Ranjona Banerji: Pak-bashing takes a break given Peshwar…

19 Dec,2014

By Ranjona Banerji


The horrific attack on an army school in Peshawar on December 16 got worldwide media coverage. There was sympathy for Pakistan from across the world as bloody and poignant images streamed across TV screens and on the internet. The numbers of the dead and injured got progressively worse and the fact that most of the targets were children made everything worse.


Taking a cue from Australia’s #I’llRideWithYou twitter campaign after the attack on a Sydney cafe by a gunman who was both inspired by Islamic State and was also a known criminal, many from India and around the world tweeted with the hashtag “#StandWithPakistan”.


Opposition leader and once ace cricketer Imran Khan got into trouble with Pakistanis on social media and in the traditional media for being mealy-mouthed when he condemned the attack. Even though the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan had announced that they had done the attack, Khan said on TV words to the effect of, “whoever has done this”. It seemed to many that on a day of grief, Khan was still protecting his power sources.


By the evening, once Indian news channels got into debate mode, it was time to walk the tightrope between blame Pakistan and show sympathy. This is a dilemma that India cannot escape, not in the near future. Pakistan is an emotive issue and our Delhi-based high-flying journalists often show neither perspective nor discretion. In cynical terms of TRPs, Pakistan-bashing gets eyeballs. For those who are still attending appreciation workshops of the new government, the said government has been sending out mixed signals.


So on December 16, we were told “today is not the right time “ to bring up any questions about possible action by Pakistan about Hafiz Saeed of the JuD and once of the LeT and seen as the mastermind of the November 2008 attacks on Mumbai. December 16 was only to be a day of mourning.


But journalists have to be able to separate personal pain from covering an event or a happening, no matter how gruesome. And this includes uncomfortable questions about Pakistan’s policies. As it happened, Pakistani journalists were asking tough questions but Pakistanis who choose to appear on Indian TV do not always grasp that all Indian journalists are not always as friendly as those who do candlelight vigils at the Wagah border or rush across to interview Pakistani movers and shakers in the spirit of subcontinental friendship and let bygones be bygones.


Unfortunately, on December 18, an anti-terrorism court in Pakistan allowed bail to Zai-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, an LeT commander said to be the handler in the Mumbai attacks. Journalists remain unable to distinguish between an arrest and guilt and bail and an acquittal. So there was massive outrage. The question of bail did not affect some journalists so much as the timing of the bail: the gesture thus being more significant than the fact.


However, when it comes to Pakistan in India, high emotions will always win over everything else, including cynicism.


Therefore it did not take even two days for the coverage slant of the Peshawar attack to switch from all-out sympathy to doubting Pakistan’s motives.


Business as usual.


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