The young volunteer beamed at his colleague and exchanged high-fives, exulting “Pakistaniyon ki laylee” (He took Pakistan apart.) Narendra Modi had just lit into Pakistan and Imran Khan without once naming either in front of Donald Trump, and the crowd had erupted with delight at the public humiliation of a country that was once a part of India.
Sneering at Pakistan for its concern over events in Kashmir despite not being able to manage its own affairs at home and despite its reputation as a global hub for terrorism, Modi called for a decisive war on terrorism, asking the crowd to give a standing ovation to Trump. In fact, the U.S President had given the opening for Modi to bash Pakistan, having himself generated a standing ovation by railing against “radical Islamic terrorism” that goes beyond Pakistan.
But Modi was quick to seize the moment by linking Pakistan to terrorist events from 9/11 to 26/11, wondering sneeringly how a country that hosted its planners and that was so unstable was worried about India’s effort to manage Kashmir.
Catch complete coverage: PM at Howdy Modi event in Houston
The crowd’s response to the Trump-Modi jugalbandi on terrorism was in part driven by the relentless campaign by Pakistan in recent days to paint India – and Modi – as a terrorist entity.
In Houston itself, Pakistan had done its best to rain on the Howdy Modi parade, going so far as to send one of its federal ministers to join the protestors. They had also roped in disaffected Sikhs and other minorities for a hefty dose of India-bashing, online and onsite. The weather in Houston had relented to make way for a sunny warm day but scores of protestors gathered across the stadium holding placards that declared Modi is a terrorist and accusing India of conducting a genocide in Kashmir.
“Complete nonsense,” said Vivek Shah, who came to the rally with friends from a Houston suburb. “More people are dying in violence in Karachi than in Kashmir.” Others expressed similar anger against Pakistan, one group holding a placard with the legend #PKMKB, a coarse abuse directed at Pakistan that is not fit to print in a family newspaper.
The hashtag would soon rend globally, as anger against Pakistan peaked online.
Neither Modi nor Trump mentioned Pakistan or Imran Khan by name. But while Modi made it very obvious who he was directing his barbs at, Trump not known for any great subtlety, was more nuanced, saying the U.S understood India’s need to secure its borders as he took his usual shot at radical Islamic terrorism.
Pakistan’s troubles haven’t even begun as the party now moves to New York where Imran Khan has arrived to launch what Pakistanis are calling “Mission Kashmir.” India’s strategy is becoming clear: Pakistan will be dubbed a terrorist country at every global forum where India has much greater access, prestige, credibility and sway. With the Indian economy outsizing the Pakistani economy every single year despite less than anticipated growth, New Delhi is confident it can squish Pakistan economically.
Houston demonstrated what India can do and the route India will take if Pakistan chooses not to make peace.
Pakistan merely claiming it is a votary of peace is not enough, according to Indian officials. The intent has to be backed by action, something Pakistan is lacking in. That lack of intent is exactly what enabled Modi to virtually call Pakistan a terrorist state to Trump’s face without fear of contradiction.
Pakistan, it seems, will never get over the stigma of hosting Osama bin Laden, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and others, and of fostering terrorist groups such as LeT and JeM.