As tensions remained high in South Asia, some Indians and Pakistanis appealed for calm. On Feb. 14, a terrorist attack in Kashmir killed 40 Indian paramilitary police. The attack was claimed by Jaish-e-Muhammad, a terrorist group based in Pakistan. On Tuesday, India retaliated by conducting airstrikes inside Pakistan, which led to the Pakistani military shooting down at least one Indian plane on Wednesday. Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said Wednesday that he does not want war with India, and Twitter users on both sides posted their opposition to any conflict using the hashtag #SayNoToWar.
But Indian and Pakistani media outlets are promoting a far different message, seemingly ratcheting up their nationalist rhetoric.
Times Now, India’s largest English-language news channel, has taken it upon itself to “expose ‘Fakistan,’ ” disputing and debating claims made by the Pakistani side.
Republic, a news channel launched by the former editor in chief of Times Now, emblazoned its show with the hashtag #NationFirst.
On Tuesday, TV9 Telugu, a 24-hour news network in the Telugu language in India, had an anchor dress up in a combat uniform while holding a toy gun. The words “WAR ROOM” were on the screen behind him.
Pakistani media responded by painting a picture of its citizens calmly and professionally responding to Indian aggression. “PM Modi faces severe backlash from Indians over creating war hysteria against Pakistan,” reported the Times of Islamabad.
A Lahore News host shared a video of what she said was the Pakistani army rescuing the pilot of the downed Indian plane. Dawn, Pakistan’s leading English-language newspaper, shared a video of an Indian air force officer it said was the pilot India had acknowledged was missing Wednesday.
In it, the Indian pilot, Wing Cmdr. Abhinandan Varthaman, said: “I’d like to put this on record. I will not change my statement even when I go back to my country. … The officers of the Pakistan army have looked after me very well.” The video was seized upon by both sides on Twitter, with some on the Pakistani side holding it up as an example of its army’s professionalism and one Indian journalist for the Republic calling it a “Pakistan propaganda trap of trolls.”
Some suggested that nationalist media outlets are not helping matters, calling on political leaders to tune out such coverage. “The western front is not a TV studio anchored by those who are unqualified to dictate strategy and are unconscionable flame throwers,” tweeted India’s Nirupama Menon Rao, a former foreign secretary and a global fellow at the Wilson Institute. “Our political leaders should not take the nation’s temperature-readings from the seizure-like screaming on some media.”
But others suggested that both sides insisting that their own narratives are correct could, paradoxically, lead to a resolution.
"If India believes that it got what it wanted in this, it could lead to a rise in nationalist sentiment, people wrapping themselves around the flag, and saying we taught the Pakistanis a lesson,” said Dhruva Jaishankar, a fellow at the Brookings Institution. If Indian and Pakistani media both insist that their side has already won, it could allow political leaders to claim victory without fighting further, he said.
Niha Mashih contributed to this report.