Pakistan Loves Bollywood and Nawaz Sharif Loves His Chair

Posted on Oct 12 2016 - 2:00am
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Pakistan’s domestic politics dictates what Pakistan does with India.


Pakistanis are addicted to Bollywood movies. Middle-class families spend holidays and weekends to watch the latest movies coming from across the border. People either go to cinema houses to watch the movie or buy cheap pirated CDs (at Rs 100) from CD shops that dot every locality in the cities of Pakistan. Since Pakistan-India relations have worsened, watching Bollywood movies has become a problem.



As a private initiative, most of the cinema houses announced that they will stop showing Indian movies a few days after Indian Motion Picture Producers Association (IMPPA) banned all Pakistani artistes from working in film projects in India.

Nadeem Mandviwala, who owns nearly a dozen cinemas in Karachi and Islamabad, said he and other distributors have agreed to stop showing Indian films until relations improve, “We will suspend the exhibition of Indian films till normalcy returns,” Nadeem Manviwala announced through a media statement. This was followed by dozens of statements of cinema house owners, which landed in newsrooms, coming from across the country announcing a ban on the screening of Indian movies. The cinema house owners said they wanted to show solidarity with Pakistani military and actors in these troubled times.

Indian movies, however, continue to be a lucrative business in big cities of Pakistan. In a middle-class locality in Islamabad, where I live, a CD shop owner tells me he is still doing brisk business selling Bollywood movies. But all is not good in the business; the biggest center of trading in Bollywood movies in Northern Pakistan is Hall Road Market in Lahore, where the traders staged a protest rally against India and burnt thousands of rupees worth of CDs of Bollywood movies last week. Since Hall Road market is the biggest center of trading in pirated CDs, decision of the traders to stop dealing in Indian movies is going to affect their supply to the CD shops throughout northern Pakistan, “We are still selling Indian movies like hot cakes but from the existing stocks, but we are not receiving new supplies,” says one CD shop owner.

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I don’t know how Pakistanis will satiate their love for Indian movies in this emerging situation, but there is always a blacker market of a black market. I discussed this issue with CD shop owner in my locality and he says he would find suppliers, in due course of time, who were ready to break the self-imposed ban. “The desire in the public to see Indian movies is too strong and margin of profit is too huge which suppliers cannot ignore,” he tells me.

The cultural impact of Indian movies on Pakistani society is too strong. For Pakistani middle-class affluent families, fashion trends in Bollywood movies are part of their wedding planner. They dress up like Indian movies stars, dance like them and even ask their hairdressers to style them like Bollywood. Amitabh Bachchan is a household name and drawing room chats often discuss private lives of Bollywood stars regularly reported in the media.

But the love for India stops there; I have often seen (especially during the last three weeks) people in Islamabad and Lahore talking about a military conflict just as they talk about a one-day cricket match with India. Thanks to Pakistan’s overly jingoistic electronic media (which started churning out visual reports about Pakistan ballistic missile programmes since the start of tensions) people have started to talk about Pakistani ‘delivery systems’ (missiles) as if they are talking about cover drive of Pakistani batsman in their match with India.



On a more serious note, though the Nawaz Sharif government, in the early stages of the crisis, was worried about the deteriorating relations, it never perceived the crisis as a serious military threat. Two weeks after the Uri Attack, a senior government told me, “Our military have not detected any large scale military movement on Indian side of the border.” Clearly, in Islamabad, this was not seen as a developing situation.

As the crisis unfolded I interviewed a number of retired civilian diplomats and military officials. One of the senior retired military officials told me that watching the exchange of Pakistani and Indian military officials during last three weeks in the wake of Uri attacks was an exercise in understanding the cryptically phrased words and sentences. “Strong desire in these cryptically phrased sentences was quite discernible to keep the crisis from climbing the escalatory ladder,” he told me.

No transcript of formal exchange of views between Director General Military Operations of Pakistani and Indian army – which is the only and formal contact between military establishments of two countries – are available nor any part of the content of their telephonic conversation during the crisis were revealed to the public or media.

However, military officials of two countries through their public assertions conveyed to each other that they were in no mood of escalating the crisis despite the heat and emotions generated by the Uri attack and the Indian government announcing that its Army had carried out surgical strikes across the Line of Control (LoC).

For instance, military statements emanating from Islamabad, besides brandishing their military prowess, always ended with the additional phrase, “escalation is in nobody’s interest”.

Similarly, Director General Military Operations of the Indian Army indicated a desire not to escalate the crisis by stating that the “operations aimed at neutralising the terrorists” had stopped and that they have no plan to cross the LoC. Military statements emanating from Pakistani side contained more cryptically phrased sentences, which in Islamabad’s thinking had a de-escalatory impact on the “militarily adventurous” minds in New Delhi.

For example a common refrain contained in Islamabad’s military statements was, “We are ready for every kind of response”- which in plain words would mean Islamabad’s readiness to use tactical nukes in case of a conventional attack from across the border.

After the happenings of September 29, the mood became more jingoistic: “We also have the capability to launch a surgical strike,” said Prime Minister Sharif in a statement after presiding over a cabinet meeting that discussed “India’s aggressive posturing”. For a brief period Pakistan’s recalcitrant political parties showed some signs of unity. All of them gathered in the Prime Minister house in Islamabad to condemn, “Indian atrocities in Kashmir and support Kashmiri freedom struggle.”

This unity lasted only for a week, after which they were again at loggerheads, accusing Prime Minister Sharif for being too soft on India. Many in Pakistani opposition parties started to say that India started to commit “atrocities in Kashmir” after Prime Minister Sharif invited Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to his granddaughters wedding in Lahore last year. “Modi Ka Jo yar ha Ghaddar Ha Ghaddar Ha [whoever is friends with Modi is a traitor],” became the popular slogan among opposition parties in Pakistan.

In fact, there were signs of normal relations between Pakistan and India two years back. Exchange of visits, number of telephonic conversations and exchange of gifts, all heightened the expectations of resumption of a process of dialogue. I recall a conversation with the then Indian High Commissioner, Dr TCA Raghavan in January 2015 at a diplomatic function in Indian High Commission in Islamabad. He told a group of Pakistani journalist (I was present) that Pakistan-India relations are on tipping point and a little push would result in massive improvement in our relations. He made a very interesting revelation that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Prime Minister Narendra Modi know each other intuitively and very soon this good rapport will result in tremendous improvement in our relations.

I can’t be certain whether the expectations of normal relations in the diplomatic circles and events happening in Pakistan’s domestic politics are linked in any way. But they were certainly happening at the same time. After Indian Prime Minister’s visit to Lahore, opposition political parties in Pakistan became more venomous in their attacks on Prime Minister Sharif, whose stronghold Punjab is the hotbed of anti-India feelings in Pakistan. With the passage of time Prime Minister Sharif may have realised his mistake of trying to improve relations with India. He started indulging in anti-India rhetoric to retain his power base.

Rhetoric apart, things are complex beneath the surface. A week ago a senior leader of the ruling party and member of parliament, Rana Afzal while speaking in the parliament’s foreign relations committee severely but cryptically criticised the presence of anti-India militant groups in Pakistan’s public life, “What kind of eggs Hafiz Saeed lays that we are pampering him?” he asked during the committee’s meeting convened to discuss rising tensions with India. Afzal’s comments were widely reported in the media and some analysts started to predict that Sharif government might start a fresh crackdown against militant groups.

It appears this would not be enough to pacify the annoyed Indian government in order to bring it back to the negotiating table. However, it is clear, after reactions from political parties in Pakistan, that Prime Minister Sharif would not be able to offer too much to the Indian government as his space or his capacity to act has been severely reduced. Prime Minister Sharif’s instinct to survive will prevail over his long-standing desire to improve relations with India.

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Pakistan Loves Bollywood and Nawaz Sharif Loves His Chair was last modified: October 12th, 2016 by greendecker

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