in Pakistan as it tries to reinvent itself to remain relevant, writes Mayank Mishra for South Asia Monitor

Mayank Mishra Mar 23, 2019

The deadlock between India and Pakistan after the Pulwama attack, in which 40 Indian security personnel were killed, has elicited heated debates o national security in and between the two countries. India launched a counter strike, crossing Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, and released payloads on Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) terror camps at Balakot inside Pakistan. The Indian government claimed it had destroyed JeM camps and eliminated terrorists across the border though their numbers were not officially furnished. The international media, however, reported that no such loss of life or casualties took place. The claim of mutual damage made by both countries against each other stands contested. 
Pakistan, its Army spokesperson claimed, shot down ‘two Indian fighter jets’, one that crashed in Indian Kashmir and the other in PoK. In the crash in PoK, the Pakistan Army captured one Indian Air force pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman. Subsequently, Pakistan released videos of the pilot which was in violation of Article 13 of the Geneva Convention that asserts that prisoners of war must be protected at all times, particularly against acts of violence or intimidation and against insults and public curiosity. The video, however, was later removed by the Pakistan government but, by then, the narrative by the popular media on both sides was established.
At the same time, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, in a series of speeches, called upon India to begin a dialogue and maintained that war was not the option. He acted like a mature statesman. But the point of contention is that it’s an open secret that JeM has terror training camps operating on Pakistani soil, with the backing of the Pakistani army and its intelligence agency.   
What went wrong for the Indian government was making the covert operation of Balakot public and the subsequent politicisation of the conflict. In this age of information, from social media to news channels, are flooded with opinions round the clock. Senior Indian defence personnel had already implicitly expressed their discontent over the politicisation (or marketization in other words) of the previous surgical strikes.
A covert operation has to be covert; one doesn’t make movies out of it and do chest-thumping over it. This undermines the seriousness of the issue and makes the defence forces mere tools of hyper-nationalism.
If one scrolls down any social networking sites, or Whatsapp forwards, or simply surfs Indian news channels for few minutes, one will get an idea of how the narrative of conflict is set to credit one party and one man in India. What is often forgotten amid the jingoism is that India is a multi-party democratic system where even national security issues are subject to misuse to gain political traction as party interests subsume national interests.
However,  there was a time when the Indian Parliament was attacked in 2001 and, fearing retaliation from India, Pakistan threatened to respond by test-firing missiles, all named after medieval invaders of India - Abdali, Ghazni, etc. Nirupama Rao, then MEA spokesperson, asked for a response in a press briefing simply said, “We are not impressed,” devoid of political rhetoric and extreme adjectives. Just four inoffensive, simple words were enough to exasperate the then Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf. Imran Khan’s statements too can be attributed to something of the same sort. His kind of response is different from the traditional vituperative vocabulary of Pakistani leaders in the past.
The warmongering narrative, primarily driven by the ruling party and the media at large, may fetch some electoral gains to the BJP  but it has proved to be welcome fodder for the Army in Pakistan as it tries to reinvent itself to remain relevant. That relevance is manifested in the form of a tautological anti-India narrative. Second, the Pakistani PM and Pakistani spokesperson proposing peace and a dialogue process has projected Pakistan as a harbinger of peace. Third, the retaliation of the Pakistan Air Force to the Balakot operation and holding an IAF pilot in captivity ensures that the capability and capacity of its forces is maintained before an ordinary Pakistani citizen. All these factors have contributed to reinstating the legitimacy of the Pakistani Army as the most powerful institution in Pakistan.    
However, to avoid war, talk peace and resolve conflicts, the prerequisite is to stop cross-border terrorism to India. And to refrain from cross-border terrorism, the Pakistan Army and its intelligence agencies have to be under civilian control in its truest sense. To fulfil such an institutional set-up, Pakistan has to be a functional democracy, with a robust civil society and an independent judiciary. However, as the Army in Pakistan appears to have subtly tightened its grip further, a peaceful settlement between the two countries remains a far-fetched goal.          
(The writer is pursuing his PhD in South Asian Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. He can be contacted at

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