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The incorrect other side

The incorrect other side

Author: Samuel Baid
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: October 24, 2004

The 16 Pakistani journalists' visit to Kashmir early this month was historic, as has been generally described, but it is doubtful if the reports to their newspapers helped remove some of the incorrect impressions ingrained in readers' minds by the Pakistani propaganda machinery about the situation in Kashmir. Mr Imtiyaz Alam, the Secretary General of the South Asia Free Media Association (SAFMA), which organised the visit, told newsmen on reaching Anantnag that the Pakistani journalists had been reporting only one side of the story about Kashmir.

"Today they can present both sides of the story," he said. But what they chose to see and hear in Kashmir and what they wrote showed their minds remained conditioned by their country's official propaganda. Alam's conclusion that "the alienation from New Delhi is complete and perhaps, irreversible" can be seen in this context.

Mr Alam as well as other members of the Pak delegation had promised to report "the other side" of the picture too. This "other side" they saw in Jammu where they met displaced Kashmiri Pandits. The Pandits told them: "We have been displaced for the last 15 years because of Pakistan-sponsored terrorism..." (Mariana Baabar's report).

Mr Alam also reported what the Pandits said. His article Alienation from New Delhi is Complete, Irreversible and Ms Baabar's Moving images, tough lessons, heartless governments, both produced by South Asia Tribune, showed their cursory attitude towards the plight of Kashmiri Pandits, who have faced a merciless Hindu cleansing campaign, launched by non-Kashmiris infiltrated by Pakistan to destroy Kashmir's composite culture and pluralism, in the Valley. Mr Alam wrote that many of the Pandits have abandoned their secular paradigm of Kashmiriyat; become communalised and now demand a separate state by dividing Kashmir.

Stories about the plight of Kashmiri Pandits may make no news in Pakistan: they have been very extensively aired by foreign Urdu radio services like the BBC, Voice of America and Voice of Germany when the persecution of Pandits started in the Valley in 1989 and later. These stations are hardly heard in Pakistan. Of them, the BBC is the most popular in Pakistan. Their exodus from the Valley was also widely reported by the Pakistani Press.

It would appear "the other side" of the story was used as a camouflage to disguise actual objectives in the Valley: to collect matter to prove Pakistan's allegations of human rights violations, Kashmiri alienation and so on in the Valley. They met Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front Chairman Mohammad Yasin Malik, who talked of state terrorism and azaadi. Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who heads his own faction of the Hurriyat conference, ruled out azaadi but advocated the merger of Kashmir with Pakistan as the only solution.

Returning to New Delhi on his way to Islamabad, Mr Alam summed up his impression in an interview to UNI thus: the more than 15-year-old militancy in Kashmir is a "civilian insurgency" and the dominant opinion in the Valley is for achieving azaadi, which does not mean accession to Pakistan, and "the entry of security forces and the Army has made the indigenous uprising a bloody conflict". He said the Army's attempt to quell "the uprising" had given it the dimensions of a conflict, which he described as "a political issue".

"Since the military is deployed in such a large number, human rights violations are bound to occur," he said.

Back home, he wrote: "Regardless of what the parties from the opposite or the same camps say, and there are too many, the people of Srinagar from all walks of life know to spell one word with close to total unanimity and that is: azaadi. The alienation from New Delhi is complete and, perhaps, irreversible."

It is to be noted that while the SAFMA journalists from Pakistan were probing "the other side" of the story, Islamabad stopped 21 Pakistani pilgrims from visiting the Alamdar-e-Kashmir shrine in Charar-e-Sharif. Islamabad was apparently worried that these pilgrims would be told by local people how Pakistan-backed foreign terrorists set this shrine and the surrounding houses on fire in 1995. Mast Gul, who escaped back to Pakistan to be given a rousing reception by the Jamaat-i-Islami, had headed this destruction. The Pakistani pilgrims would have known the real "other side" of the Kashmir story had they been allowed to visit Charar-e-Sharif.

The Pakistani journalists who came to Kashmir were all very seasoned. To see the confirmation of what PTV blares out every night about Kashmir was certainly not the SAFMA objective. These journalists looked over many aspects of "the other side" of the Kashmir trouble. They did not try to probe the extent of Pak involvement in the trouble in Kashmir.

They have also not taken note of the freedoms the people of Kashmir enjoy because of democracy. That they can raise pro-Pakistan, pro-azaadi and anti-India slogans is all because of this freedom. You cannot imagine this freedom in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK). Above all, you cannot imagine a pro-India counterpart of Geelani in PoK or Pakistan. In India, Geelani is like any other politician.

Now it is the turn of Indian journalists to visit PoK but the difference of the two visits will be that Indian newspapers hardly report on developments in PoK. It is doubtful what these journalists would like to see there.

Perhaps more and longer visits by Pakistani journalists in future may help the Pak press be more realistic and bold.

The writer is former editor, UNI

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