What an extraordinary week we have had. Whatever our criticisms of Imran Khan and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government — of which there are plenty — let us give credit where it is due. Imran Khan proved to be the right person at the right time, a strong willed leader standing up to aggression by an unthinking and unsavoury Indian Prime Minister (PM).
The Indian narrative on the events of the past week would be hilarious if it was not tragic. They claimed an air strike and yet could not produce evidence of the damage. After their jets were shot out of the sky, they claimed that they too had shot down an F-16. Hilarious because all of these claims could be verified with footage from a front camera, which even a tenth generation Honda Civic comes factory fitted with these days. Indeed all fighter jets have the Head Up Display (HUD), which records precisely these things. Instead, Indian anchors were busy producing pictures of ribs and engines that even their own experts rightly pointed out were Mig 21 parts. If indeed Indians wanted to claim that they had shot down a Pakistani jet and use ribs from a Mig 21, they could have at least claimed to have shot down an F-7P, which is precisely the Chinese manufactured Mig 21 used by Pakistan. The reason why Indians wanted to insist that Pakistan used an F-16 was based on the mistaken notion that Americans can dictate which theatre an F-16 can or cannot be used in. This is possibly true of the Block 52 F-16 C/D versions, which were procured during the war on terrorism but is certainly not true of the F-16 A/B that Pakistan has been using since the 1980s. Nevertheless, the Pakistani position is that it did not use the F-16s in the recent combat over and around the Line Of Control (LOC).
The war against Hindutva India is a war where our tools and weapons are books, the internet, economy and the war on illiteracy and poverty
The Indian narrative gets even more hilarious when it comes to the claim that Pakistan violated the Third Geneva Convention by releasing a video of Wing Commander Abhinandan of the Indian Air Force. The Indians are citing a violation of Article 13 of the 1949 Geneva Convention. It should be produced in full: “Prisoners of war must at all times be humanely treated. Any unlawful act or omission by the Detaining Power causing death or seriously endangering the health of a prisoner of war in its custody is prohibited and will be regarded as a serious breach of the present Convention. In particular, no prisoner of war may be subjected to physical mutilation or to medical or scientific experiments of any kind which are not justified by the medical, dental or hospital treatment of the prisoner concerned and carried out in his interest. Likewise, prisoners of war must at all times be protected, particularly against acts of violence or intimidation and against insults and public curiosity. Measures of reprisal against prisoners of war are prohibited.” In particular, they rely on “public curiosity” as being deployed with the release of the video. Some little known military justice expert from a little known university is being quoted again and again as the basis for this claim. Wing Commander Abhinandan was not only rescued from a mob but was then given the necessary care. The video produced of him did not open him up to public ridicule or curiosity but led to widespread calls from Pakistanis for fair and just treatment under the law. Unlike the Indians who are baying for every Pakistani’s blood, no Pakistani has called for the hanging or ill-treatment of the Indian air warrior. By opening itself up to media scrutiny, Pakistan not only acknowledged an Indian POW (and he would fall under this category for obvious reasons) but also pledged to its own people and the world community fair and just treatment to the Indian POW. Taken aback by such forthright display by the Pakistani military authorities, Indian agent provocateurs, who would have rather the Pakistan Army tortured Wing Commander Abhinandan instead, proceeded with this new line of propaganda. Joining in the chorus were self-styled experts on the law of war and armed conflict. These are generally people with legal training who have never quite practised law inside a courtroom. To them, therefore, the practice of law is limited to hair-splitting and misapplication of international conventions. They can care less about the well being of an air warrior like Wing Commander Abhinandan and are more concerned about one-upmanship. PM Imran Khan’s decision to send Abhinandan back to India, when we could have under law kept him till cessation of hostilities, is a landmark in South Asia’s bitter history. History will remember Imran Khan as a great statesman for his decisions in wake of naked aggression by India.
Yet we have to decide – as Imran Khan said — where we go from here. Indians for all their sabre rattling are ultimately joined with us through ties of a common past, blood and even wars. For one thing, PM Imran Khan can start by doing away with the little Modis in his own cabinet like Ali Muhammad Khan. While the PM was making his extraordinary gesture of peace, this minister was seen on TV announcing Ghazwa-e-Hind. Secondly, we should have a clear policy vis a vis Hafiz Saeed and Masood Azhar. There is no question of surrendering them to India or any foreign power but they must be brought to face the full face of justice for all that they are accused of. Pakistani soil should never be used to mount terror attacks in any of our neighbouring countries. Finally, we must realize that India ultimately relies on clever marketing and packaging. Despite having a far-right hatemonger as its PM, India packages itself as a secular democracy. Despite the fact that a hatemonger of that kind will never win any popular election in Pakistan, we automatically lose points because of the inherent contradictions in our Constitution and laws. Even if we do not go completely secular, we should make every effort to dismantle all discriminatory laws that have made our country an object of ridicule the world over. Now more than ever, Pakistan needs to implement Jinnah’s August 11 speech in letter and spirit, because when push comes to shove, every Pakistani – no matter what his or her religion — stands shoulder to shoulder. There can never be an occasion to discriminate against Non-Muslims in Pakistan or against those who have been forced into exclusion such as the Ahmadis. Pakistan must stand by everyone of its children just like they stand by Pakistan. That way the final victory will be ours. Ghazwa-e-Hind should not be about nuclear weapons and inflicting deaths on each other. It is really about an economic war and a media war. It is a war where our tools and weapons are books, the internet, economy and the war on illiteracy and poverty. We can win this war, but for that we will have to follow an inclusive and progressive ethos which can truly make Pakistan the second Medina PM Imran Khan always talks about.
The writer is a practicing lawyer and was a visiting fellow at Harvard Law School in Cambridge MA, USA
Published in Daily Times, March 4th 2019.