Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Why we need to resist Indian media's scare-mongering tactics (a letter to the editor of the Times of India)


The article you front-paged as top story in your Delhi edition on January 7 is deeply objectionable on several counts ("Expanding Talibanistan is closer to Wagah than Lucknow to Delhi", ToI, Jan 7 2009, page 1; available at this writing at:

To begin with, the headline is seriously challenged in a syntactic sense, apart from being logically ridiculous. In essence, it means nothing more – or less – than proclaiming that Amritsar is closer to Lahore than to Delhi. That, if I may say so, is no scoop.

Could you ever imagine the New York Times running a headline that read: "The expanding republic of Hispania is closer to Houston than Seattle is to New York"? Maybe you could, but most reasonable people would find it rather ludicrous.

Besides, the article is written with total inattention to acknowledged facts about the recent history of the South Asian neighbourhood. The reporter says at one stage that "seven years after US (sic) drove the Taliban and al-Qaida from Afghanistan, the world's most potent terror group has not only recouped but could be within hitting (sic) distance of forming their own state.."

Your reporter is badly mixed up, evidently seeing all of Afghanistan in the cities of Kabul and Kandahar. There was indeed an illusion created that the Taliban had been driven out of power seven years ago, but it was evident then to all with basic knowledge in these matters, that the Islamic militia had merely melted away into the countryside and would regroup, in the absence of a really smart political strategy by Afghanistan's new masters.

All this has been part of the debate and dialogue in strategic circles for at least four years. These issues were certainly debated, though perhaps without the requisite seriousness in the U.S. presidential election campaign of 2004.

There is neither any great revelation in your reporter's story, nor anything by way of a "news flash". This makes the placement of your story top and centre in your January 7 edition rather mystifying.

Finally, your reporter is ignorant of basic contemporary facts, as in the follow-on story ("Taliban no longer a distant threat", page 17, available at this writing at the URL identified above). This story says: "They (the Taliban) have also run through the North West Frontier Province (NWFP), helped by an inept government of Islamic religious parties".

Typically, as with much of the Indian media today, you are disinclined to let a few facts stand in the way of a denunciation of so-called "Islamic religious parties". Unfortunately though, it is fairly common knowledge that the government in the NWFP is a coalition between the Awami National Party (ANP) and the Pakistan Peoples' Party (PPP), neither of which could even remotely be described as "Islamic" or "religious". The ANP is directly descended from the political formations that the revered "Frontier Gandhi", Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, promoted and actively associated himself with. Indeed, within the Pakistani ideological spectrum, the ANP and the PPP are if anything, secular in terms of their politics and centre-left and populist in terms of their economics.

Whoever has briefed your reporter on this story was either monumentally ignorant or, more likely, willing to bet on the gullibility of today's so-called strategic affairs commentators. You have unfortunately, played along by publishing this story top and centre, underlining how the Indian media today has nothing but the grossest contempt for the intelligence of its audience.

In these difficult times, the readers of your newspaper surely deserve better than this variety of scare-mongering. When the need is for a well-informed public dialogue on the urgent problems we all confront, you seem intent on promoting ignorance.

Yours etc. etc.

Sukumar Muralidharan

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