The events of the past two days have brought two nuclear-armed nations to the brink of all-out war. A lot has happened very quickly, and there’s a lot of misinformation being circulated. Central to the events is news, social media and misinformation. 

The Indian media has played a truly disgusting hand in misleading its own public and doing its very best to herald a full-scale war between Indian and Pakistan. As a journalistic bloc, it is guilty of shamelessly lending itself as an instrument to what can be argued is now a rogue Hindutva state that’s mixing revenge based revisionism with political opportunism in a series of events that should be seen as a low point for India’s so-called “great democratic exercise”

With all that’s happening, it’s easy to lose sight of the truth of what has transpired: Modi has attacked Pakistan under false pretenses, for malicious and self-serving political reasons under the guise of being “tough on terror”. The Indian PM, his party and his national security advisers have conspired to use public outrage/sympathy in the wake of the Pulwama attack to play a dangerous game of brinksmanship specifically to achieve the following outcomes: (1) sway the Hindu belt vote strongly in the BJP’s favour before the elections and (2) progress into the more extreme stage of what has for years now been a consistent and demonstrable policy of attempting to weaken Pakistan, with the end goal being the balkanisation of Pakistan.

The resultant situation is borne out of many things, but chief among them is Indian domestic politics. It’s important to keep that in mind: that the sequence of events so far, as well as events to follow from here on out, are both direct consequences of Modi’s electioneering calculus and the RSS’s revisionist (read extremist) brand of Hindu identity that has poisoned the once secular fiber of Indian society, and that views the projection of Hindu power over Muslims and Pakistan as an act of revenge for the Muslim invasion/rule of India hundreds of years ago. 

To be clear, I am making the obvious assertion that Modi’s stated reason for invading the line-of-control is a farce, as is the story that’s now being peddled to the Indian public by its media. The supposed JeM training camp where 300 terrorists were killed has been proven to be a lie, and the underlying military strategy for the “airstrikes” doesn’t hold up to scrutiny in the first place: if the mission, as the Indians claim, was to take out a training camp because more attacks were being planned there, one airstrike was never going to do the trick. Militant groups are inherently decentralized networks, and no competent intelligence apparatus would ever advise that as an effective means of preventing future terror attacks. 

Thus the real motive behind Modi sending IAF jets across the LoC for the first time since 1971 was twofold, for two different audiences: 1) for a domestic audience, to show the Indian masses that he has “political will” to make good on the jingoistic promises he, the pliant Indian media and the BJP at large have been making in relation to Pakistan, (2) for an international audience: to project India’s power by showing their ability to credibly eliminate targets across enemy lines, and to upset the deterrence balance that has kept Pakistan and India from all-out war over the past two decades. 

Modi has failed spectacularly on both fronts: sections of India’s polity are already calling Modi out for using India’s armed forces as political tools and the PR focus has shifted completely out of his favour after an Indian pilot was shot down and captured by Pakistan. Imran Khan’s magnanimous peace overture, in the form of offering to send Wing Commander Abhinandan back home, has added insult to injury — an undeniable show of kindness and statesmanship in the face of visible malicious bellicosity. 

Had an Indian pilot not been captured, Modi and his propaganda machine would have been able to spin a victory to their domestic audience, and de-escalation could have taken effect then and there. A lie, with no evidence, but they would have been able to sell it nonetheless — just as they sold “Surgical Strikes” before. The capture of Wing Commander Abhinandan changed the equation: no amount of anchors and their spin could hide from the embarrassment of a politically motivated military misadventure gone so horribly wrong as a captured pilot. 

Modi and the Saffron Brigade currently look inept, foolish and under pressure. Under these circumstances, they were much more likely to double down rather than accept an off-ramp from the ladder of escalation. It is being reported that India was planning another attack, and that outside powers intervened at the last moment to prevent events from escalating. These reports are uncorroborated, but if true, it would go to show that if Modi had his way, he would have driven South Asia definitively closer to nuclear war. 

In poker terms, this means that Modi was playing a bluff, got called, and could either fold and eat the loss, or go all-in in a desperate bid to save himself. What this means for the subcontinent is that we’re all being subjected to the whims of a twisted megalomaniac gambling for his political future in a game that involves actual armies, soldiers and lives. As the brilliant Nadeem Paracha stated, Modi might actually be the most dangerous leader in the world: “Hitler and Pol Pot rolled into a smiling, selfie-loving psychopath”.

While one hopes that de-escalation follows from here on out, there is no guarantee. In fact, the behaviour of Indian leadership and its cronies provides a bleak forecast for the months to come. There is a dangerous bloodthirst that is being fed to the Indian public by the likes of the Arnab Goswami’s the world; calls for “revenge”, “teaching Pakistan a lesson”, “breaking Pakistan into four” and all manner of such ridiculous assertions are being broadcast in what can be safely assumed to be state-sponsored public opinion shaping messaging.  

Modi went as far as to make a pun about “pilot projects”, and alluded to “scaling them up” in a speech he recently gave. That he is so insensitive to the plight of his pilot is shameful and disrespectful, but more important than Modi’s lack of respect for his own armed forces is the unambiguous foretelling of a premeditated Indian desire to militarily challenge Pakistan in increasingly brazen ways. 

What we can glean from these events is that we have a hostile neighbour that is genuinely uninterested in peace. While dialogue and negotiation should definitely always be sought as a means of de-escalation, it should be assumed and certainly not forgotten who we are dealing with: a right-wing Hindu state whose revisionist goals of destroying Pakistan will remain unchanged. In response, a new and robust retaliatory foreign policy towards India must be formulated and implemented. 

Rather than relying solely on talks with a party we already know to be fixated on war, Pakistan should actively seek to expose India internationally for the religiously extremist state it has become, and the threat that it actively poses to peace in the region and beyond. 

If recent history is anything to go by, it is evidently clear that Pakistan has so far largely failed to make its own narrative heard around the world — despite there being clear cut evidence of India having sponsored the TTP, BLA and other terrorist groups within Pakistan, causing massive loss of life and destabilization in general. Despite all this, whenever tensions rise, the conversation in the international media largely remains one in which Pakistan is viewed suspiciously and India is given the benefit of the doubt. This is a signal that we have not been loud enough, or smart enough in terms of how to holistically counter the deliberate and malicious anti-Pakistan narrative that India has propagated in recent years. 

Pakistan has won its first PR battle against India for the first time in a long time. We must take steps to ensure we also win the war that will come. While the brave armed forces of Pakistan defend us militarily, it is equally important for the government, media, and intelligentsia to collaborate and take creative steps to expose India for the bigoted, aggressive, and war-obsessed nation it is under the leadership of Modi.

Pakistan Zindabad.