Pakistan turns to social media to woo Kashmiris

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On the eve of Pakistan’s Kashmir Solidarity Day on February 5, Pakistan Army’s media wing Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) released a solidarity video for Kashmiris. The 3.57-minute video begins with a template Kashmiri slogan “What do we want, Azaadi”. It is followed up with the scenes from the last year’s summer unrest. The visuals are accompanied by fiery vocals: “You can blind our eyes but you can’t snatch our dreams.”

The 3.57-minute video begins with a template Kashmiri slogan “What do we want, Azaadi”. It is followed up with the scenes from the last year’s summer unrest. The visuals are accompanied by fiery vocals: “You can blind our eyes but you can’t snatch our dreams.”

This is the second Kashmir video from the ISPR since the beginning of the unrest last year following the killing of the popular Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani on July 8. Earlier, song was released in September in the thick of the then prevailing turmoil. “Kashmir is called the paradise on earth, but why then is this paradise burning,” goes the first line of the song.

However, Army is not the only Pakistani institution reaching out to the estranged youth in Kashmir. In November 2016, Pakistan released ‘Kashmir Anthem’ dedicated to Burhan Wani. It featured noted singers Ali Azmat, Umair Jaswal and Alycia Dias. The song was launched by the president of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir Sardar Masood Khan. The Anthem and the ISPR videos have gone viral in Kashmir and have received thousands of views and likes.

Earlier, during the summer upsurge, a website called ‘Never Forget Pakistan’ had posted on Facebook some morphed pictures of the Indian and international celebrities with pellet-damaged eyes. The celebrities included Amitabh Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan, Mark Zuckerberg, Virat Kohli, Hrithik Roshan, Kajol, Saif Ali Khan, Alia Bhatt, Aishwarya Rai, and even politicians like Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The images similarly went viral across India and Pakistan and proved more successful than any other social media campaign to focus the world’s attention on the situation in Kashmir. Their impact was only matched by a set of haunting black and white sketches of the teenage boys with sightless eyes, drawn by the noted Kashmiri artist Masood Hussain which too went viral.

However, this sustained social media outreach to Kashmir is now being complemented by a film titled Azaadi which stars Nadeem Baig, Moammar Rana and Sonya Hussayn. Baig plays a Kashmiri youth who takes up gun for Kashmir’s ‘Azaadi’. According to its director, the film is being made on a bigger canvas, a fact underlined by the hiring of Australian cinematographer Ben Jasper, who also shot Hrithik Roshan-starrer Bang Bang. It has tracks by Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, Quratulain Baloch and Shafqat Amanat Ali Khan, the singers whose fame extends far beyond the borders of Pakistan. Rahat Fateh Ali Khan has sung in many Bollywood movies.

The appeal of these Kashmir centric videos is disproportionately heightened by the fact that very little warmth and empathy has been extended to victims of human rights excesses from the government or civil society groups in the rest of India. Though an All Party Delegation headed by home minister Rajnath Singh and a few civil society delegations visited Kashmir during the period of unrest, the human rights excesses have not been their focus. Nor has any of them actively raised the need for the accountability for killings and blindings that took place during the unrest.

So is Pakistan winning the Kashmir social media war? It certainly seems to be the case. And it will continue to be so if the pronounced lack of empathy for Kashmir in mainstream Indian discourse continues.

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