EDITORIAL COMMENT | The War of Words
30 Dec 2008,
After a week of belligerence, during which sharp words were traded, Indian and Pakistani officials are cooling it, for now. India’s patience is
running thin and it is not hard to see why. A month after the devastating attack on Mumbai, despite evidence that points to the fact that the perpetrators came from across the border, Pakistan continues to deny facts and refuses to cooperate with the investigations or crack down on terrorist outfits that flourish on its soil. If that was not bad enough, Islamabad has gone on the offensive and whipped up a war hysteria that New Delhi has studiously stayed clear of despite being provoked.
As we have argued in these columns since the attack took place, talk of war or limited strikes is not the right response. The Indian government was right in being restrained and in working diplomatic channels to achieve its ends. By putting its case before the international community, and trying to mobilise a global consensus on tackling contemporary terrorism which more often than not originates in the Afghan and Pakistani badlands and knows no boundaries anymore it did what mature, confident democracies are supposed to do. However, we have failed on one important count that of communicating our position to the global public.
While our diplomats might be doing a fine job behind the scenes pressing India’s case among our allies, as well as engaging with Pakistan’s allies like Saudi Arabia and China they have been very tardy in working the world media. Pakistan’s ambassador, Husain Haqqani, is all over the airwaves in America, defending Pakistan’s actions and offering the view that Pakistan is as much a victim of terrorism as India is. President Asif Zardari too has been quick off the block when it comes to the public relations exercise, arguing an indefensible case. Where are the voices from the Indian establishment in the world media? Search, and you will draw a blank.
India has a strong case but it needs to do more to influence global opinion makers. If India hopes to get the international community to put pressure on Pakistan to act, then it is not enough for our diplomats and leaders to commiserate with their counterparts in influential countries alone. They must be seen out there, engaging with ordinary people who are now being fed a daily dose of Pakistan’s rhetoric.