I’m officially confused.
India claims its soldiers crawled through two kilometres of landmines and back without so much as getting mud on their trousers, to conduct a surgical strike. Pakistan denies this, and says it was a cross-border artillery exchange, during which an Indian soldier was captured when he was fired in place of a shell. India says the soldier should be freed because he crossed the border by mistake; he was just out for a stroll and didn't notice all the barbed wire, landmines and trousers.
For India, 29 September was a historical and unprecedented retaliation over jihadist terrorism. For Pakistan, it was just another Thursday. The Pakistan Army invited a bus full of journalists to visit one of the sites of the alleged attack, showing them undisturbed, lush green fields where they claimed the worst thing to happen the entire week was a farmer’s goat going missing. This is the first time the Pakistan Army has taken journalists somewhere not against their will.
CNN International carried that report. While CNN-News18 in India released a phone conversation with some intelligence operator in Mirpur on Pakistan’s side of Kashmir, where he admits to the surgical strike to a man pretending to be a superior officer from Punjab, in an accent that wouldn’t convince someone half-deaf.
India also claims to have traced two of the Uri terrorists to Muzaffarabad, using the latest in espionage technology — because that’s where Google Maps shows jihadist camps.
Pakistan dismisses this claim too, and in response asked the United Nations to direct its attention towards human rights abuses in Indian Kashmir, the real root of militancy, while militant leader Hafiz Saeed, declared a terrorist by the same United Nations, is busy conducting caravans and press conferences up and down the country.
War is not a complicated matter, people die in large numbers to produce winners and losers. But war between Pakistan and India seems altogether too intricate an affair to be understood. We fight wars in which both sides win. This is unprecedented in the history of human conflict. Subcontinental warfare seems to produce only winners because subcontinental warfare is largely a war of narratives.
India says, "We attacked you", Pakistan says, "No, you didn’t". India says, "Militants". Pakistan says, "Freedom fighters". India wants Pakistan declared a terrorist state, Pakistan wants India declared a terrible state. For Kashmir. But every time Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif says, "Kashmir", his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi says, "Balochistan". On Twitter, we remind you of Hyderabad, and you remind us of East Bengal, then it’s back to Kashmir and Balochistan.
The language of war is important. It’s meant to obfuscate. A surgical strike evokes precision, efficiency and impact. It could also just be the plight of unpaid surgeons. What is it really? Terrorist launch pads? I didn’t realise we were sending militants into space. Intense engagements. When you propose, but she takes a day or two to say, "Yes".
The language is important, but what’s also important in the war of narratives is to never relent, like two children in a staring contest.
Nawaz feels India was too hasty in its allegations that the Uri attack originated from Pakistan. If you’d only waited a decade or two, maybe we could’ve admitted culpability. Modi says he has proof that the terrorists were from Pakistan, their guns still had shopping tags. Nawaz says he was too far away to see the tags from London.
Modi threw down the gauntlet on eradicating poverty, to which Nawaz replied that poverty cannot be eradicated by driving tanks over farmlands. As his advisory team pointed out after days of research and deliberation, those would be tractors.
You say you’re aggrieved by terrorism. We say we’re more aggrieved by terrorism. You say you’re upset about Mumbai, Pathankot, Uri and everything in between. We say we’re upset about Kulbhushan Yadav. An Indian national caught in Balochistan. We claim he’s a serving army officer, we received a big tip. Meanwhile Baloch separatist Brahumdagh Bugti says he will seek asylum in India. You're officially becoming the next Switzerland. Former president Asif Ali Zardari might call asking if he can shift his bank accounts to Delhi.
So now you say Kashmir, and we say Balochistan,
As of yesterday, Pakistan’s television channels are banned from airing Indian content. Your content was fine as long as it wasn’t discontent. Our minister of defence claims you engineered the attack yourself, but then our minister of defence says a lot of silly things, don’t mind him.
The language is important, but what’s also important in the war of narratives is to never relent, like two children in a staring contest
Nawaz’s opponents say Pakistan’s ambiguous policy on militants is isolating it internationally. From whom, asks Nawaz, we already have the second worst passport in the world. The green passport is the equivalent of an international restraining order.
Meanwhile, Arvind Kejriwal was drenched in black ink for saying that the Modi government should provide proof of the surgical strikes. He was terribly upset of course, he would’ve preferred blue.
India says a video documenting the attack is with the Modi government (hopefully narrated by Anupam Kher in camouflage gear) and he will decide whether to release it or not. His supporters say asking for proof of the surgical strike is disloyal, and only those not asking for proof should be shown it.
If any of this makes sense to you, you’re a much more discerning person than I.
One thing’s for sure though, in the war of narratives the only thing that loses is the truth.