People listen to weather reports to plan their days or weeks for chores such as when to put out clothes to dry, go out etc. Perhaps the weather man never thought that weather reports can be weaponized. It is India which lobbed the first weather report bomb starting the weather report wars with Pakistan.
The strategy thought out in the secret meeting rooms of the Indian strategic defence cabals is to make a virtual claim on Pakistan Occupied Kashmir as called in India, or Azad Kashmir as named by Pakistan. ‘Doordarshan’ is under instruction to pretend that POK is Indian. It is to give the daily weather reports for all of Kashmir including POK but call it simply Kashmir.
Not to be outwitted, Pakistan retaliated with the same. They are now giving weather reports for all of Kashmir, including Jammu and Ladakh, as if they were all part of Pakistan. It is all about visual representation of territory.
Visual representations of territory have played a significant role in the national imagination of people. Nations and states have reinforced such representations through school textbooks, maps, documents, decrees and legal instruments. In the age of mass media, internet and related proliferation of information, any news can become a source of confrontation between states.
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The Indian official television broadcaster, Doordarshan, has adopted a new media offensive now for over a week. Weather bulletins on Doordarshan and All India Radio have started featuring weather forecasts of Mirpur, Muzaffarabad and Gilgit-Baltistan area of Kashmir over which Pakistan has territorial control and India claims the territory. In a reaction to this, Pakistan has carried weather reports of the Indian side of Kashmir on its official television channels.
Notably, Indian broadcasts follow the bifurcation of the state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) into two Union Territories (Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh) under the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Act, 2019 in August 2019. In the same month, India had already revoked Article 370 of Indian Constitution which accorded special status to the state of Jammu and Kashmir, and involved special provisions for the residents of J&K. Pakistan at that point had raised the issue at the United Nations without much success. India is now unravelling its grand design and making people imagine POK as if it is part of India.
Geopolitically, this is a well-known strategy of claiming territory with the approach of place-naming and place-making and establishing a norm through repeated usage of suitable nomenclature that the place belongs to us. Examples abound of creation of a sense of belonging by such means by India’s erstwhile colonizers, the British. Historically the British were an important factor in the current territorial dispute at India’s northern expanse as to who the territory belongs to.
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An important task of the state is to invoke a territorial image of the state and familiarize the larger population with it. School textbooks and official maps play this role effectively to make its territory and places legible for the state population. Place-making often involves creation of new activities, economic or otherwise at a particular location. In this case, the weather forecasts is one such activity, with which not only the Indian State but the people can also identify.
As critical geographical as it may sound today to investigate the British colonialist and imperial exercises, it is instructive that such methods of place-naming and place-making have existed even in ancient Indian texts like Puranas, the Epics and related texts. The geographical references to seven dwipas, including Jambu Dwipa cover the whole Eurasian expanse in detail with Mount Meru (The Pamir) as the centre of the Eurasian continent. The description stretches to as far as the Mediterranean and the Eastern coast of Africa.
Furthermore, there is astonishing detail about the orientation of the Himalayas and the adjacent mountain ranges. The river systems originating from the present-day Tibet are explained in detail with the directions of the flow of rivers. The “Puranas” include, the origin of the universe and the earth, the oceans and continents, mountain systems of the world, regions and their people and astronomical geography” (Ali, 1966). However such detailed descriptions were never laden with the ideas of capture or control of territory but only for the sake of geographical knowledge.
Within this literature, the expanse of Bharatvarsa is mentioned in detail on numerous occasions. This fact of geographical unity of the subcontinent remained unchanged and unchallenged until the moment of partition in 1947. The partition in 1947 essentially created a rupture in the regional, human and physical geography of the Indian sub-continent into two separate states of India and Pakistan. Perhaps, it is this longer geo-historical imagination that takes precedence over recent history since partition when the weather reports are broadcast on the national television channels.
The territorial claims in Kashmir are now becoming more visible and perhaps a beginning of a new geopolitical imagination of post 1947 India is being given shape and root.
Since 2014, the Indian government’s approach under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been quite assertive on the issue of Kashmir and related terrorism emanating from Pakistan. The response to acts of terrorism has been more in terms of military action at the Line of Control, But for the first time a nuanced approach to visually construct that represents the whole Kashmir as Indian, has been adopted.
Reports indicate that Mr. Ajit Doval, the National Security Advisor who is also an intelligence expert on Pakistan, has been instrumental in developing and implementing this strategy of weather forecasting of the larger territory of Kashmir and thereby indicating that it is Indian. On the other hand, reactions of the international community may only become evident when real world diplomacy resumes after the end of the global shutdown due to the CoVID19 pandemic. Until then, the otherwise innocuous weather report, produced by non-political meteorologists, has become the new political battle ground between India and Pakistan.
Dr Krishnendra Meena is Assistant Professor and teaches at School of International studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi