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Truth falls victim to acrimony
IN this blighted part of the world with at least a billion and a quarter inhabitants, a vast majority of them shirtless, hungry and diseased, bravado rules supreme. Claims, counter-claims have to be sifted through clinically in the quest for the truth but you`ll only stumble on it if you get lucky.

The so-called surgical strike on the Pakistan side of Kashmir is a case in point. The Indians are making tall claims of having caused some three-and-a-half dozen deaths in their operation. The Pakistanis say balderdash, nothing like that happened. We are forced to take the word of one side or the other.

Yes, the truth is that well shrouded. It has to be zealously guarded simply because the pride and ego of the two nuclear giants are not veste d in social human indicators. They are solely reliant on their perceived military power and prowess and the number of warheads each possesses to destroy the other multiple times over.

Many in Pakistan argue that the Indian state seeks to dominate every other in South Asia and can only conceivably tolerate the most compliant of countries among those surrounding it, perhaps with the exception of China that it knows it can`t play big brother to.

This view was reinforced by the statement of one of India`s ministers of state, following the `surgical strike` claimin Azad Kashmir, when he told the media that his country`s forces were targeting terrorists `on Indian soil` ie in Pakistani (Azad) Kashmir and hence there was no issue.

That statement was arrogant and delusional, and a definite cause for alarm if it embodied the view of the entire far-right Hindu-nationalist BJP government, as such thoughts would inevitably lead to a clash. There is no dearth of hard-liners on the Pakistan side to match their Indian counterparts blow for blow.

The goodwill generated by the Indian prime minister`s invitation to his Pakistani counterpart to attend his inauguration; the unannounced arrival in Lahore of Mr Narendra Modi to attend the wedding of Mr Nawaz Sharif`s granddaughter and the rapport established between the two national security advisers during their secret parleys in Bangkok seems to have gone up in smoke.

Once the seething anger in India-held Kashmirboiled over in the aftermath of the killing of social media star-separatist Burhan Wani, and a full-fledged uprising erupted in the valley with statements of support coming from Pakistan, a downturn in relations was to follow.

Unable to put down one of the most resilient azadi movements by unarmed Kashmiris, despite the use of brutal repressive measures, the Indians started to blame Pakistan. If it was thought that a few gestures which created a bit of bonhomie were going to be enough for Pakistan to look the other way, it was a mistaken belief.

Daily images of Kashmiris being blinded by pelletsfired by Indian security forces and dozens of deaths including the killing of women and children were driving up the mercury on the Pakistan side.

With a hard-line Indian government not prepared to follow any course other than repression, what came next was to be expected. Within hours of the Uri incident, India was blaming Pakistan for the attack on its military encampment and the latter was rubbishing claims of its involvement. Unlike so many journalists in the two countries and some supposedly `neutral` belonging to third countries who advanced speculation as fact, I was without the means to ascertain who was responsible.

What we all do know is that the incident added booster rockets to an already tense and charged atmosphere. The TV stars are ratings-driven patriots and start beating the war drums at the drop of a hat.

But now some usually sane and balanced Indian print journalists also warned Pakistan of `tough action`.

A further hint of how the narrative has been warped with the rise of right-wing nationalism inIndia is the observation that so-called Pakistani liberals are lauded on social media when they criticise their own state, the military and its often disastrous policies.

But should they dare venture to share their honestly held opinions on Indian oppression in Kashmir and Delhi`s apparent desire to play `big brother`in the region, their timelines become inundated with derision. Not just by partisan BJP trolls but journalists too.

One can only hope that these people do not represent the majority opinion across the border, even if the BJP was voted in by a landslide in the last election.

The irony is that the dark thoughts on display on one side of the border bring out the darkest thoughts on the other side as well.

Today, Pakistan seems to be totally consumed by India and its single-track use of brutal force in held Kashmir. Equally critical issues such as the existential threats posed by militancy and terrorism not just of the Tehreelei-Taliban Pakistan but other groups such as Jaish-e-Mohammad, Lashkar-i-Jhangvi and Lashkar-e-Taiba don`t seem to be in the cross hairs.

Our energy isn`t directed towards other critical areas either. Here is an example. Barely a few months back, Brahmdagh Bugti was talking of a dialogue with the state even if it meant abandoning his demand for `independence`. His offer drew criticism from other Baloch separatist leaders.

At a time when we should have moved with lightning speed to capitalise and consolidate on such an offer, our inertia, possibly indifference or self-confidence, drove him away with the result that he is now seeking asylum in India, addressing joint press conferences with Hyrbyair Marri. This will serve as a major propaganda coup for India.

With little action against terror groups, compounded by our ability to score own goals such as the one just discussed, we ourselves perhaps pose a greater threat to our country than any external power can. The situation is screaming for changed priorities and action. But will we act?• The writer is a former editor of Dawn.