Sep 6, 2019

Pakistan is harnessing Western media in the wake of the Kashmir crisis

Pakistan's Ambassador to the U.S. Asad Majeed Khan. Photo: Yasin Ozturk/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images.

Responding to India’s August annexation of Kashmir, Pakistani officials are using interviews, op-eds and social media to emphasize that Islamabad is taking a diplomatic, not military, response to the dangerous religious zealotry that is driving Indian policy.

Why it matters: Pakistan is betting a global public relations campaign can help address the Kashmir crisis in the short term and realign South Asian politics in the long term — paving the way for economic gains and better relations with the West.

Background: Following its landslide victory in May, the Hindu nationalist government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has mounted a major anti-Muslim campaign. Modi's actions are intended to play to his extremist supporters, cementing his grip on power.

  • In August, it annexed the autonomous Muslim-majority region of Kashmir, which is under a complete military lockdown, and suspended the citizenship of almost 2 million Indian Muslims.

What they're saying: In a recent media blitz, Pakistan’s ambassadors to Washington and the UN, the foreign minister and other officials echoed key points Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan outlined in a New York Times op-ed Saturday:

  • Khan alleged on Twitter that Kashmiris are facing “ethnic cleansing” and that India is stripping them of their rights and preparing to flood the formerly semi-autonomous region with Hindus to create new demographic realities.
  • Asad Majeed Khan, Pakistan’s U.S. ambassador said the country is committed to a diplomatic solution of the crisis, including direct talks with India, and is seeking UN and U.S. intervention.

Meanwhile, the Pakistani government held media events with Hindus and Sikhs to emphasize protection of minorities in contrast to Indian intolerance.

What to watch: India is a major U.S. diplomatic and trading partner, while Pakistan has had a troubled relationship with Washington, which has accused it of backing al Qaeda and other militant groups.

  • If Pakistan succeeds in winning over Washington and India alienates the international community through religious zealotry, the geopolitics of South Asia could shift dramatically.
  • That would be a victory for Pakistan even if the Indian annexation of Kashmir becomes permanent.

Lawrence Pintak is a professor at Washington State University and the author of "America & Islam: Soundbites, Suicide Bombs and the Road to Donald Trump."

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