'Anger' and 'euphoria': How the India-Pakistan conflict is reviving nationalism on social media

Villagers in Bhimber throw rose petals at the approaching Pakistani army convoy that has the captured Indian pilot.
Villagers in Bhimber throw rose petals at the approaching Pakistani army convoy that has the captured Indian pilot.

Pakistan shot down an Indian fighter plane over the disputed territory of Kashmir on Wednesday, the latest salvo in a decades-long conflict between the two countries. But while Pakistan announced on Thursday that it would release the captured pilot, tensions continue to simmer on social media in both countries, turning Twitter and Facebook into a second battleground.

India launched an air strike in Pakistan this week, allegedly in retaliation for a February 14 attack in which a Pakistan-based militant group killed 40 paramilitary troops in Indian Kashmir. Pakistan retaliated, shooting down an Indian jet and capturing its pilot. Videos and photos from the region where the pilot was captured flooded social media, including misleading and false images.

Many Pakistanis celebrated the capture of the Indian pilot, organising large demonstrations in Pakistan and Pakistan-administered Kashmir. On Twitter, Pakistani users started peppering their posts with the hashtag #PakistanStrikesBack, praising the Pakistan army’s capture of the pilot.

One video published on Twitter on February 27 showed locals throwing flower petals over a Pakistani army convoy as it arrived in the village of Bhimber in southern Pakistan-controlled Kashmir.

We spoke to two Observers who live in Kashmir to tell us about what it feels like on the ground as negotiations between both governments continue. 

Tariq Naqash is a journalist for the Pakistani newspaper Dawn. He told the FRANCE 24 Observers about how public sentiment towards the Pakistani army has changed over the last few days. He explained that the violent rhetoric seen online and the actions of the Kashmiri villagers who beat up the Indian pilot isn’t representative of the wider population in Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

“Anger turned into euphoria when the pilot was captured”

After India’s strike on Pakistan on Tuesday, the general mood was anger at the Pakistani army. India attempted to kill our people, so how come they were able to return to India alive? Why didn’t Pakistani forces shoot them down? That anger turned into euphoria when the pilot was captured.

It is rare to display such overt patriotism or affection for the army, but yesterday there was an outpouring of joy after the achievement of the Pakistani forces. I drove past a military convoy yesterday and people were gathered on the side of the road, waiting for them to pass – they were cheering and even went to garland the soldiers with flowers.

The decision to return [the Indian pilot] to India is a commendable decision and it has gone down well with people because it will help with negotiations. Not many are calling for the pilot to be punished or even killed.

Mariam Raja is a Kashmiri entrepreneur currently in Muzzafarabad, a town in northwestern Kashmir close to the Line of Control, the de facto border that separates Indian-controlled and Pakistan-controlled Kashmir.

“We don’t want the hate to escalate”

Everybody is sitting in front of the news channels. Last night I slept with my TV on and my telephone on in case something happened. We are not going out much at the moment because we are so near the Line of Control. Right now it feels dangerous. Anything could happen. The Line of Control is on high alert. Flights out are cancelled. Lots of things are messed up.

The Kashmiri people are a minority and we feel united. If anything happens in any other area of Kashmir it feels like it concerns us, like it happened to our brothers and sisters. Of course we are feeling anxious right now. People are worried that a war will break out.

We are worried about the hate escalating. Lots of people sit behind their screens and say that they want war with India and we have to kill Indians to get our territory back, but they don’t understand that this can destroy a family or an entire region. I don’t think that we (Pakistani Kashmiri) hate India or Indian people, but so many Kashmiris have been killed by the Indian army. When the aircraft was coming down people were pelting it with stones because they have been oppressed by India for so long. Incidents of violence against Pakistani Kashmiri have multiplied over the years and our frustration is boiling over.

I was afraid that the Pakistani army would respond in the same way [as the locals] and would attack the pilot. But I am glad that they handled it so calmly.

War ... and peace

Even as some take to social media to beat the drum for nationalism, others on both sides of the conflict are fighting to de-escalate the violent rhetoric. The hashtag #SayNoToWar has been used by both Indian and Pakistani Twitter users condemning the clashes and calling for peace between the two nuclear powers.