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Portrayal of India in Urdu Press of Pakistan

The former Washington Post president and publisher, Philip Graham, once described journalism as ‘the first rough draft of history’. Pakistani media houses, especially those associated with the vernacular print media seem totally unaware of this fact and that could be the reason why they are feeding people with distorted news and analysis and thus obliterating facts. Instead of reporting the events as happened they are sticking to a particular line fed by the establishment and echo the maximalist Pakistani official position and at times even go beyond that. This is true in the case of reporting on India where the objectivity becomes the first casualty. Amid all these they also don’t miss any opportunity to sermonize other media houses about the ethics and norms of journalism. Sermonizing and falsification go hand in hand. This could also be construed as a well-plan effort to build a narrative which reflects the mind-set of the Pakistani establishment and its conservative clientele base.

When on January 2 this year the terrorists attacked the Air Base in Pathankot, the Pakistani vernacular media came down heavily on the Indian media, criticizing it for blaming Pakistan for the attack without proper investigation. It was like the pot calling the kettle black because they are the ones who blame India for almost everything that happens in Pakistan. The Pakistani vernacular media always toes the official line in its reportage and analysis on India. Almost on a regular basis, the Urdu newspapers carry articles and editorials portraying India as a country ruled by ‘Hindu Baniyas’ who, from their point of view, are ‘enemies of Muslims’ and hell-bent on disintegrating Pakistan.

Umpteen articles and editorials have come up recently on India’s role in various terrorist incidents in Pakistan. The masses are made to believe that separatism in Balochistan is also fuelled by India, and the Baloch separatists and other disgruntled persons are trained in different training camps operated by India and Afghanistan.

Besides this, the BJP-led government in India, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi are constantly berated. The words used to refer to Narendra Modi are often offensive, and describing them as just provocative would be an understatement. The words commonly used for him include Muzi Modi (Modi the pest), Gujarat Ka Kasayee (butcher of Gujarat), Musalmanon ka qaatil (murderer of Muslims), Insaaniyat ka dushman(enemy of humanity), Aalami dehshat gard(global terrorist), Hindu Baniya, Hindu Intiha pasand (Hindu extremist), etc.

Sometimes Hindus in general are also subjected to this kind of vilification. For instance, Owais-ul-Hassan wrote in an article in Hilal that, “Hindus never came out of the mentality of casteism and untouchability. Backstabbing is an indispensable instinct of Hindus. Moreover, their narrow and dark houses, their way of living, their places of worship and their stone-made idols indicate that Hindu civilization is meaningless and hollow and to hide that hollowness they take refuge in wickedness and follow Chanakya’s abhorrent policies of statecraft.”1 To vent his hatred, Hafeez Saeed, the chief of Jamaat-ud-Dawa, wrote in an article in Daily Muhasib that, “the narrow mindedness and cowardice of Hindus is not accidental; rather they are born with such instincts. There is no concept of brotherhood, tolerance and humanity in Hinduism. Hinduism is a religion defined by bloodshed, hatred, selfishness and deceit.”2

This narrow and skewed narrative set by Pakistani media against India will obviously serve the interests of the Pakistan army and Islamists, but in the long run it will hurt Pakistan more, as it would not help Pakistan to pursue peace with India, which in turn would strengthen the hands of the army.

Post-Pathankot Pleas

As expected, the Pathankot attack attracted attention from both sides of the border. Baring a few, most of the columnists and analysts did not waste any time to declare with certainty that the attack was the handiwork of India. Reasons cited were many, but some were repeated ad nauseam. Some believed that India was never interested in normalizing relations with Pakistan and by doing this they have forestalled the dialogue process. Many others argued that these incidents are orchestrated by India to blame Pakistan with the eternal objective to humiliate and isolate Pakistan globally by linking it to terrorism.

The former Chief of Army Staff of Pakistan, Mirza Aslam Beg supported the first view when he wrote in Daily Ummat on January 4 that, “the RSS and Shiv Sena cadres within Indian army have done this because they were not happy with Narendra Modi’s decision to normalize relations with Pakistan.”3 The same newspaper on its front page carried the headline in bold letters, “Hamlay ko Jawaz bana kar Muzakarat say farar honay ki koshishein.”4 (Making excuse of attack India running away from dialogue) This headline not only gave the impression that the attack was the handiwork of India but it also conveyed that India can go to any extent to evade the process of normalization with Pakistan. The Daily Dunya editorial also called the Pathankot attack as “the conspiracy by India to sabotage peace talks.”5

The Daily Jasarat, a Jama’at-e-Islami mouthpiece, carried an article, written by Mateen Fikri on January 5. He argued that demeaning and smearing the image of Pakistan is part of the Indian strategy. Addressing those who ask how India can indulge in terrorism within one of its own states, he argued, “although it is not easy to motivate people to launch an attack within India and then kill all the attackers in counter attack; but the new research and innovative techniques of brain-washing by the Indian state has made it quite easy for states to do.”6

Many commentators in Pakistan are cynical and view every reconciliation attempt by India as a ploy meant to destabilize Pakistan. All reconciliation efforts including the brief meeting in Paris between the two Prime Ministers, the meeting of the two NSAs in Bangkok, Sushma Swaraj’s Islamabad visit for the Heart of Asia Conference and Narendra Modi’s stopover at Lahore and to visit Nawaz Sharif’s Jati Umra residence, are dubbed as indispensable scenes of a ‘drama’.7 This is what senior Pakistani journalist Jabar Mirza wrote in his article in Hilal, the magazine published by the Pakistan army. Almost similar views were expressed a month later in an editorial of the Daily Nawai Waqt. The editorial claimed that Pathankot unmasked the real face of India and the talk of talks is nothing but a well-planned ‘drama’ to convey to the international community that India is a peace loving nation and that they want to normalize relations with Pakistan.8

Abetting Islamist Agenda

It is a fact that unregulated madrassas and ‘petty Ulemas’ have played havoc in Pakistan by radicalizing the people and thereby Islamizing the social spaces and changing the political culture of Pakistan. Although madrassas and other religious organizations were active much earlier, their presence was felt during the tenure of Gen. Zia-ul-Haq. The division of labour between the state and society in the reproduction of Islamic ideology became a common phenomenon.9 It was then in the interest of Pakistan to support the madrassas and their patrons because it provided Pakistan with Islamic foot soldiers ready to wage jihad (holy war) either in Afghanistan or Kashmir. Supporting madrassas and using them as proxies was a double-edged sword which did not spare Pakistan either. Of late, Pakistan has felt the need to reform and regulate madrassas. If the process of regulation and reformation of madrassas proceeds smoothly– which is very unlikely– Pakistan still will have Urdu newspapers which would propagate hatred against India.

Articles by Hafeez Saeed and Syed Naveed Masood Hashmi are often published by Urdu media. The venomous and preposterous content of their articles has created the Hindu/Muslim binary and filled people with rage and hatred. They illustrate India’s ‘treachery’ by arguing that it is ‘Hindu India’ that divided a Muslim country in 1971 and still occupies ‘Muslim Kashmir’. Use of this language is enough to sway the gullible masses and petty Jihadis.

In the service of ‘Deep State’

The vernacular media has also succeeded in putting pressure on the Nawaz Sharif government. Nawaz Sharif’s policy of rapprochement with India has been subjected to unreasonable critique. In Ufa last year when the ‘K’ word did not appear in the joint statement, some Pakistani analysts believed it was a deliberate attempt by Nawaz Sharif to ignore the Kashmir issue to please India. The army remained tightlipped whereas the Urdu press was extremely critical of the Ufa agreement, forcing the then National Security Advisor, Sartaj Aziz to state that without the Kashmir issue there cannot be any dialogue with India.

The editorial in Daily Nawai Waqt on July 11, 2015 bemoaned that “people of Pakistan are worried that for the sake of smiles, Kashmir should not be put on back burner. Nawaz Sharif should immediately convene a joint parliamentary meeting and divulge all the details of [the] Paris meeting. He should inform the countrymen why he didn’t deem it necessary to talk about Kashmir and if at all he has said anything about it then what was the reaction of Narendra Modi.”10

A similar piece was written by Masood Abdali in Daily Ummat on July 14, 2015. He wrote that “it was clear from the body language of Narendra Modi that he was being forced into talks and there was no reason for Pakistan to ignore Kashmir. For Narendra Modi the sole reason to come to the negotiating table might be his dream of becoming a permanent member of Security Council and SCO.”11 Following the same pattern, the editorial of Daily Jehan-e-Pakistan on July 16 was titled as ‘Kashmir aur Kashmiriyon ko nazar andaz nahi kiya jasakta12 (Kashmir and Kashmiris cannot be ignored) argued that in all bilateral talks, Kashmir will always be the core issue.

The vernacular media of Pakistan is deliberately attempting to generate uniformity of opinion within Pakistan. It is important to note, the vernacular media reflects the thinking in the establishment and conservative elements who continue to cast India-Pakistan relations within a two-nation framework and in the process fuel mistrust and suspicion. However, the English language press portrays views that are liberal and argue for better India-Pakistan relations. Since the Urdu media is followed by a vast section of the population, its importance in terms of impact on public opinion is considered enormous.

Manzoor Turabi, Researcher, Pakistan Project, IDSA

  • 1. Owais-ul-Hassan, Hilal, Vol. 51, No.12, June, 2015, p. 23.
  • 2. http://mahasib.com.pk/muzzaffarabad/today/p2/story.php?param=8s.jpg
  • 3. http://ummat.net/2016/01/04/news.php?p=news-15.gif
  • 4. http://ummat.net/2016/01/04/news.php?p=news-08.gif
  • 5. http://e.duyacom.pk/detail.php?date+2016-01-04&edition+LHR&id=2087478_9658504
  • 6. http://jasarat.com/news.php?date=05-01-2016&news=03&category=columns
  • 7. Jabar Mirza, ”Mumbai say Pathankot tak”, Hilal, Vol.53, No. 2, p. 4.
  • 8. http://www.nawaiwaqt.com.pk/E-Paper/Lahore/2016-03-03/page-6/detail-7
  • 9. Mustapha Kamal Pasha, “Islamization, Civil Society, and the Politics of Transition in Pakistan”, in Douglas Allen (ed.), Religion and Political Conflict in South Asia: India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, Greenwood Press, London, 2004, p.114.
  • 10. http://www.nawaiwaqt.com.pk/E-Paper/Lahore/2015-07-11/page-14/detail-7
  • 11. http://ummat.net/2015/07/14/news.php?p=idr3.gif
  • 12. http://www.jehanpakistan.com/epaper/detail_news.php?news=%2Fepaper%2Fepaper%2Flahore%2F160715%2FP12-001.jpg#sthash.hcdd7lIc.dpbs