Pakistan is a land of many stories, and I miss them terribly. But what I don’t miss, having been forced to leave Pakistan this summer because of a possible threat to my safety, is the constant barrage of conspiracy theories and an unwillingness by smart people to accept what is clear as day.
The shooting of Malala Yousufzai is just the latest case. There are many educated Pakistanis who simply can’t accept that the barbarous thugs known as the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) could shoot a brave 14-year-old schoolgirl reformer in the head. No matter that the TTP spokesman claimed credit for it. No matter that he said they would do it again if given half the chance.
Curious timing, these conspiracists mutter darkly. The attack is obviously an attempt to force the military into an operation in North Waziristan against Pakistan’s will, they say. Or, it’s a plot to discredit the PTI and its opposition to drone strikes. (What drone strikes have to do with the bloody attack on a child is never clearly explained.)
This, if I may, as an outsider and an observer of Pakistan, is Pakistan’s gaping wound: a collective inability — or unwillingness — to accept responsibility for its internal problems.
Everything is a plot by the Indians, Americans or Israel. Or all three! Militancy, power cuts, corruption, economic stagnation, Osama bin Laden, all of it. I once had Latif Khosa, governor of Punjab, blame power outages on the American invasion of Afghanistan, and not the Pakistan government’s inability to settle the circular debt problem. Zaid Hamid, conspiracist extraordinaire, vowed revenge on the TTP and their “Hindu backers”. Even the match-fixing by the Pakistani cricket team was a set-up by dark forces bent on Pakistan’s destruction.
Goodness! How did Pakistan manage to acquire so many shadowy enemies? In short, it — or rather, the men who run it — invented them.
Anyone with a lick of sense knows the Pakistani “establishment” (such a polite euphemism) has for years cried wolf in order to justify claiming its outsized share of the national budget and foreign aid. India was poised to invade at any moment! The Americans are going to steal our nukes!
The efforts to spot dark plots and enemies under every bushel have found fertile soil in a population already poisoned by a school system that promotes bigotry against other religious groups, by a media that lionises murderers in a chase for ratings and by politicians such as Imran Khan and his PTI who pal around with men who openly support the Taliban and their vicious ideology. I refer, of course, to men such as Hamid Gul and Maulana Samiul Haq.
Pakistan has real problems, yes. India is an economic rival and the relationship with Washington is a complicated one. The issue of Pashtun nationalism on both sides of the Durand Line has to be handled carefully. But instead of looking at what is right in front of them — the military’s support for jihadist groups since the 1980s has now gotten out of control and threatens the state — Pakistanis have been encouraged to blame others. They ignore the cancer that has been eating away at Pakistan since before the usurpation of Ziaul Haq: the supported rise of an intolerant and severe nationalism that conflates piety with patriotism. It’s an ugly nationalism that excludes and marks others as outsiders and, thus, as enemies.
This twisting of a faith was not the work of America, or India or Israel. This was done by Pakistan’s own leaders and generals for crass and short-term gains. The knock-on effects have been catastrophic for a society that was once more tolerant, open and welcoming to the outside world. It leads to smart people unwilling to see what is plain in front of their faces: That militants once backed by their own military are intent on killing anyone who disagrees with them, even if it’s a 14-year-old girl. And that the men with guns need to be dealt with. With all the severity they mete out to others.
In the end, the real enemy of Pakistan is not India or the United States. It’s not even passivity in the face of — or even acceptance of — a pernicious and twisted ideology. It’s the denial that the ideology has come from within Pakistan itself.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 14th, 2012.