For as long as you and I can remember, India and Pakistan have been writing new chapters in their book of dislike that they keep for each other. In 2019, the two countries not only continued the trend, they went out of their way to let the world know how difficult it is to live next to each other.
As 2019 comes to an end, a look back at the eventful year shows that things went south between India and Pakistan on multiple occasions.
A string of incidents triggered a variety of emotions, reactions and outrage in Pakistan – the Balakot air strikes, Indian Air Force (IAF) Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman’s captivity, India’s ban on tomato exports, the ICJ verdict on Kulbhushan Jadhav, and the dilution of Article 370 stripping Jammu and Kashmir of its special status.
There wasn’t a single day in 2019 when India and Pakistan played it dull. The Lok Sabha election in India, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s special focus on Pakistan, kept everyone engaged, including Pakistanis. There’s little doubt that 2020 wouldn’t be as rocky as 2019.
Namaloom pilots, couple of trees and a crow
It all started with the Pulwama terror attack on 14 February. And two weeks later, on 26 February, India’s Mirage-2000 fighter jets crossed the Line of Control to enter some 70 km inside Pakistan and bomb an alleged Jaish-e-Mohammed camp on a hilltop in Balakot.
Unlike Pakistan’s refusal that India had entered into its territory to carry out the 2016 surgical strikes after the Uri attack, we first heard about the Balakot air strikes from the Pakistan Army itself, when DG ISPR Major General Asif Ghafoor woke us up with a tweet early morning. The IAF dropped payload in haste is what we were told. But there was one thing that puzzled us: why was the IAF in such a hurry?
That the Pakistani radars couldn’t successfully track India’s warplanes was hardly a surprise. If Pakistan’s radars didn’t work when the US special forces entered Pakistan to shoot dead Osama bin Laden, how could they work during the Balakot air strikes? Why Pakistan couldn’t stop India was a question that was best answered by Defence Minister Pervez Khattak: “it was dark”.
As to who was targeted in the Balakot air strikes, it was an open-and-shut case really — a crow and 19 trees. The initial claim that India had killed 300 terrorists was only a myth. An FIR was registered by Pakistan’s forestry department against namaloom (unidentified) Indian pilots for not only crossing into Pakistan but also destroying pine trees in Balakot.
Abhinandan’s cup of tea
To avenge the killing of a crow and some trees in Balakot, Pakistan retaliated the next morning, on 27 February. Not one but two Indian aircraft were shot down by the Pakistan Air Force (PAF), we were told. Not one but two Indian pilots were caught, authorities claimed. But we were introduced to only one of them. Where did the other one disappear? It is a mystery and shall remain one because who cares about all that.
The glory was Pakistan’s because Abhinandan Varthaman had parachuted in Pakistan. As good hosts, the Pakistan Army served him a cup of tea, which he said was fantastic. The receipt of his chai has now been documented. Forget the 93,000 Pakistani soldiers that India, taking them as war prisoners, had fed after the surrender in the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War, it is the tea served to Abhinandan during his captivity here that will cost India the most.
It was as if Abhinandan had fallen in love with Pakistan. We saw him criticise the Indian media in a heavily edited video. I guess the saying ‘Make chai, not war’ suddenly gained relevance during those tense moments between the two neighbours.
People must not forget that in Abhinandan’s release lay Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s chance to win a Nobel Peace prize. But then that didn’t materialise. Today, Abhinandan lives on in Pakistan’s memory either as a mannequin inside a war museum or as a poster boy for a tea stall: Aisi chai jo dushman ko bhi dost banaye. The tea made for the perfect jibe but this can also be used as a de-escalating agent whenever relations between the two neighbours heat up.
Plotting against India
India made diplomacy a tougher game for Imran Khan’s government with its Article 370 move.
Now Pakistan needed to plot something against the Modi government and it had to go beyond expressing outrage on Twitter. Because it had been harping on ‘Kashmir Banega Pakistan’ all these years, PM Khan’s government had all the more reason to plan something concrete against India. So, he announced that everyone in Pakistan should stand every Friday literally, not figuratively, and show solidarity with Kashmiris. It happened only for a week because everyone had grown tired by the end of the week to even consider it, let alone follow up with another 30-minute stand-up act (not the funny one). The most difficult job, however, was Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi’s: of drawing the world’s attention to the Kashmir issue, apprising everyone on both sides of the equator and maybe beyond. The only person Qureshi left out was himself because he clearly couldn’t comprehend what had happened in Kashmir.
Now let’s not go into the details of how hard Pakistan tried to garner support for Kashmir at the United Nations, what needs to be remembered is that PM Khan’s 50-minute speech at the UNGA was fantastic.
However, extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures. So, the Pakistan Army released a two-minute song asking India to leave Kashmir: “India ja ja Kashmir se nikal ja, meri jannat mere ghar se nikal ja.” But the result so far is that India hasn’t left ‘our paradise’, ‘our Kashmir’. Such is the power of unpersuasive messaging. We learnt that a patriotic item number was one more way for Pakistan to liberate Kashmir from India. The war shall continue until the last dance move.
Celebrate, no matter what
Among other irritants, the International Court of Justice’s verdict on Kulbhushan Jhadav was yet another moment of reckoning for Pakistan. The judgement was celebrated as a victory – never mind that the court had held Pakistan guilty of violating the Vienna Convention. This sense of false victory was there among Pakistan government officials even when JeM chief Masood Azhar was declared a global terrorist. Just celebrate, don’t ask why and what of it.
The opening of the Kartarpur corridor was called a manifestation of peace, but will there be any hint of peace between India and Pakistan in 2020?
The author is a freelance journalist from Pakistan. Her Twitter handle is @nailainayat. Views are personal.
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