Kashmir solidarity or feel good day?

The faux pas wouldn’t affect national security but the peace gestures would, and they have

Imran Jan February 06, 2020

I was flipping through various Pakistani news channels this week. Several of them were broadcasting videos made by various Pakistanis, both kids and adults, expressing solidarity with Kashmir. The topic was the February 5 observance of the Kashmir Solidarity Day. This year the day holds a special significance because it is the first one after the Indian annexation of the occupied valley. Pakistan is relentlessly telling the Kashmiris that it stands with them against India. It is like signing a cheque of an account that has no money or strenuously offering lunch to a visiting guest during Ramazan.

Somehow, in all the videos, along with verbal expressions of solidarity, there were these hand gestures that were starkly reminiscent of a video game I used to play as a kid. It was called Street Fighter where two fighters fought according to certain rules. In almost all the duels, there used to be some people in the background who always cheered with similar hand gestures.

The funny part was that when one fighter would go down in the duel, they all still cheered. What was even funnier was that regardless of which fighter went down, the cheering and the hand gestures kept going as if they had no favourite. Those little video game people were there just to cheer with no meaning. They were cheering because they were programmed to do so.

Many years ago, I had the opportunity to observe the same behaviour in Peshawar, not by video game characters, but rather by real human beings with real flesh and blood. Those were protesters who marched on the roads against the publication of blasphemous caricatures of our beloved Holy Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) by the Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten. The protesters damaged the property of people who had no connection or sympathy whatsoever with those who drew or published the caricatures. Worst of all, many of the protestors didn’t even know why they were on a vandalising spree. Someone had commented very rightly at the time that destroying Pakistan was super easy; just come up with some blasphemous drawings and Pakistanis will turn their country into ashes.

It deeply saddens me to realise that we in Pakistan vandalise without meaning. And we cheer, which has no meaning too. India has successfully annexed Kashmir. Pakistan is busy observing solidarity days and India is aggressively sabre-rattling by threatening to come after Pakistan’s thin sliver of Kashmir. Call me a warmonger or whatever else you might like but only a bloody nose will give India the same flying birds that used to fly over the head of the fighter in Street Fighter who would be beaten pretty bad.

While symbolism is great, it is alone not enough. Nation states are created with and breathe with an ideology but they survive with brute force. Sometimes nations must do the unthinkable to protect what’s the dearest. And that is not just Kashmir here but the respect and dignity of Pakistan. This is about the preemption of the Indian acts of aggression against Pakistan. Broadcasting videos made with cell phone cameras depicting the jubilant Pakistani mood is not going to do the magic. Modi is not going to leave Kashmir just because we now have a song that says India Jaa Jaa Kashmir Se Nikal Jaa, meaning Go India Go, Leave Kashmir.

While every fighter in the Street Fighter always got another chance to fight back and try to win, Pakistan may not be so lucky if it draws satisfaction from singing songs and broadcasting homemade videos. We are only fooling ourselves by encouraging a culture of passivity via cell phone activism. Let us hope and pray that Imran Khan does not extend another peace gesture to India. He can go on the world stage and congratulate Canada and Vietnam as model neighbours or whichever set of distant countries that in his mind might share borders. The faux pas wouldn’t affect national security but the peace gestures would, and they have.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 6th, 2020.

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