By Taha Siddiqui
Heightened tensions after the Uri terror attack in Jammu and Kashmir state and fear-mongering about an impending 'nuclear war' have brought the relationship between India and Pakistan to a new low. While the local media focuses only on the speech of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif at the United Nation's General Assembly, internationally, all eyes are back on Pakistan's role in supporting terrorism in the region following the Uri attack.
On September 18, there was a terror attack on Indian Army brigadier headquarters in Uri, Jammu and Kashmir, which was dubbed by the Indian media as "the deadliest attack on security forces in the state in two decades". Eighteen Indian Army soldiers were killed in the attack that New Delhi claimed was aided by jihadists from across the border.
"Pakistani security elite is in denial of what is happening globally. They are being isolated. And their interests even clash with the aspirations of the Pakistani public who want peace with India," says Marvi Sirmed, a political commentator who is part of Track II dialogue between India and Pakistan. Track II dialogues aim to bring together individuals from various professional backgrounds from both countries to foster peace.
Sirmed feels that such aspirations do not make it to the mainstream media. “The mainstream Pakistani media is overshadowed by those who are close to the military which does not want to have peace with India. They are from the middle and upper class backgrounds, and usually direct beneficiaries of the status quo, and therefore do not want such change,” she adds, explaining that even on social media such proxies of the Pakistani security establishment have taken over the narrative and made the debate anti-India.
At the same time, the hawks in the military and civilian domain having been talking about a nuclear war between the two nuclear-armed nations. “Pakistan may be forced to use nuclear weapons if any region under its territory is threatened by any foreign force. We cannot let Bangladesh be repeated,” says Brigadier Asad Munir, a retired military officer, who used to head an intelligence division in the Pakistani tribal belt.
Certain sections of the media have also whipped up talks of a full-blown war with the neighbours. Messages such as "Pakistan will be attacked by India soon" are being circulated by a few mediapersons considered to be close to the military.
The Pakistan Army has also upped its shields with its chief Raheel Sharif talking about "thwarting any sinister design against integrity and sovereignty" of the country.
"Armed forces of Pakistan are fully prepared to respond to an entire spectrum of direct and indirect threat," the military's media wing statement read.
"Taking note of a hostile narrative being propagated by India, COAS [Chief of Army Staff] said that we are fully cognizant and closely watching the latest happenings in the region and their impact on the security of Pakistan," the statement said.
Some in Pakistan have pointed fingers at India for fomenting tension in the region.
“For all the investments in peace since 2002, and gains made after 2008, both following incidents of violence in India, the rollback to rock bottom is unfortunate but not unforeseen,” says Salman Zaidi, an Indo-Pak expert and a research fellow at Jinnah Institute.
According to Zaidi, recent statements made by Indian government officials about strikes inside Pakistan have activated the war machinery in the country. “There are ample precedents in the past of rapid conflict escalation. One hopes that war, nuclear or conventional, does not break out, yet if it starts, the Indian side will initiate it. The possibility is not remote,” he adds.
But Sirmed says there is some hope given that Pakistani military for the first time used the term terrorists to describe the Uri attackers. "This shows a change in approach. They are calling the perpetrators terrorists in the press statement issued by the military media wing. This gives me some hope that Pakistan Army may change its policy towards Kashmir jihadists. But such a huge network cannot be dismantled in a day, so it will take time," she adds.