By: Shaheen Nazar
New Delhi: The hysteria that we witnessed on our television channels soon after declaration of lockdown last year seems to have staged a come-back. Tablighi Jamaat’s failure to follow certain COVID norms were blown out of proportion and in the process the entire Muslim community was demonised. The change in Afghanistan where Taliban have taken over has not been welcomed in India, though at the official level the government continues to be non-committal. Ministers and other high officials are apprehensive at the change of guard in Kabul but they are guarded in their response, not naming Taliban while expressing concern over heightened threats from terrorist organisations based in the AfPak region.
However, the thinking in the government is being reflected through discourse in the media, especially on television channels. They are lampooning the ‘barbaric’ Taliban warning people of the dangers the new Afghan rulers pose to India, particularly Kashmir.
But the coverage on Afghanistan is not limited to the ongoing crisis in that country. The focus is on Muslims of India, particularly those in Uttar Pradesh which is gearing up for Assembly elections in the next few months. TV anchors are demanding from Indian Muslims to condemn the Taliban for dismissing an ‘elected’ government using street power. Those who are refusing to do so are being hounded and called anti-national and supporters of ‘terrorists’ despite the fact that Taliban as a group is not a designated terrorist organisation either by the United Nations or the United States of America. Hindutva supporters have already started advising Muslims and everyone who is critical of the Modi government to go to Afghanistan. As journalist Arfa Khanum Shirwani has put it in a tweet, the BJP supporters’ obsession of ‘Go to Pakistan’ has been replaced with ‘Go to Afghanistan’.
Our TV anchors have suddenly become champions of women’s rights. They are reminding the world of the persecution the Afghan women had faced at the hands of Taliban when they had come to power 25 years back. Each and every statement of the Taliban with respect to women are being scrutinised and questions raised. But the questions are directed at Indian Muslims, not Taliban. The community is being held responsible for possible mistreatment of Afghan women by their new rulers.
These are the same TV anchors who showed no respect to the women of Shaheen Bagh when they came on the road to condemn police atrocities against the students of Jamia Millia and register their protest against the discriminatory provisions of the CAA and NRC. These same anchors are currently looking the other way round when up to 100 educated Muslim women have been “auctioned” to Hindus on social media. Last year, the way they became a party to denigrate Safoora Zargar, the pregnant Jamia scholar arrested by Delhi Police for participating in anti-CAA protests, is still fresh in public memory.
Our TV anchors’ distaste for anything and everything Islam or Muslim is no secret. But this should not jeopardise our national interest. By calling the Taliban “terrorists” and creating an impression as if after Kabul they are going to invade New Delhi is irresponsible. It may create avoidable tensions between the two countries. Taliban have never shown any interest whatsoever in India’s domestic affairs including Kashmir, not even when they were in power between 1996 and 2001. In recent days their leadership has been extending hands of friendship towards India. And this is despite our government cold-shouldering them.
Our strategic interest is not limited to Afghanistan. It goes beyond its border to Central Asian Republics. We supported the Ashraf Ghani government till the end. Now he is gone. We should deal with the new rulers. That is how international relations are maintained. That the Taliban are a militant force is a well-known fact. That they were promoted by Pakistan, specially the ISI, is also an established fact. Yet another fact is that they are going to establish an ‘Islamic’ government with a hardline approach despite reformist and conciliatory stances of their top leadership. So what? How is it going to affect us? If we can deal with the dictators of Myanmar, Egypt and host of other countries why not with Taliban? To say that they are stooges of Pakistan is a simplistic observation. No government likes to remain under the influence of another country and do its bidding. We should create our space in changed Afghanistan. I am sure our diplomats must be working on that. TV anchors would be doing a service to the nation by controlling their nationalistic zeal.
Lastly, the Americans have been forced to leave Afghanistan. This is their second exit. Last time when the Soviets left the Americans lost interest in Afghanistan and ditched the Mujahideen. It created a vacuum which the students of Islamic seminaries known as Taliban filled up. This time around, the Americans have dumped the government they had helped install. Their frustration will be expressed through anti-Taliban propaganda. The Americans have never forgotten the humiliation they suffered in Iran. Forty years on they continue to punish Iran by way of economic sanctions and psychological war through Israel and the Arab Gulf rulers. They are going to repeat this in Afghanistan. We should be careful and not buy everything coming from the West.
Shaheen Nazar is a senior journalist and academic based in New Delhi.
The article was first published by Clarion India and has been republished here with the author’s permission.