Regardless of whatever country they belong to, for journalists, the truth should always be sacrosanct.
Ever since the Taliban began their offensive against the resistance forces led by Ahmad Massoud and Amrullah Saleh in Panjshir, some elements of the Indian media have been reporting that the Pakistani military is supporting the operation with its units on the ground.
It began with Maj Gen (R) G.D Bakshi’s claims shared on various social media platforms.
Gen (R) Bakshi seemed to know exactly what Pakistani units were being used in Panjshir as well as the casualties suffered on the ground.
However, Gen Bakshi also stated: “4 Drones are continually monitoring the battle field and sending telvised pictures of fighting to GHQ islamabad.”
The fact is that GHQ or General Headquarters is not in Islamabad, it is in Rawalpindi but this tweet reflected the consideration to the truth shown by General Bakshi in his various claims about Panjshir.
While implicating Pakistan as being a military partner of the Taliban especially in Panjshir may result in some diplomatic problems for Pakistan, such tweets by an Indian general also reflect the informational and intellectual capabilities of the Indian Army, which I am sure is a professional force that knows where Pakistan’s GHQ is located.
It’s not just retired Indian military officers like Gen (R) Bakshi or Major (R) Gaurav Arya but mainstream Indian news channels also reported blatant inaccuracies, further diminishing the trust held in those Indian news outlets.
Republic, Now Navbharat, Zee Hindustan and Times Now, all respected news outlets broadcasted footage which they claimed showed visuals of Pakistan bombing the contested Panjshir Valley.
The only problem was, the footage was taken from the video game Boom and it can be independently verified by any fact-checkers. In fact, News Laundry has already fact-checked these claims.
India Today, another prestigious news outlet that is well respected in Pakistani media circles ran a photo tweeted by a fake account of Ahmad Massoud which claimed that fighters in Panjshir had shot down a Pakistani plane.
In reality, the photo showed an American plane that crash-landed on the border of Arizona and California in 2018. The picture had nothing to do with Panjshir or Pakistan yet it was used by a credible media outlet to allege that Pakistan was supporting the Taliban in Panjshir.
So what is the result of this inaccurate reporting?
Even if there is a Pakistani presence in Panjshir at the moment, real information will now be easier to discredit because of this inaccurate reporting since audiences will begin to lose faith in what is being shown to them.
India, which was till recently a mighty player in Afghanistan shouldn’t have to use video game clips to substantiate its arguments against Pakistan.
Surely, claims which are supported by evidence, or at least some evidence carry weight. Like the fact that some Taliban leaders including Mullah Baradar lived in Pakistan for several years could be used to assume the good relationship between the two.
Not that it proves anything but at least the assumption is true. Mullah Baradar did live in Pakistan for several years. There would at least be some basis for any accusation to be grounded on this fact compared to video games.
But manufacturing inaccuracies has not only embarrassed the Indian media but has also strengthened Pakistan’s narrative which claims that India uses fake news against Pakistan as an instrument of policy.
Sometimes, journalists on both sides of the border become entangled in the games played by their respective establishments but ultimately, we should realise that as journalists, our primary duty is towards the truth, nothing more, nothing less.
And if we all respect the truth, perhaps we can find common grounds with which we can not only grow but also contribute towards making our region and our world a more peaceful place.
While many elements of Indian media are criticising the Taliban and openly supporting the Panjshir rebels, the Taliban has been extremely careful when it comes to India, showing that they are open to a sustainable relationship with India.
Deepak Mittal, India’s ambassador in Qatar met Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai who heads the Taliban’s political office in Doha recently.
Stanekzai addressed Indian concerns about Afghanistan being used against India.
Perhaps the dominant narrative in India is that the Taliban are a Pakistani proxy who will work to destabilise India as soon as possible, however, such allegations are amusing at best for the people of Pakistan.
This narrative alleges that the Taliban, who defeated the US, NATO and the Afghan National Army single-handedly is actually controlled by another country, that country being Pakistan.
This would imply that militarily, Pakistan has actually defeated the superpower of the world via a proxy. Is this the narrative India wants to present? That Pakistan is so powerful that now the entire country of Afghanistan is ruled through their proxy?
It cannot be denied that the Taliban enjoys a friendly relationship with Pakistan but being friends does not equate to being a proxy. The Indian intellectual elite should be smart enough not to fall for this narrative which in many ways, builds a larger than life image of Pakistan.
Pakistan has lost over 83,000 lives in the War on Terror. We realise, perhaps more than anyone, the value of peace because our own blood has been shed fighting the menace of terrorism.
Just a day before the Indian media accused Pakistan of supporting the Taliban militarily in Panjshir, a Tehreek e Taliban Pakistan suicide bomber killed 3 people in Quetta.
This one incident should be enough for Indian audiences to understand the complexities of the relationship between the Taliban and Pakistan.
As journalists, we should vow to continue to report accurately and try our best not to take sides.
It shouldn’t matter whether we hear something from an Indian journalist or a Pakistani journalist, as long as it’s true, it should be good enough for all of us.
Hamza Azhar Salam is an investigative reporter, a digital marketing strategist and the founder of Democrats Voice.