In Pakistan at least, if not the Subcontinent as a whole, the Narendra Modi government’s decision last month to alter the status of Jammu and Kashmir is going to be the focus at the UN General Assembly. Two leading newspapers, Dawn and The Express Tribune, have editorials on the subject, though with quite differing approaches.
On September 19, Dawn comments on the “speculation” that “there has been speculation of a possible meeting on the Kashmir issue at the multilateral moot, with Washington playing the role of facilitator”. But the assertion is followed by a caveat: “However, considering India’s intransigence — with its stubborn insistence that the decades-old Kashmir issue is an ‘internal’ or ‘bilateral’ matter — as well as the American leader’s own mercurial nature, it is obvious that not too much hope should be pinned on any breakthroughs in the US over the next few days.”
The editorial, then, moves on to criticising the ongoing communications blockade in Kashmir, the arrest of political leaders, most recently Farooq Abdullah, and alleged human rights violations by Indian forces. Yet, what it does not do is use the upcoming UNGA as a peg to praise the Pakistan government’s diplomacy. Instead, it calls for New Delhi to engage in a dialogue with both Pakistan as well as Kashmiris.
The Express Tribune, however, takes a different approach. Taking of from the discussion on Kashmir in the European Union parliament, the editorial first says that EU Minister Tytti Tuppurainen — speaking on behalf of European Commission Vice President Federica Mogherini “said the EU would continue to closely monitor the situation, while demanding that freedom of movement and means of communication in the besieged territory should be fully restored as well as access to all essential services”.
Then, it makes a jump to claiming a jingoistic diplomatic victory: “The incumbent government’s efforts to internationalise India’s illegal annexation of Kashmir on August 5 and the barbarism that continues there ever since are commendable. The PM and his team are leaving no stone unturned to keep the issue burning bright.”
Going by the press, the freedom of the press and to dissent is under threat across South Asia. In the last week alone, two leading English-language newspapers have commented
“Should we expect public floggings of journalists, as in the days of Gen Zia?” That’s how Dawn’s editorial ends on September 20. The newspaper’s reaction is understandable, given that the Pakistan government has approved the creation of “media courts” to “dispense with complaints relating to the media within 90 days”.
Calling it an “extremely unwise and provocative idea”, and acknowledging the “qualifiers” the PTI government in Pakistan has put in place, the editorial claims that “no one buys the fiction that such courts are desired for any benign purpose”. It calls the last year “an unrelenting attack on the press”.
Dawn acknowledges that no government, especially the military dictatorships of Pakistan, has been comfortable with a free press. It also recalls the “plethora of ‘press advices’” issued during the dictatorship of General Ziaul Haq and the restrictions put in place by the Nawaz Sharif government. Yet, it asks this government to hold itself to higher standard rather than do worse than its predecessors: “Instead of acquiring the reputation of a regime that recalls the darkest days of censorship, the government should strengthen Pemra and PCP by respecting their autonomy rather than proposing a system whereby they would function as mere post offices.”
The Kathmandu Post in its September 16 editorial also defends the freedom of speech and expression, and the right to criticise the government. The problem began when Minister for Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation Yogesh Bhattarai allegedly delayed a flight and were confronted and criticised by passengers. First, a half-hearted apology was issued by an aide of the minister. But soon, “Gyanendra Shahi, one of the passengers who heavily criticised Bhattarai, was detained by the police. The minister’s apology, issued by his aide, followed yet another statement by the ruling party’s youth wing, declaring that Shahi has been banned from entering Kaski district.”
The editorial marks the fatigue in Nepal of this VIP culture, of the entitlement of certain sections of the ruling classes. Recently, there was a protest in which citizens honked the horns of their cars in unison to protest ambulances being delayed due to VIP convoys.
It also counsels the ruling communist party and its affiliates: “This unnecessary show of power from the government and the NCP is undemocratic. While Shahi’s behaviour in the matter could be considered aggressive, he was only attempting to vent his frustration — show his dissent — at the way government officials have been acting. In a democracy, the ruling party and the government must not attempt to suppress people’s views, especially when those views are critical of the government.
A weekly look at the public conversations shaping ideas beyond borders — in the Subcontinent. Curated by Aakash Joshi