What if the conspiracy theorists are correct?

Published: March 19, 2012

The writer is a freelance journalist based in Islamabad. He has previously worked at The Express Tribune and Newsline

Think back to a more innocent time in Pakistan, say around 2007 or so. Terrorism may have been at its peak then, but all the right-thinking people knew who the enemy was: the Taliban and its enablers in the media, who spun wild theories to explain how everything was the fault of the Americans. The US –– the conspiracy theorists somehow expected us to believe –– was using robot flying saucers to attack us. Ludicrous as it sounded, these deranged people claimed that hordes of beefy Blackwater mercenaries were roaming the country. Clearly, no serious and sane person was going to fall for any of this jihadist propaganda.

One by one, we got confirmation that drone attacks were real, that the US did indeed have a lot of private security contractors working in the shadows and, in the effort to catch Osama bin Laden, even ran a fake vaccination programme. Welcome to Pakistan, where even the most feverish anti-US conspiracy theories turn out to be, well, true.

Those who took the pragmatic position that in a fight between the Taliban and the US, it would be wise to pick the latter’s side, should have had to reexamine all their core beliefs –– if not when drone attacks became a matter of public knowledge, then at least when Raymond Davis was revealed to be a spook. But we’re in a war, dammit, and picking a side is vital, no matter how much we mocked Dubya when he insisted on the same formulation. Thus, you have Pakistan’s liberals still denouncing the conspiracy theorists but having nary a negative word for those who are so adept at proving that the conspiracies actually exist.

Always beware of the person who is more willing to change his or her arguments than admit to a change of mind. So drones have now become the most effective way to kill militants, legality and scores of civilian deaths be damned. What’s wrong with a fake vaccination or two if it leads to the capture of Osama? And as for Raymond Davis, let’s just never talk about him again.

Many of those who seem more interested in being apologists for destructive US policies, mean well by concentrating on defeating the Taliban through strongly-penned columns and ignoring American transgressions. But what they are indulging in is propaganda, which by its very nature is designed to obfuscate, not illuminate.

The propagandists include among their ranks, obviously, the Zaid Hamids and Ali Azmats of the world. What grates is that some of their most ferocious critics seem to be stuck in the same mindset. Justifying desired policy outcomes becomes the goal, and facts are little more than an inconvenient hindrance that can easily be brushed away. Thus, you get someone like Farhat Taj arguing –– with a complete lack of verifiable evidence –– that citizens of Fata actually support being attacked by US drones and that the drones kill far more militants (or suspected militants) than civilians.

Here’s a simple rule that propagandists on both sides may want to follow: it’s possible to be both anti-US and anti-Taliban at the same time. Even better, sloganeering in support of a cause may not be the most effective form of argument. If it is absolutely essential to make a case in favour of one side, inconvenient facts should not be brushed away. We desperately need an honest debate. That we don’t have one is equally the fault of both sides.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 20th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (30)

  • SalSal
    Mar 19, 2012 - 10:06PM

    Zaid Hamid used to be ridiculed when he used to say that America is trying to Balkanize Pakistan and divide it into separate independent countries. But guess what? American congressman speak for the same division of Balochistan and Pakhtunkhwa saying that Pakistan is an unnatural state. As if they give a damn about the injustice suffered by the poor in those areas. Everywhere only the common man is suffering and facing injustice no matter which province it is, only the so called freedom fighting politicians are well off

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  • Saadat
    Mar 19, 2012 - 10:16PM

    Mr. Hasan! The statement of Ms. Taj has also been confirmed by a high-ranking military official in the area. You can google the exact words of that Brigadier.

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  • Dee Cee
    Mar 19, 2012 - 10:21PM

    That’s a nice point by the author: anti-Taliban AND anti-US at the same time. Now, being anti-US is easy, the military and the parliament is anti-US. How about being anti-Taleban? Is that as easy as being anti-US? Where do you think you should focus on? Who is doing more harm to the country? The answer my friend is being blown up in a vest, the answer is being blown up in a vest.

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  • abhi
    Mar 19, 2012 - 10:25PM

    Then the world will end on december 12 2012.

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  • Maria
    Mar 19, 2012 - 11:14PM

    Good one Nadir!

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  • Falcon
    Mar 19, 2012 - 11:47PM

    I am glad you made this observation. I have figured that most of us Pakistanis think along bi-modal lines, which is either something is black or white. We hate thinking in the grey area since that would require us to make trade-offs and most importantly, think for ourselves, which we gave up more than few decades ago.

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  • Umer
    Mar 20, 2012 - 12:03AM

    Thus, you get someone like Farhat Taj
    arguing –– with a complete lack of
    verifiable evidence –– that citizens
    of Fata actually support being
    attacked by US drones and that the
    drones kill far more militants (or
    suspected militants) than civilians.

    Farhat Taj is from FATA herself and she is been there to collect these statistics too, not to mention her family and tribal links there. This sounds like a reasonable exposure to the issue to make a judgement on it. What more do you need; a confirmation from ISPR/ISI chief until any of you right (wrong) wing journalists take it as hadith?

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  • Timorov
    Mar 20, 2012 - 12:22AM

    Thank you sire for saying it. It is only through a rational, nuetral debate, wherein all the nuances are kept in consideration can any form of honest policy conclusions be reached. Polemical, vitriolic pieces in a few hundred words in the opinion section of this newspaper (that reads more like a blog written by teenagers than by mature rational intellectual people) is not going to get this country anywhere.

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  • Wonderful
    Mar 20, 2012 - 12:32AM

    Only anti USA? Pakistan is anti-world community opinion. What is the world community asking is just that Pakistan does not support terrorism. Terrorism, in fact has harmed Pakistan more then the ‘world community’. Yet it supports it because without it the establishment becomes irrelevant in Pakistan’s politics.

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  • shabbir hussain
    Mar 20, 2012 - 1:04AM

    That’s why I think it is very important to avoid pigeonholing people.There should be no concret wall between conservative and libral. They should have the freedom to move on each other’s territory without compromising thier core beliefs

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  • Shakky
    Mar 20, 2012 - 1:52AM

    This article disingenuously calls for an honest debate between two different perspectives after trashing one of those perspectives. It denounces propaganda and yet indulges in its own propaganda by ignoring the heinous terrorist attacks which have been supported and perpetrated by the Taliban against innocent civilians. An honest debate requires that all the facts are put on the table – instead, the article uses disputed statistics to try and prove (unsuccessfully) its author’s point of view. And yes, what is a fake vaccination or two when compared to the apprehension of one of the most cold blooded mass murderers on the planet? As for the scores of civilians killed in drone attacks (a questionable statistic anyway), how about the hundreds of civilians killed in Taliban attacks? Or don’t they count?

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  • Spacer
    Mar 20, 2012 - 2:28AM

    Beginning to like this writer. Almost fifth in a row for me!

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  • Mir Agha
    Mar 20, 2012 - 3:52AM

    It isn’t necessary to be anti-anything, including the taliban or the u.s. How about being anti-destructive policies of both the neocon establishments and the ttp. Unfortunately the taliban or the us aren’t going away, ever, so best to engage with them all. It is possible to oppose drone strikes and yet call for milops in waziristan, that’s what the pragmatists say. Drone strikes create more reactions, are terrorist acts, and are illegal so they should not happen (i have no doubt the Pak gov is in on this), yet state writ needs to reign in all of Pakistan so anyone opposing freedom of movement in waziristan needs to be dealt with. This way it isn’t a proposition of “doing more” for the amreekans or being ttp supporters. Doesn’t have to be a mutually exclusive policy or being anti or pro anything. Just pro-Pakistan. btw, nice to see the liberal trolls out in force defending a complete hack – farhat ANDERSON taj.

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  • Laiq Khan
    Mar 20, 2012 - 6:23AM

    Nadir arguing with a complete lack of verifiable evidence that “US did indeed have a lot of private security contractors working in the shadows” “scores of civilian deaths” from drones.You must be the only ill informed journo who till 2007 thought drones to be” robot flying saucers” 3 years after the first drone strike.You have mentioned only one conspiracy theory about presence of Black water,but have not confirmed with evidence that it was a fact not a theory.

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  • Syed
    Mar 20, 2012 - 6:34AM

    The conspiracy theorists claimed it is Blackwater that is responsible for all the suicide bombing in Pakistan. Just the presence of contractors does not prove this.
    Some conspiracy theorists insist that even Al Qaeda is not real and bin Laden was merely a figment of the Wests imagination. Nevermind that he was shot dead in PMAs backyard.

    So, sorry, nothing the conspiracy theorists have been saying has actually been proven true.

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  • Mar 20, 2012 - 7:34AM

    So Zaid Hamid and Ali Azmat don’t grate as much as Farhat Taj? That about says it all about your position on the issue. Farhat Taj has far more credibility than this column, so this won’t make a dent on her credibility.

    The reason that people of FATA support drone strikes is because our security establishment blocks the revocation of the Frontier Crimes Regulation from FATA and has turned the region into a sanctuary for terrorists and mass murderers. Its no surprise that this grates to a diehard establishment supporter — that’s simply because your cherished “strategic depth” is built on the foundation of denial of basic rights to a whole segment of our population.

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  • Tony C.
    Mar 20, 2012 - 9:07AM

    @Saadat:
    Dear Saadat,
    Mr. Hassan is not denying that Farhat Taj said it, but rather he is questioning whether she got it right or not. I know that I would not approve of the U.S./NATO forces dropping explosives on my house with the off chance they may bag a person they objected to. Lets get real.

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  • Eying Propaganda
    Mar 20, 2012 - 9:27AM

    Superb !

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  • BlackJack
    Mar 20, 2012 - 9:36AM

    I don’t understand your point. Drone attacks were well known in the past, the US admission in no way changes, modifies or augments this knowledge. As far as Blackwater employees (or whatever they are called in the latest avatar), the issue is not that they were present in the country (they clearly were) but that they were blamed for every ill that befell the country that could not be laid directly at the steps of the infamous CIA-RAW-Mossad trio. You seem to have glossed over the greatest conspiracy theory (not Pak but global this time) that Osama is in Pakistan – this was proved true as well.

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  • Javed Beg
    Mar 20, 2012 - 10:35AM

    Dear Nadir, Ali Azmat and Zaid Hamid are in a dire need of having a competent PR man. I think you fit the bill perfectly.

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  • Tony C.
    Mar 20, 2012 - 11:41AM

    @BlackJack:
    Dear blackjack,
    I think you were wrong on every point. Sorry. It is not that important but what proof do you have that Osama Bin Laden was in Pakistan? I think the whole world would love to hear it! I certainly would.

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  • Mar 20, 2012 - 11:46AM

    @Author
    Zaid Hamid also said Pakistani will be on moon in 5 years. He said it 4 years back. Does it mean SUPARCO is building a secret space ship to migrate all the Pakistanis to moon in a war like situation.
    The thing is that the conspiracy theorists say a lot of things and mostly rubbish.

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  • Zahir Yousafzai
    Mar 20, 2012 - 4:57PM

    Go to tribal are or talk to people from Swat and they will tell you how deep state been playing on the both sides in this war on terror. As far as Pakistan is concerned, there is no such thing of Pakistani nation, Pakistan is federation of nations with each ethnic group has different language and culture .

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  • omar
    Mar 20, 2012 - 6:30PM

    . As a liberal I hope for the day we can start having an honest discussion on these issues but the liberals are either in denial and the conservatives want to turn us into north korea. However i would challenge you by saying that those drone attacks happen on our military’s watch because they are too weak and ineffective to police our own country properly. Rather than trying to save face, they should cooperate more with the US to minimize collateral damage. Instead, we are humiliating ourselves daily. Secondly, we don’t know the details of Raymond Davis. Perhaps the men holding him up were thieves and he acted in self defense. Terrorism is a problem and the beards have to go. There can be no compromise on this. Have you seen how many people have been killed in suicide bombings? Thousands at least. Quite a bit more than those accidentally killed in drone strikes.The liberals aren’t the ones in denial. The conservatives are the ones who want war. the ones who want to take away peoples liberties and take this country into the stone age.Recommend

  • Mustafa
    Mar 20, 2012 - 10:43PM

    presence of one CIA contractor according to him is enough evidence to prove the validity of those conspiracy theorists. going by the same logic the presence of hundreds if not thousands of home grown convicted jihadi terrorists in our jails proves the conspiracy theorists wrong a thousand times over

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  • Tony C.
    Mar 21, 2012 - 4:38AM

    @Mustafa:
    Dear Mustafa,
    There is enough evidence to indicate that the Americans have more paid mercenaries than troops on the ground. And yes, they do kill people. In Iraq alone more than 1,000,000 people have been killed. In Pakistan I think the figures have been fudged, but still quite high. The bottom line is, that apart from occasional incidents which blows up in the face of authorities we do not know. the full extent of committed war crimes or the actual figures of dead, wounded and incapacitated Pakistanis, and Afghans. Obviously, the Taliban and other groups are committed to serious parallel activities with the above also, but we have to get away from the good guy, bad guy syndrome, get these idiots talking to each other, and hopefully solving a few problems. They have been going for ten years now and very little has changed. They, the U.S./NATO side, just keep mentioning their noble mission, but do not solve anything. I do not know what the Taliban have in mind, because they do not get into print.

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  • MAC
    Mar 21, 2012 - 10:08AM

    The divide author points out is a largely irrelevant one. Simply because the discourse overwhelmingly favours the rightwing paranoia in Pakistan already. That a few people willing to take on the established discourse are out there is a good thing. What conspiracies are true? That 9/11 happened because of Jews, that TTP are Indians, that OBL didn’t die? If the author thinks believing anything that has a leg or arm is automatically human makes sense, then he shouldn’t think at all. Conspiracy theories strive on this sort of half baked logic.

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  • Mar 21, 2012 - 5:27PM

    Which conspiracy theories have so far proven to be true?

    The one about 9/11 being a work of Jews or America itself? That the assassination of OBL in Abottabad never happened? Oh, sure, the fake vaccination drive we believe. But the purpose that it ultimately served, we choose is too taxing to our sense of jingoism to accept and deal.

    The strategy is simple:

    Any piece of news that goes against the image of Pakistan or Muslims (even the self-proclaimed ones, like terrorists) is an elaborate lie. On the other hand any rumour, however wild, that goes against the image of USA or Israel is absolutely true. No confirmation necessary.

    It’s pretty easy to hate America if we stick to this strategy.

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  • Tony C.
    Mar 21, 2012 - 5:40PM

    @Loneliberal PK:
    Which conspiracy theory has has so far been proven to be untrue?

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  • Mustafa Moiz
    Mar 23, 2012 - 4:48PM

    @Dee Cee:
    Well, the alternatives to being blown up in a vest is being killed by drone attacks.

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