A state of denial

By Shahid M. Amin

DenialThe GHQ attack has drawn accusations from several quarters in Pakistan that it was inspired by foreign powers; some have named India and the US among the usual suspects.   Such ‘experts’ rarely bother to give any concrete evidence to substantiate their charges, which are based mainly on conjecture.  They can only argue as to which country would want to hurt Pakistan the most: surely it must be India. Since many now see the US as the enemy, it too, in their view, could be the hidden hand behind the attack. In this particular case the leader of the terrorists has been captured alive. An army spokesman has identified him as Aqeel, alias Dr Usman, affiliated with terrorist outfits based in southern Punjab.  The terrorists involved in the attack were apparently trained in South Waziristan.Will the spokesman’s disclosure silence those who see a foreign power behind the attack? Not likely. The conspiracy theorists in this case are the same people who have been claiming that the suicide bombers — who have killed thousands in Pakistan over the last few years — could not be Muslims. They ignore the reality that many of the suicide bombers have been identified and found to be part of Islamist extremist groups such as the Taliban.

Similarly, some conspiracy theorists believe that Al Qaeda does not exist and the Sept 11, 2001 attacks were the handiwork of Israeli agents. The fact that Osama bin Laden has taken responsibility for 9/11 and all those involved in it were Arab nationals has not deterred the ardent believers of conspiracies.

How should one explain such a state of denial? It is not a case of not knowing the facts. Actually, the conspiracy theorists do not want to believe anything that comes in the way of their firmly held views: firstly, that the US, Israel and India are the arch enemies of Muslims; secondly, that the militants involved in the struggle against anti-Islam forces must be absolved of any charge of brutal excesses.

One can see a clear pattern at work. After every gruesome terrorist act the ‘defenders’ of the terrorists react. They assert that this must be the doing of anti-Islam and anti-Pakistan forces, or of elements within the regime, such as intelligence agencies. Even when the Taliban or other extremists claim responsibility the ‘defenders’ assert that this must be disinformation. It would not be incorrect to conclude that there is a nexus between the Taliban and these apologists, mainly belonging to our religious parties which seem to be acting as the political face of the terrorists.

What kind of mentality is helping create sympathy for violent extremism? How is it that extremists are attracting so many adherents? No doubt, the majority are drawn from madressahs where young boys are subjected to relentless brainwashing. But some supporters are well-educated people. It is important, therefore, to understand the phenomenon of ‘Talibanisation’ since military measures alone cannot destroy Al Qaeda and the Taliban. In the final process, ideas must be fought with ideas.

Over a period of time the perception has developed in Pakistan and elsewhere that the US is following a global anti-Muslim policy. The US is viewed as the main supporter of Israel, which has long been a dagger in the heart of the Arab and Muslim world. The Al Qaeda phenomenon itself developed after the US attack on Iraq during the first Gulf War of 1990. In 2001 the US invasion of Afghanistan and, more notably, the invasion of Iraq in 2003 raised Muslim fears to an unprecedented extent.

In Pakistan, sectarianism has been on the rise for the last three decades or so. But it was under Ziaul Haq that extremism acquired the shape that we see today. He patronised fundamentalism for political and ideological reasons. The Soviet military occupation of Afghanistan was seen as a threat to Pakistan’s own security. The West had its own motives to oppose the Soviets. There was also sympathy for the Afghan Mujahideen whose struggle against the Soviets was seen as righteous. It was not realised, until it was too late, that these militants would turn into Frankensteins. Today’s Taliban are the offshoot of the Mujahideen.

Sept 11 led to the US invasion of Afghanistan. Here another miscalculation occurred. The Afghan people have a long tradition of opposing all foreign invaders and history is now repeating itself. Thus, the US and Nato forces are facing a war of national resistance which the Taliban have converted into a ‘jihad’ in the Pakhtun areas. Ethnic Pakhtuns also live on the Pakistani side of the border, thus extending the area of conflict to our tribal belt. Vital support is also coming from sympathisers affected by Talibanisation.

To counter Talibanisation and the religious fanatics, it needs to be emphasised, firstly, that they have done a grave disservice to Islam’s image by their senseless violence and brutality. Secondly, the rampant anti-Americanism that is providing so many recruits for Al Qaeda can be countered by recalling some historical facts. The US invasion of Iraq in 1990 was due to Iraq’s occupation of Kuwait, an Arab and Muslim neighbour. In that war the UN and the majority of Arab and Muslim states had supported the US.

In 2001, it was the terrorism of 9/11 that resulted in the US invasion of Afghanistan and not vice versa. The liberation of Muslim Bosnia and Kosovo in the last decade was secured by the US, whose support for the Mujahideen had earlier secured Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan. Even in the case of Israeli aggression against the Arab countries, it was the US that twice secured Israeli withdrawal from Sinai. The US also secured Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza in 1994 that allowed the PLO to return and form a Palestinian Authority in those territories.

Nevertheless, the onus lies on the US to rehabilitate its image in the Muslim world. It must end its blind support for Israel. The US withdrawal from Iraq must be expedited. The US should play a role to help resolve the Kashmir dispute. Barack Obama has a historic opportunity to change the Bush-era policies and build bridges between the US and the Muslim world. It remains to be seen how far he can rise to the occasion.

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