I’ve been getting increasingly agitated by the fallout from the latest India-Pakistan talks. And the more I think about it—and the more media coverage I see about the issue—the worse things get.
The newspapers and TV news here have been dominated by the meeting last week between Indian Foreign Minister SM Krishna and his Pakistani counterpart, Shah Mehmood Qureshi. Before the talks started, there was in-depth coverage of the expected agenda, followed by speculation and updates on the state of bilateral ties. And with the apparent failure of the talks, we’ve been left with discussions on who’s to blame.
On the evening news here, anchors tend to play to the gallery, doing their best to keep distrust burning between the two South Asian neighbours. In fact, despite the last 25 years of talks between the two countries, we don’t appear to have moved an inch. We talk about confidence building measures and other platitudes, but in reality not a modicum of trust exists between these two countries even after countless rounds of talks.
So it may surprise some outsiders that despite the political distrust, personal relations are often cordial. My friends Shafqat and Malik, both from Pakistan, often lament over the phone with me how difficult it is to come to India and we often talk about our frustrations about how political jingoismis too often allowed to define relations.
That said there are also, sadly, many in India and Pakistan who have ingested the constant media and political campaign histrionics and so take a hard line against their neighbour (I admit sometimes I find myself feeling bitter after watching some of the coverage here).
It’s a sad state of affairs, but one the media is rarely held to account for. The media here is so inward looking that we rarely get a chance to understand what average Pakistanis think. My friends tell me that there’s a serious debate going on among many Pakistanis about terrorism and how the country can rid itself of this menace. But you’d never know that from reading the newspapers here.
India can never be peaceful or prosperous if its neighbours are in turmoil, and a wounded and conflicted Pakistan isn’t a good sign for India’s future prospects. As a big nation in the region we should try to understand problems from our neighbours’perspective.
Freeing ourselves from old ways of thinking will be the best way of tackling the problems the region faces. The media could have a big part to play in this. If it wants to…