The May 22nd terrorist attack on the Pakistan Navy’s Mehran base in Karachi has given a new lease of life to the usual set of conspiracy theories. Rather than admitting that we face a mortal threat from militants within Pakistan and dealing with that threat, Pakistanis are being fed with a pro-military, media-driven national narrative that apportions blame on everyone in and outside Pakistan, except where it really belongs: On the military and the militants.
Here are some of the fallacies driving that narrative.
1. As always, the civilian leadership failed us: The response of Pakistan’s ruling political leadership was arguably less than adequate. But when the military does not allow civilians anywhere near its exclusive domain of ‘national security’, how can politicians own up and be held responsible for military failures? For instance, did the military ever consult politicians on its disastrous pursuit of ‘strategic depth’ in Afghanistan? Did civilian politicians create and nurture the jihadi beast? Was it the duty of civilians to protect the naval base, or the GHQ for that matter?
2. This was not a security lapse: The navy chief publicly said that there was no security lapse. He is right. It wasn’t just a security failure; it was the mother of all failures. What else would you call the successful penetration of a high security facility by a handful of well-armed terrorists who then set off multiple explosions, blew up two maritime surveillance aircraft worth over$30 million each and fought off over a thousand military personnel for almost a day?
3. Criticising the troops equals treason: Maligning the military would weaken it by battering its morale, which is exactly what our foes want. So we should all just shut up and let the military do its job. Well, that is exactly the problem. The military is not doing its job, and that is costing us dearly. We have one of the world’s largest out-of-school populations. Yet, we deprive our children their right to basic education by spending seven to 10 times more on a military that cannot even properly guard its vital installations and equipment.
4. It must be the Indians: Even though the TTP has accepted responsibility for the attack, the military establishment wants us to believe that India did it. The reasoning: It does not make sense for al Qaeda or the Taliban to destroy Pakistan’s India-specific military hardware. Besides, such an attack requires military intelligence input, professional planning and operational precision which non-state actors usually lack. But by blaming it all on the ‘foreign hand’, the military is basically indicting itself for gross incompetence.
5. The Americans want our bomb: The Americans (read CIA/Blackwater) are orchestrating terrorist attacks to build the perception that Pakistan is imploding from within, as a prelude to depriving the country of the atomic bomb. There is no evidence that the CIA is doing any such thing. And Pakistan does not really need the US or anyone to conspire against it. We are digging our own grave because our military establishment clamps down on some militant groups while letting others operate with impunity in a nuclear-armed country.
6. This is not our war: America’s war on terror has put us in the cross hairs of the Taliban and their affiliates. If we bid adieu to the US and negotiate with these militants, they will turn their guns away from us. Hell, they can even become handy against India in both Kashmir and Afghanistan. But lest we forget, military-backed jihad in Indian Kashmir almost put Pakistan on the US State Department’s list of states sponsoring terrorism. And we would not be in this mess today if the ISI’s black-turbaned allies in Kabul had not provided shelter to al Qaeda which had planned the 9/11 attacks. And remember what the (Swat) Taliban did after the PPP-led government passed the Nizam-e-Adl Regulation, 2009? They did not lay down their arms. Instead, they denounced the constitution, the judiciary and the parliament for being un-Islamic, and moved into Buner, a hundred kilometres from Islamabad.
Perpetuating these fallacies only obfuscates the real threats to Pakistan. Rather than blaming others for its own failures, the military should start doing its actual job for once. And managing real estate, hounding journalists and propping up political alliances is not really a part of it.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 25th, 2011.