June 26, 2015 12:41:48 am
Ever since Wednesday, when allegations surfaced that Karachi’s controversial Muttahida Qaumi Movement had received Indian funding, Pakistani television news audiences have had little to watch other than ever-more-fantastic claims about their eastern neighbour’s plans to vivisect their nation. The evidence for the allegations is thin, at best: we still do not know to whom Indian money was purportedly paid, when and for what end. It remains unclear, too, why a party known to have made a fortune from organised crime in Karachi would need to dip into RAW’s relatively meagre coffers. The tenor of the television discussions tells us, of course, that some anchors, just like their Indian counterparts, aren’t overly concerned about the distinction between news and agitprop. Like other media storms, this one will pass — but it would be a mistake to laugh it away. The truth is that the impasse in the India-Pakistan political engagement has strengthened chauvinist hysteria. For the nuclear-armed neighbours, this holds out grave risks: when publics bay for blood, there’s always a danger that leaders will oblige them.
For weeks now, official Pakistan has fuelled anti-India sentiment — a desperate bid to ward off the relentless Islamist assault on its legitimacy and credentials. In May, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif asserted that the Research and Analysis Wing was working “to wipe Pakistan off the map of the world”. The Pakistan army, in turn, expressed serious concern about “RAW involvement in whipping up terrorism”. India, too, has done its bit to stoke the flames. Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar threatened to use terrorists against Pakistan-backed terrorists. Last year, India claimed to have warded off a 26/11 style attack — a claim for which the evidence, investigations by this newspaper showed, was insubstantial.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s disinclination to engage Pakistan until it demonstrates seriousness on terrorism is understandable. Frustration with Islamabad’s unwillingness to act against groups like the Lashkar-e-Toiba runs deep. Yet, it’s plainly dangerous for the two countries to disengage altogether — something which opens the prospect of lurching into a situation neither wants or can afford. In the meantime, leaders on both sides of the border need to understand the virtues of restraint. The tiger of public opinion might be fun to mount — but the ride is likely to end sprawled out on the ground, possibly to be devoured by a beast that cannot be controlled.
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