Enemy Images on Pakistan Television
I. A. Rehman
Pakistan’s television reminds viewers of their enemy every day. For years now its main news bulletin has been presenting, prominently in the first half of the programme, an account of this enemy’s atrocities in the Muslim-majority part of Kashmir -- the Valley. The story may include the latest acts of barbarism by Indian troops against the militant guerrillas or innocent civilians, or protest strikes in towns, or restrictions placed from time to time on dissident leaders’ basic rights to freedom of movement and political agitation. The killer/oppressor is identified as an enemy not merely because he is committing gross violations of human rights, although the spoken line does suggest this, but because he is operating as an instrument in India’s decades-old conflict with Pakistan by perpetuating its hold over Kashmir that, according to Pakistan, has been denied its right to self-determination.
With a view to facilitating public acceptance of the enemy image, Pakistan television has been offering, besides news items, feature productions and discussions in current affairs programmes. The features are usually enlarged versions of news reports of the conflict in Kashmir -- the heroic resistance put up by ordinary and generally resourceless Kashmiri men and women against a merciless foe, the enormous sacrifices borne by them in the cause of freedom and justice, and the utter inhumanity and bestiality of their oppressors. The current affairs programmes offer a recapitulation of history -- how the partition principle, according to which princely states were required to join one of the new dominions -- India or Pakistan --- in accordance with the wishes of the population was subverted by the Maharaja of Kashmir in collusion with the Indian rulers, how the United Nations Security Council’s resolutions calling for a plebiscite in the disputed territory were frustrated by Indian obduracy, how important for peace in the region the resolution of the Kashmir problem is, and how impossible and immoral it would be for Pakistan to give up the cause of the Kashmiri people.
The issue is placed in a wider historical context. India has resorted to carnage and pillage in Kashmir, it is argued, because it has not reconciled to the creation of Pakistan. Its Kashmir policy is therefore part of its plans to undo Pakistan. Thus, Pakistan is confronting a entity whose hostility is not confined to the dispute over Kashmir, but one whose enmity to Pakistan is more deeply rooted. Since India’s non-acceptance of the reality of Pakistan is on account of its repudiation of the theoretical foundations of Pakistan, it is an enemy in an ideological sense as well as in physical terms. Thus, unless India agrees to give up Kashmir and offers proof that it has reconciled to Pakistan’s existence as a free state, it will continue to be rated as a standing enemy.
However, this enemy image is not the product of Pakistan television alone, which came into being 17 years after independence. Pakistani people’s thought-processes had already been fixed by a long history of communal confrontation in the sub-continent, the orgy of violence which attended the partition, and the impressions formed by the literature of the colonial period and the under-developed Press before independence and the controlled one afterwards.
In order to fully appreciate Pakistan television’s performance in creating enemy images it is necessary to briefly review the development of the country’s media. Pakistan had a fledgling Press at the time of independence. A low literacy rate impeded its growth. Even today the combined circulation of newspapers is around two million copies in a population estimated at 140 million. A better part of the Press chose to accept between 1947 and 1958 the official version of Pakistan's disputes with India, mainly because it formed a continuation of the communal controversy that preceded independence and in the course which the masses had imbibed a certain view of politics.
With the advent of military rule in 1958 freedom of the Press was among the first casualties. The Ayub regime (1958-1969) embarked on a policy of bringing the entire media including the Press under its control. Film censorship was toughened. An old colonial law that gave the administration arbitrary control over theatrical performances was invoked with greater zeal. The powers the colonial rulers had acquired to muzzle the Press in periods of emergency were incorporated into a new regular law. Finally, it created an officially controlled Press Trust to take over a string of newspapers. Those that escaped falling into the net had to find props to sustain their existence and they gave their pro-democracy professions the under-pinning of ideological commitment to slogans sanctified during the movement for independence. Rhetoric about religion and national security became their stock-in-trade and anti-India fervour became handy as essential cement for the mix.
Television was launched in Pakistan in 1964 as a state-controlled enterprise, the immediate motive being to establish a direct channel of mass communication for President Ayub who was due to stand for re-election. From the outset it was meant to be a government propaganda outfit, and to this day its character has remained unaltered despite such cosmetic changes as the creation of a corporation governed by articles of incorporation. The government appoints its main executives and they are replaced with almost each change of government. Similar, though less strict, has been the state’s control over radio broadcasting. Less than a decade ago a private television network was created by a semi-official agent, the Shalimar Recording Company, but it was not allowed to present news or current affairs programmes and what it was allowed to telecast had to be approved by the official censor. Thus, for its perception of enemies or elements hostile to Pakistan the electronic media is fed largely by state functionaries. Of course, it is free to fall back upon the legacy of the pre-partition politics in the same manner as official spokesmen or the print media do.
India may be the principal enemy identified by Pakistan’s television and other branches of the media, but it is not the sole occupant of this status, and the techniques and styles adopted to draw the other enemy-images have been applied to India too. Some enemy images developed by Pakistani people during their pre-independence history have survived, to some extent on television also. The colonial power that determined the fate of South Asia for two centuries is often recalled as the enemy that extinguished the Muslim empire whose successor the state of Pakistan is seen to be not only by the fiction-addicted masses but also by some of the historians. Television may not have cared to study colonialism as a system and the impact it has had on Pakistan’s administration and politics but a great deal of the political rhetoric about Pakistan’s problems being due to the colonial power’s collusion with the main enemy -- the Hindu community -- regularly colours TV programmes. The colonial enemy is frequently encountered in historical features on events such as the collapse of the Mughal dynasty, or the agitation for the defence of the Turkish Caliphate, or in biographical studies on or references to prominent figures in political movements such as Syed Ahmad Khan or Mohammad Ali Jauhar.
The enemy-image of the colonial masters also appears in features on the history of the Pakistan movement and their role in creating the Kashmir issue. Some of the problems Pakistan faced at the time of independence are attributed to the cupidity of the colonial authority, to its desire to punish the leaders of the Pakistan movement for their refusal to surrender to its wishes. This enemy image has been painted in somewhat bolder colours in features depicting the resistance to foreign occupation put up by smaller autonomous communities in Pathan and Baloch lands.
Two other enemy images have been shaped by Pakistan’s adoption of the Muslim world’s causes as its own. The Crusades still provide an important theme for fiction writers and so does the expulsion of Muslims from Spain in the 15th century. In both contexts Pakistan is seen as part of a trans-national community against which Christian powers have waged a ceaseless war through different means. Quite often the hostility displayed by the colonial power against the subcontinent’s Muslims is presented as part of this global confrontation. This concept has lately received strength from the view promoted by religious parties, and shared to a considerable extent by policy-makers, that Pakistan is a target of the West because the latter is afraid of the Muslim world’s unity and its potential in both economic and political terms. It was in this context that Pakistani people’s solidarity with the Palestinians grew and that resulted in the casting first of Zionism and then Israel in the role of enemies.
Afghanistan appeared as a hostile country in the perceptions of both the state and the public soon after the emergence of Pakistan, because of its irredentist claims and its opposition to Pakistan’s admission to the United Nations. But by the time television came to Pakistan the peak in hostility between the two countries had passed, and references to the northern neighbour’s hostile actions and attitudes on TV were few and scattered. Even when Pakistan became a party to the war against the Soviet-supported regime in Afghanistan the enemy there did not receive special attention and PTV was content with reproducing the image that had been created by the West. This attitude was in continuation of the somewhat ill-defined policy adopted by the state media throughout the cold war period. Although Pakistan belonged to Western defence pacts and TV did sometimes present foreign features in which communism in general and the Soviet Union in particular were treated as enemies of the 'free world', it avoided relating these enemy sketches to Pakistani people’s concerns.
Enemy images develop fully in periods of active and prolonged armed conflict, and even then the process takes time and requires definite planning. Pakistan has had three wars with India but each time the conflict was of short duration and one is not aware of any propaganda planning effort of the kind the Allies and the Axis powers made during the Second World War or even the strategies devised during the conflicts in Korea, Algeria and Vietnam. The enemy images created by parties to these conflicts had considerable material to draw upon in the form of the division of the world into occidental and oriental societies, colour distinctions and racial prejudices. No such material in developed form was available to Pakistani creators of the enemy image.
However, the fact that India has been consistently identified by the television as an enemy is not disputed. In its essays into history, India is identified as the party that was more hostile to the Pakistan demand than even the British. The war with India in 1965 took place at a time when Pakistan’s television was less than a year old and it played a leading role in creating the image of the enemy against whom the patriotic forces were to be mobilised. Throughout the upheaval in the former East Pakistan considerable attention was given to India’s contribution to it. And Kashmir has been a perennial theme with the PTV, especially since the beginning of the people’s uprising eight years ago. Out of all the enemy images Pakistani people have seen on the TV screen it is the treatment of India that merits attention in the present exercise.
In both substance and style the enemy image on TV is derived from the stereotypes of Muslims’ adversaries in Urdu historical fiction and of villainish characters in sub-continental cinema. The main characteristic of 'us versus them' situations has traditionally been concentration on the assumption that we have always been in the right, that we have been more courageous than the adversary, and that the latter’s chief weapons have been deceit and intrigue. The appeal has been to raw emotions rather than to reason. The purpose has been to perpetuate belief in the existence of an enemy instead of drawing up its complete portrait or presenting an analysis of the factors that propel the enemy to persist in its hostility to Pakistan.
Let us recall the 1965 conflict with India. Since the stereotyped enemy figure derived from the literary tradition was that of a scheming coward much attention was focussed on India’s unannounced advance on Lahore in the darkness of the night. Other features of the enemy were to be derived by the public from what was said about ourselves. The Indians were said to have challenged the followers of Islam, hence they were primarily against our faith. Since our air force had dealt severe blows to the enemy air force and our army had halted its advance it followed we were not only better and braver fighters than the aggressor, we were also inspired by a loftier ideal than the latter. These assumptions furnished the basic approach to the enemy Pakistan fought in 1965. All that mattered was that there was an enemy out there at the borders and it was checked not only by the soldiers at the battlefront but also by a fully supportive population. It was not necessary to analyse the genesis of the conflict or the enemy’s version of events or even the stakes in the conflict. This approach did not help in drawing a full image of the enemy.
The difficulties in bringing the enemy in sharper focus during the conflict in the former East Pakistan were much greater than in 1965. Although India was identified as the real enemy the fact that till its direct intervention the force confronting the Pakistan regime comprised Pakistani Bengalis interfered with image-making efforts. And once war broke out between India and Pakistan attention was diverted to events on the battlefield or to speculation about rumoured plans for the western front and stories about non-existent initiatives by friendly states to such an extent that an adequate portrayal of the enemy lost priority.
In its treatment of the Kashmir dispute TV has attempted to project a somewhat fuller image of the enemy. In its current affairs programmes the emphasis is on India’s reneging on a solemn pledge to allow a plebiscite in the disputed territory and on its defiance of the United Nations resolutions. It is assumed that the present-day audience is as familiar with the genesis of the Kashmir dispute as an average Pakistani was forty or fifty years ago and its appreciation of the UN resolutions has not been affected by its awareness of the world body’s conduct over the years. Thus, what these programmes convey to the Pakistani audiences is the existence of an inveterate enemy that is engaged in wanton killing of Kashmiri nationalists, they do not enable them to realistically assess the strengths and weaknesses of the enemy.
In the history of conflicts between states and communities we find many effective uses of enemy images for arousing public emotions. In the most widely known examples, such as we saw during the second world war, or colonial campaigns to suppress liberation movements, such as in Algeria or Kenya, or during the cold war, the enemy was presented as a source of evil that threatened not only all the values of civilised human conduct one had established but also all the interests central to one’s existence and prosperity. The enemy is to be hated to an extent that no effort and sacrifice can be considered too great to combat it. Such an enemy cannot be presented as lacking in physical strength or resolve, but it must be shown lacking in respect for human and moral values. The effective enemy images have presented adversaries as monsters out to devour everything that is cherished by the other party. One has only to recall the images that expressions such as Algerian Moslem terrorists, Mau Mau, Vietcong guerrillas, and the Evil Empire conjured up to realise the effect enemy’s portrayal in political rhetoric or media projection can produce.
For some reason that appears to be rooted in the peculiar way the history of communal conflict in South Asia has been recorded the enemy images we see on Pakistan television are drawn as caricatures. Whether the enemy is projected as a sly and devious disciple of Chanakya and whether his ritualistic display of belief is exposed as hypocritical the figure appears more ridiculous than it is menacing. Such figures have been seen in almost all the plays on Kashmir presented on Pakistan television, including the better productions offered by Shahzad Khalil and Shahid Mahmud. They cannot produce the desired effect because no community can be persuaded to fight an enemy to the bitter end if it invites laughter instead of sizzling hatred.
Creation of enemy-images is not wholly a matter of trading assumptions and old myths. The task demands crafting of an all-embracing myth about the enemy. The marks of identification are given the widest possible currency so that a single epithet is sufficient to open the whole enemy image in the mind of the target audience. But the use of such expressions cannot be limited to situations obtaining at the time of their coinage; they need to be related to changing realities on the ground. When the liberated part of the state of Jammu and Kashmir was named Azad Kashmir and the rest of the territory given the name of Indian-occupied Kashmir the basis for an easily identifiable enemy-image was laid but there the process stopped. Our image-makers have not been adequately successful in developing terminology that must accompany an enemy-image.
The art of demonising an enemy demands that the authors of the exercise should be free, or at least believed to be free, of the blemishes for which the adversary is attacked. The second world war allies could not have succeeded in projecting the Axis as enemies of democracy without demonstrating their own adherence to the principles of democracy. Nor could they assail the adversary’s designs to subjugate the entire humankind without shifting from their imperialist concepts and promising freedom to the colonies. In this business the kettle’s blaming the pot does not work.
It is worth considering that Pakistan TV’s attempts to create the image of an enemy lacking democratic principles or a serious commitment to secularism or a practical denial of guarantees to minorities might have failed to move the audience at home because of the absence of a better record on its own side. Perhaps our image-makers could have been more effective if we had banished from our midst the evil we saw in the other camp. Nothing illustrates this point better than the use by Pakistan TV of dispatches on atrocities in Kashmir from a Srinagar-based Muslim reporter. Public awareness that this reporter was enjoying freedom to an extent his counterparts on our side apparently did not have could not fit in with the scheme of producing an enemy-image.
Pakistan television’s capacity to project convincing enemy-images has also been affected by its lack of credibility, by the public belief that it has been used both to suppress truth and disseminate not only half truths but also pure fiction. In a country where for long years the ordinary citizens learnt more about events at home from foreign radio and television channels than national networks, the television has had to function under an insuperable handicap. Thus it certainly has played its part in sustaining the stereotype of the enemy created by literature and the print media and strengthening this image. However, the translation of the enemy image found in words, which leaves much to the reader’s imagination, into a visual expression, which leaves nothing to the viewer’s imagination, carries risks as well as advantages. The visual image to be effective has to be far more convincing than the one drawn in printed words. Lack of production resources have added to Pakistan television’s difficulties, which have only partially been reduced by access to clippings from outside TV coverage of the enemy’s atrocities in Kashmir. Pakistan television apparently does not realise that in the past the people could find some support for its enemy images from their own experience, the new generation does not have this back-up facility.
Today Pakistan television’s exercises in image-making, of enemies as well as friends, cannot remain unaffected by the global revolution in mass communication. Fax, E-mail and satellite dishes have to a large extent demolished the barriers to the flow of information that traditionally played a fundamental role in the art of creators of enemy images anywhere in the world. In this game the better developed and more resourceful image-makers surely have an advantage over less resourceful media apparatuses but Pakistan television falls in the latter category and not in the former. The effectiveness of its image-making efforts are bound to decline.
This prospect is quite welcome to peace activists with whom the present writer unreservedly identifies himself. No-one should gloss over the fact that when a community is driven by hate, which is what enemy images are created for, and demonises a rival or competitor, to a great extent it strays from the path of rational thinking and fruitful endeavour, and eventually demonises itself. It may even start justifying concepts and practices for which the enemy is assailed. This is precisely what happened during the Second War when each side deliberately indulged in atrocities against both combatants and civilian populations on the other side on the ground that this was what was being done to it. One hopes that in the on-going development in the field of mass communication all nations will have opportunities of recognising each other as they are and not in forms created by privileged myth-makers. The more ineffective get the enemy-images on television drawn by hacks belonging to one group or the other the better will be the prospects of peace and sanity.