Understanding the naysayers on Balakot

The aftershocks from the Balakot airstrikes continue to reverberate across the global media. 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 Pakistan with an assertive India. From state media in the extended neighbourhood to global news wire agencies, and from reputed international newspapers to social media celebrities, the past few weeks have seen efforts to reduce the punitive strikes to a spectator sport where somehow the scores are even.

Why this eagerness to re-hyphenate? The answer lies in the fact that the punitive strikes not only altered the calculus between an assertive India and a battered Pakistan but also caused significant damage to the edifice of global geopolitics that for decades sought to box 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 general election due in India, this campaign has also become an instrument for manipulation of the democratic process in India.

The campaign to disinform, discredit and re-hyphenate is being waged on several fronts.

The first 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 such as Iran and Turkey carried photographs of fighter jet wreckage from past accidents without 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 bombing.

The second front is the use of so-called “independent” media agencies to put out a distorted version of the truth. It is 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 the truth. The insidious role played by this wire agency needs to be called out for the extraordinary lengths it has gone to, 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 has reduced itself to an instrument of propaganda, endorsing the state sponsorship of Islamist terror. Did it never occur to its editorial management 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 is the use of 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 (IAF). It is important to call out the journalistic subterfuge being attempted by these newspapers that have long abused their international reputations 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 briefings by the highest leadership of the IAF.

This campaign to sow doubts on the effectiveness of the airstrikes is in reality a campaign to undermine the professionalism of the IAF and in the process hyphenate it with the dishonest junta running the Pakistani deep state. The motivation is quite understandable, for at stake is the credibility of the multi-billion-dollar business of the western defence manufacturing complex, which 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 IAF, which has been measured and precise in its claims.

The last front in this campaign is social media, where orchestrated hashtag campaigns originating in Pakistan are seeking to take advantage of the partisan political environment in India and manipulate democratic processes ahead of general elections. This is unlikely to make much headway given Indian democracy’s capacity to absorb negativity while preserving its integrity.

In 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: 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.

The writer is CEO, Prasar Bharati. The views expressed here are personal

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