There has been a breakthrough in Pakistan-India relations: Arnab Goswami has quit Indian television news channel Times Now and, at least for a while, won’t be shouting loud enough to be heard across the border.
So, there will be nobody on Indian cable frothing at the mouth calling for the destruction of Pakistan? I hope there are suitable substitutes I haven’t discovered yet.
There are rumours that Arnab wants to launch his own channel, some say in collaboration with a local businessman, others say Rupert Murdoch. One article said he could join Fox News. That would be brilliant, two hours of Bill O’Reilly and Arnab Goswami shouting at each other, and the audience never even finding out why.
Hello, Mr Goswami!
I was first introduced to Arnab – I believe I’ve heard enough of his innermost thoughts and feelings to be on a first-name basis with him – when the 26/11 Mumbai attack trials began in Pakistan a few years ago. I had just got a Tata Sky connection here in Lahore, not entirely legal.
Being connected to Indian cable, I was now curious about the neighbouring country’s news channels and talk shows.
What happens on the other side?
Pakistan has three kinds of talk show hosts. Those who get carefully typed readouts from the army’s public relations wing, those who get carefully typed readouts from their corporate owners, and those whose shows get cancelled. If you tune in to a Pakistani talk show, chances are that it will either have people denouncing civilian corruption or predicting the end of the world.
I have seen one such talk show’s guest stand up and slap another. I have seen swearing, threatening, obscene gestures being made, and even shameless scratching of the nether regions on national television.
So I wanted to know what the people in the mirror were like, what happens on the other side.
The first thing I noticed was the English-language talk shows on Indian cable. These you will rarely, if ever, find in Pakistan. Thickly accented Gujaratis, Biharis, Bengalis, and Punjabis all straining to argue in the colonial tongue while bubbling to burst into native curses.
Secondly, the talk shows being in English didn’t mean they were any saner. There is a perception in Pakistan that English is the language of the liberals. English language publications here are not as rampantly nationalistic or conservative as the Urdu language ones.
One evening with Arnab dispelled this notion. That day, Arnab had a panel of eight guests on his show, each with his or her head trapped in a tiny little on-screen box. I was unable to figure out their names or for that matter whose lips were moving when all those sounds emanated – though the answer was simple: everyone’s. All eight guests spoke at the same time like they were doing a choir version of how to deal with terrorism.
However, even this cacophony was drowned out by Arnab. Leaning over his desk, eyebrows arched, panting, heaving, his jugular vein straining to burst, a torrent of words escaped his lips with such ferocity that it didn’t look like he himself would be able to stop them even if he tried.
And finally, Arnab disagreed with himself. Arnab first argued with four out of eight people he outright disagreed with. Then he argued with the ones he agreed with. Then he disagreed with the entire trajectory the conversation was taking, and, finally, he disagreed with himself.
Being of sharp mind and keen perception, I noticed that two of his guests were from Pakistan. I could tell because they looked the most embarrassed. Whenever they began talking, Arnab would talk over them, and they would then sit, sullen and subdued, like children who have just been told they can’t go out to play.
The gist of Arnab’s noise was that Pakistan was the mothership of all terrorism and needed to be obliterated for the good of the international community. Having made his point, he asked the two from Pakistan whether they agreed with him. After which, I suppose, they regretted their decision to get out of their beds that morning.
All this was fascinating and prompted some amateur research on Arnab. I opened his Wikipedia page, basically.
So he had an Oxford education, never a good sign (look at Imran Khan in Pakistan). He was an army officer’s son, which explained the ideological tilt, but not its ferocity. Maybe Arnab was lonely, maybe he wasn’t allowed enough candies growing up.
I found that he had won best anchor at something called the Asian Television Awards. Personally, I think the only thing he should be anchoring is a boat, but there it was. Unless he edits his own Wikipedia entries.
After that, I didn’t watch Arnab for a few years. I read and heard about him, of course, like one reads and hears about other tragedies across the world. But I didn’t witness it anymore. Until the Uri attack a couple of months ago.
By now, I was active on Twitter. YouTube was back in Pakistan after a religious hiatus. Loud and boisterous, pointing all eight of his fingers in Pakistan’s direction, Arnab was all over my internet, like acne. Perhaps deservedly so, but with a zeal that was unsettling even for many Indians. Even before the Indian government had issued a statement, he had called for hammering Pakistan into submission. He invited analysts from Pakistan to shout at them, again. He shouted at Nawaz Sharif. He shouted at the Pakistan Army. He shouted at Hafiz Saeed, jumping out of his seat every time.
It looked like Arnab would give himself a stroke any minute. Following India’s response, instead of calming down, he got even more excitable. One “surgical strike” was not revenge enough, he said. He wanted more and maybe was willing to do it himself.
He invited yet another guest from Pakistan. You sir, he demanded, must pay for what’s been done. You are responsible. Have you no shame? He left someone sitting in Islamabad feeling personally guilty for decades of border skirmishes over Kashmir. He called Pakistan a terrorist state, called for more military action and stopped just short of sitting there in camouflage gear moving toy soldiers on a map of Pakistan (Some other Indian TV channels tried something along these lines, too).
He denounced people-to-people contact; he didn’t understand what that meant, maybe he hasn’t had any in a while. He was in favour of sending back Pakistani actors who were part of Indian movie projects. He chided Bollywood star Salman Khan. He explained how you can’t conquer an enemy by making films with them and inviting them to literature festivals.
Boycott and isolate Pakistan, he said.
That was where I left Arnab last until I received news of his resignation as agitator-in-chief at Times Now.
Welcome to Pakistan
This is what I like about India, the spirit of entrepreneurship and independence. In Pakistan, no news anchor can aspire to open his or her own television station, unless the army opens one for them.
However, instead of confining himself to the predictable options, Arnab should join a media house in Pakistan. He will find so many things in common here. Our anchors, too, harp on pseudo-liberals vilifying our army. They, too, love castigating vested interests, foreign funding, and those supporting the enemy. We in Pakistan, too, are busy boycotting India: films, television shows, cartoons dubbed in Hindi, and my illegally-sourced cable.
He could claim death threats all day and have an entire UN peacekeeping mission guarding him. Sure, Arnab might disagree on the content, but he will find the spirit – hostility and venom-spewing – quite agreeable. If he really wants assured destruction of Pakistan, what better way than to come help our talk show hosts who are making admirable efforts towards this. He can finally interview Hafiz Saeed face to face; we don’t let an inconsequential UN ban get in the way of public appearances. He has already interviewed Generals Musharraf and Hamid Gul; time to complete the triumvirate?
It would be his dream job. Sitting in enemy territory, entrenched, a media house in a bunker. He could claim death threats and security risks all day and have an entire UN peacekeeping mission guarding him. He could expose the Inter-Services Intelligence first hand, lead the charge in the final battle.
Whatever he does, however, I do hope that when Times Now hires his replacement, it’s someone who knows he can put the pen down on the table when not writing with it.
Haseeb Asif is a journalist and writer based in Lahore.
This article first appeared on Quartz.