In December 2015, when the Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, made a surprise visit to attend the wedding of the granddaughter of the Pakistani prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, Pakistani media and analysts were delighted. It was seen as a positive development, building on the bonhomie that had been established when Sharif attended Modi’s swearing-in, in 2014. Much of the media coverage, including by television channels such as Geo TV and Dunya News, focussed on the possibilities of peace between the two countries. The columnist Mosharraf Zaidi tweeted optimistically to discourage commentators’ negative remarks—of which there were few, in any case. “Setting a major breakthrough as a benchmark for PM Modi’s Lahore visit is ridiculous,” he wrote. “Process itself is the breakthrough. Worth celebrating.”
The year since has been markedly tense. Militants from Pakistan have conducted two attacks on Indian soil in 2016—in Pathankot and Uri. Diplomatic ties have been strained, particularly after Pakistan’s foreign secretary met representatives of the Kashmiri separatist All-Parties Hurriyat Conference in October. Consequently, the media narrative on both sides of the border has grown increasingly aggressive, with talk of violence and war regularly bandied about in television studios. Visceral reactions from Pakistani media have since dominated the country’s airwaves, and defined the conversation about India and Modi. In November, when I spoke to Rehman Azhar, of the channel Aaj TV, one of the few Pakistani journalists who went to India to cover Modi’s election campaign, he said, “Hatred for India sells in Pakistan just as well as hatred for Pakistan sells in India.”
Some news anchors, such as Mubasher Lucman and Amir Liaquat, on Urdu channels such as Aaj TV, Geo TV and Dunya News, speak of war with India as a perfectly reasonable move. In fact, in the tones of these talking heads, it is possible to detect some delight in the idea.