India-Pakistan Ties

How India's home minister went from trusting Pakistan to calling it a 'terrorist state'

After the Pathankot attack in January, Rajnath Singh had said there was no reason to distrust Pakistan. The death of 17 soldiers in Uri has changed all of that.

India's Home Minister Rajnath Singh on Sunday called Pakistan a "terrorist state", saying it needs to be isolated, after a militant attack on an Army base in Kashmir led to the death of 17 Indian soldiers. Four militants struck at a time when an infantry battalion was moving out of the base near the Line of Control between India and Pakistan, suggesting they had prior knowledge about military movements and were well trained. This belief, coupled with what could be among the worst peacetime casualty counts for the military in Kashmir has inspired calls for quick retribution.

This is markedly different language from that used in the aftermath of the Pathankot attack in January, which to some extent was a similar incident. In that case, allegedly cross-border militants attacked an Air Force Base not far from the border in Punjab, killing eight Indians, and managed to prolong the operation against them for several days.

That attack came soon after Prime Minister Narendra Modi had made a surprise visit to Lahore to meet Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, and seemed to confirm India's worst suspicions of a two-faced neighbour that encourages talks on one hand and sponsors cross-border terror on the other

Yet Rajnath Singh, the home minister in a government that cannot be accused of pacifism, had this to say about Pakistan's promises that it would act soon after the Pathankot attacks.

Indeed, Indo-Pakistan relations seemed at their most sincere in years in the aftermath of the Pathankot Attacks, with Islamabad moving quickly to condemn them and Sharif even ordering a Joint Investigative Team to look into the incident. Sharif and Modi actually seemed to be on the same page for a short time, with both recognising the difficulty of taking on Pakistan's other establishment: the Army and the Inter-Services Intelligence.

Washing away gains

But the little bit of trust that had been built up was soon cancelled out, as Sharif's domestic position started to look more tenuous. India allowed the JIT to come across the border to investigate the Pathankot Attacks, but the gesture was not reciprocated. Over the ensuing months, Indo-Pakistan relations have gone from bad to worse, culminating in Pakistan bringing up Kashmir during its Independence Day celebrations only for Modi to bring up Balochistan as retaliation.

Local Indian conditions have also served to make things difficult, because of protests in Kashmir after the killing of Burhan Wani, who had become the face of militancy in the Valley. New Delhi insisted that the widespread protests that took over Kashmir after Wani's death were planned and funded by Pakistan, but the scale of the dissent suggested that it had plenty of popular support as well. The outcome saw India impose one of the longest curfews on Kashmir, more than 60 days, with even Bakr-Eid festivities disrupted by the security shutdown.

Because of the Indian state's macho stance in Kashmir, insisting that India will not back down in the face of protests – a strategy called offensive defense by National Security Advisor Ajit Doval that has caused the death of 81 people so far – New Delhi will find it hard to allow any conciliatory language toward Pakistan.

The interim period between Pathankot and the Uri attacks also saw Modi's government wield nationalism as a cultural weapon to crack down on dissent and the opinions of those who would question the Right wing. Internationally, Modi has made it a point to keep bringing up the support of terrorism by state actors, although Pakistan was rarely explicitly named. The coming United Nations General Assembly was expected to see the same sort of pointed language from India.

Deep distrust 

This in turn also makes it less likely that even the civilian leadership in Pakistan will take the same tone it did in January. As a result, because of Singh's "terrorist" comment and other references from Indian politicians, like the Bharatiya Janata Party's Ram Madhav who said India must take a jaw for every tooth, Pakistan rejected the accusations.

"India immediately puts blame on Pakistan without doing any investigation," said Pakistan Foreign Office spokesperson Nafees Zakaria. "We rejected this."

Comments by Pakistan's defence minister reflecting the country's longstanding (but no less terrifying) stance were even more worrisome, until it emerged that he had made them to Geo News , the night before the Uri attack

I don’t think there is any immediate threat (of a war with India) but as Allah has said in the Quran, the horses should be ready. Our readiness should be complete at all times...

We are always pressurised time and again that our tactical (nuclear) weapons, in which we have a superiority, that we have more tactical weapons than we need. It is internationally recognised that we have a superiority and if there is a threat to our security or if anyone steps on our soil and if someone’s designs are a threat to our security, we will not hesitate to use those weapons for our defence.”

Still, as belligerent voices on both side offer up more charged statements, the danger of things getting out of hand – especially with the sight of 17 dead soldiers – seems more likely than ever.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.