Monday, May 9, 2011

Is immature TV rivalry a threat to India's national interests ?

The time has come to ask whether the passionate patriotism of our television channels is harming our national interests. Competitive shrillness is the trademark of most of our news anchors. When this shrillness is extended to Pakistan, the provocative, often insulting, language used is enough to make even liberal groups in that country angry and hurt; the jihadi groups will be energised to plot new terror strikes. On this side, the TV posturings make India's position with a difficult neighbour more difficult. Thus the needling ends up in a double disservice to India.

As soon as the American commandos sortied to Abbottabad and took out their enemy in a sovereignty-defying feat, our TV anchors worked themselves into a patriotic frenzy. The little screen screamed with headlines: 'Pakistan exposed completely'. 'Pakistan shamed before the world'. 'Pakistan's double game'. 'Pak lies uncovered'.

No sign anywhere of a measure of subtlety, some restraint, some maturity even, let alone journalistic professionalism. The attempt instead is to incite. Confronted before camera, India's army chief said Indian forces had the capability for any operation, a natural statement for an army chief to make. The Pakistani army chief responded the only way he could – that any misadventure by India would lead to serious consequences.

Our passionate patriots jumped in with the proclamation that what India said was right, but Pakistan took it out of context and over-reacted. More screaming headlines followed: 'Pakistan threatens India'. 'Kayani dares India'. 'Pak bluster or direct threat?' 'Pakistan's ridiculous reaction'.

From ridiculous headlines to incitement to direct action, it was a small step for passionate patriots. Why can't Indian commandos go into Pakistan and take out Dawood Ibrahim as Americans took out Osama? Instant panels were assembled to debate the issue. Eveready experts held forth on India's capabilities. A few sombre voices advised caution, but many egged Indian Government to do what America did. Among them was a former Intelligence Bureau chief.

How easily bravado can carry us away? We are a country where the Intelligence community could not even follow up explicit information on the 26/11 terrorists. Western agencies had given India the coordinates of suspicious boats moving towards Bombay. Even the mobile phone numbers of some terrorists were provided. Internal bickerings and/or plain inefficiency prevented our intelligence agencies from taking any action. But they can sit in a TV studio and talk big.

Besides, India is not America. Pakistan is in no position to take on America at any level. America publicly stated that more raids inside Pakistan territory would be carried out if necessary, and all that Pakistan could do was to swallow it.

India is utterly different. The American operation only embarrassed Pakistan. Any Indian operation of the kind will be taken by Pakistan as a declaration of war. Unable to take so deep a wound to their psyche, the Pakistani military may indeed over-react even if it means a suicidal operation for them.

The real irony is that the remotest possibility of any military strike by India is now ruled out because TV channels have discussed the action plans in the open. One channel even gave out details of India's special action units and their different capabilities. Imagine a panel discussion on CNN on the US Navy Seals' equipment, capabilities and plans ahead of the Abbottabad operation.

Pakistan is a lost state. It does not even know the reason for its existence, the violent separation of “East Pakistan” having wiped out what was supposed to have been the reason. It is ruled by the military half the time and by homegrown terror groups the other half. It does not even have an economy of its own. All it has is a notion of military pride. By lacerating that pride with a childish display of triumphalism, we only incite irrational behaviour. Above all, when TV channels imagine that they are duty-bound to lay down the foreign policy of a country, that country is in trouble. We need our country. We don't need immature news channels.