One can barely get used to the mixture of amusement and disbelief that Indian propaganda delivered through its burgeoning network of news channels. Retweeted and spread about immediately by the world’s largest Twitter community, it seems odd that the cartoonish levels of false propaganda created and pushed by the Indian media hasn’t become a topic discussed and analyzed far and wide yet.
While this may be explainable by the fact that the Indian public’s overwhelmingly Pakistan-centric approach results in the fake-news campaigns directed at mostly Pakistani online communities, the capability of such a vast apparatus to escalate tensions between two nuclear-armed states makes it worth a lot more attention than it is getting.
The ‘Surgical Strike’ of 25 February and its embarrassing consequences
Early morning on the 25th of February, India claimed to have aerially struck ‘terror camps’ on the Pakistani side of the disputed Kashmir region. After initial variations, the main claim from Indian leaders and media settled around ‘300 Jaish e Mohammed militants killed’ (JeM is a Pakistan-based group that recruits fighters to attack India’s occupation forces in Kashmir). Cue the victory lap by Indian media and the announcements of Bollywood films to follow, and ‘revenge’ for the 14 February car-bombing by a Kashmiri of an Indian paramilitary force convoy that killed near 50 Indian personnel. JeM, of course, was blamed by India, without evidence and thus the 25 February strikes were hailed as ‘payback’.
However, Pakistan’s military PR wing quickly uploaded pictures of the site of the attacks and showed that, far from there being no evidence of such a large number of militants having been killed, let alone even being there, the Indian jets had merely dropped a ‘payload’ before speeding back into India after pursuit by Pakistani jets. The fuel tanks damaged trees and injured an old man, and that was about it. Videos taken separately by locals also matched the pictures the military released to Twitter.
The village where India’s few minutes-long incursion into Pakistani airspace yielded the ‘strike’ was Balakot, lying essentially on the de facto border or Line of Control. To maximize the ‘impressiveness’ of the ‘strike’, Indian media claimed India had hit a city with the same name in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province which would imply a very deep incursion as opposed to the real one which was only a few miles.
Pakistan’s army acted quickly in getting validation for its response to India’s erratic claims from third party sources and demonstrated that no such fantastic strike had been carried out by the Indians. Pakistan promised a response at a time and place of its own choosing and the stage was set for the Indian media to go from the offensive to the defensive and attempt to exert damage control over the impending losses India would soon incur.
Notwithstanding more recent statements by India ‘accepting’ that it scored no successes in its Balakot adventure, Indian media did still earn more ridicule by playing ‘recordings’ of ‘Pakistani’ militants ‘discussing the strike’ and using Hindi words as well as Indian accents to make it appear as if the strike happened.
Attempting to hide the beating at the hands of the Pakistani airforce with incredulous claims
Pakistan’s airforce successfully shot down two Indian jets, two MIG-21s, the next day as a response to the Indian aerial incursion. One had its pilot eject and land on the Pakistani side of the LoC and proceed to be rescued by Pakistani soldiers before being killed by a mob as can be seen in this video. The captive Wing Commander, Abhinandan, was interviewed by the Pakistani military and shown to be treated as according to international humanitarian standards. He probably could not have guessed, however, that the Indians would be busy claiming he had downed a Pakistani jet himself.
As expected, there was no video of this Pakistani jet going down or its debris on the Pakistani side of the LoC, or of the mysterious F-16 Pakistani pilot claimed by India to have been ‘nearly lynched’ by a Pakistani mob ‘mistaking him for an Indian pilot’. Apparently, the Pakistani mob would be too foolish to recognize his Pakistani air force uniform or be able to communicate in proper Urdu with him, if one were to believe Indian media claims.
Pakistan stated that it had not used any F-16. In a strange way, then, of trying to prove the possibility of such having happened, Indian media went about attempting to explain that an F-16 had indeed been used by the Pakistani side. Claims were made that Pakistan’s released pictures of Abhinandan’s destroyed MIG-21 were actually pictures of a destroyed Pakistani F-16 and thus that Pakistan was engaging in false propaganda. However, it was soon shown by independent researchers that the pictures Indian media was flaunting desperately of the ‘destroyed Pakistani F-16’ were actually pictures of the downed Indian MIG-21. Despite desperate claims by India’s most prominent print and electronic media outlets, the pictures quite clearly showed discernible MIG-21 parts and not F-16 ones.
India’s continuingly deteriorating quality of propaganda during the escalated situation with Pakistan showed that it clearly had no plan B if its planned ‘surgical strike’ went wrong, whether on the military front or the media front. With officials now backpedalling on the ‘300 militants killed’ rhetoric, fissures seem visible in the Indian camp. Western Air Command Chief Air Marshal Chandrashekharan Hari Kumar’s retirement soon after the aerial combat losses may also have been compelled and one wonders what Abhinandan’s own life will be like from here on now.
Kashmir insurgency rises as India grows yet more erratic
Handwara, Kashmir, saw 2 Kashmiri fighters kill at least 7 Indian paramilitary personnel and police and injure several more. Reported as belonging to the JeM group, they compounded a tough month for Indian forces in Kashmir where continued ambushes by Kashmiri fighters persisted before and after the Pulwama blast.
Notably, the day of sabre-rattling before India’s ill-fated incursion into Pakistani airspace and subsequent ‘surgical strike’ claims had seen a large crackdown on Kashmiri political groups by India with particular focus on Jamaat e Islami. Declaring the popular party responsible for running hundreds of schools officially banned on 28 February, India added another large provocation to an already rising Kashmiri freedom struggle to go with several others such as hints at attempting demographic change and seeing considerable violence against Kashmiris in Indian cities and towns following the Pulwama blast.
The Kashmiri resistance won’t be diffused or defanged into a state of impotent ‘negotiations’ and stagnancy by an India acting as reckless as it is now. False propaganda about JeM chief Masood Azhar being dead seems to be India’s latest attempt to salvage pride out of its current strategic and military woes.
Setback at the OIC
On the diplomatic front, India also suffered a setback when the Organization of Islamic Countries condemned its atrocities in Kashmir and praised Pakistan’s conduct during the escalation. The presence of Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj at the OIC recently after an invite was hailed across India as a snubbing of Pakistan by the latter and provoked a refusal by Pakistan to send its own FM to attend (albeit it did send a lower-level delegation). However, the OIC responded to Swaraj’s assertions of India ‘fighting against terrorism’ by adopting a resolution condemning Indian state atrocities in Kashmir and also endorsing the rebuilding of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya which was destroyed by Hindutva groups in 1992 the day after Swaraj’s ‘guest of honour’ address to the organization.
Ruling party BJP bigwigs responded with anger soon afterward, with Hindutva ideologue Subramaniam Swamy insultingly declaring that Hindus should respond to the OIC verdict by ‘reclaiming the Kaaba’ as a ‘Shivaling’ (or phallus of the Hindu god Shiva).
The fact that the OIC doesn’t do or matter much as an organization here means little. That Pakistan clearly succeeded in getting the OIC to pass the condemnation of India’s atrocities is indicative of a more proactive Pakistan matching up against a more erratic India and a setback that comes amid bigger setbacks during the escalation with Pakistan. Pakistan’s coherence and unity, especially with regard to the civil-military relationship, has contrasted sharply with the conduct and behaviour of the Indian side and the latter shows little signs of bringing its tendencies under check for the foreseeable future.