Sunday, August 21, 2016

Pakistan’s Paranoid Politics

By Pervez Hoodbhoy
20 August 2016
MORE and more Pakistanis have come to believe that they live in a hostile and conspiratorial world with shadowy enemies all around bent on the country’s destruction. The suicide bombing which shredded almost a full generation of Baloch lawyers in a Quetta hospital was instantly declared the work of India’s spy agency RAW by Balochistan’s Chief Minister, Sanaullah Zehri. No proof was offered that a foreign hand was responsible for this grisly act of terror. Nor did the ISPR spokesperson present evidence of what he alleged — that the attack had actually targeted the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project.
Sadly, it is not just the government and military which presents conclusions without evidence, and which allows personal or institutional interests to override good judgment. A paranoid style has come to dominate politics in Pakistan. All you have to do is turn on the TV and watch political talk shows where anchors and guests compete for the highest levels of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy.
Even Pakistan’s intelligentsia has sometimes used paranoia to further its self-interest. I can bear personal witness to one such situation involving almost the entire faculty of Quaid-i-Azam University.
Twenty years ago, I discovered that I was simultaneously an agent of RAW, CIA, Mossad, and the Ahmadiyya Jamaat (they missed out MI-6). From various pamphlets and posters (that I still have with me), I learned that I had several meetings with the top leadership of these organisations — on April 6, 1995 I had met with the Indian consul general at the Royal Hotel in Singapore; with the head of the Ahmadiyya Jamaat in London on Jan 23, 1993; and with senator Larry Pressler on June 18, 1994. None of these meetings ever took place, of course.
My colleague, Dr A.H. Nayyar, learned that some mysterious Indian woman, Sushila Ramayan, had often flown to Islamabad from Nagpur for discussions with him, and that a nod from him sufficed for the Indian High Commission to issue a visa to anyone. No such person ever came to visit him, and, no, he cannot get you an Indian visa.
Now here’s the actual story: in early 1996, Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto conceived a land-grab scheme apparently to enrich her cronies in parliament by offering them plots of prime land on the Quaid-i-Azam University campus. With 1,700 acres located barely a mile away from the seat of government, there could not be a more ideal location for a housing society. To sweeten the deal she offered QAU faculty and employees smaller-sized plots — all at a fraction of the market value. The campus went wild with joy; the deal would rake in mountains of cash for everyone.
Two faculty members resisted — Nayyar and me. We took the matter to court, arguing that QAU’s land was a public trust meant solely for future generations of Pakistani students and should never be converted to anyone’s private property. It must be reserved for new hostels, departments, playing fields, etc.
The gates of hell opened. Colleagues we had known for a quarter century now refused to speak to us. We were daily vilified as acting on behest of India and Israel, threatened by mobs of teachers, and my house was attacked. On instructions of Dr A.Q. Khan — also a plot beneficiary by virtue of being a QAU Syndicate member — I was put on the Exit Control List for several months.
After BB’s dismissal in late 1996, the court issued an order staying the construction. Thereupon QAU went on strike and remained closed for one full semester with daily demonstrations against us. It took another year for Nayyar and me to win the war. QAU’s land was finally secured, notwithstanding the efforts of all who sought to sully our names.
The paranoid streak in Pakistani society had been exploited by our opponents by labelling Nayyar and me as agents of foreign powers. Their real goal had been to grab QAU’s public land for their private use and profit. Unfortunately for them, their nonsensical claims were too far-fetched to be believed by the general public — why on earth would the secret agencies of India and Israel be interested in the matter of a teachers housing colony?
Truth had prevailed then, and truth must prevail now. I have no proof that RAW is responsible for the Quetta blast and no proof that it is not. But what I do know from reading the newspapers is that a splinter group of Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan and Daesh has both claimed credit. At the very least, these claims should have muddied the waters and caused our authorities to qualify or correct their earlier statements. Indeed, the TTP had butchered Army Public School students two years ago — to which the army responded by accelerating Zarb-i-Azb. Then, earlier this year, a TTP faction had murdered 22 students of the Bacha Khan University in Charsadda.
For the paranoid, when it is not India, it is Israel. Following the Karachi violence of July 2011, the then interior minister, Rehman Malik, dramatically announced a cache of Israeli-made guns had been discovered and spoke of a sinister plot to destabilise Karachi. But years later, and after countless Ranger-led operations in this troubled city, Israel is off the radar. Rather than confront the ethnic and political complexities behind Karachi’s violence, the government chose a cost-free solution — blame it on others.
True, Pakistan has adversaries who do not wish us well. There is no shortage of examples. It is right and proper that Pakistan should protest such external meddling. If foreign countries are involved in fomenting violence in Pakistan, expose them — with proof. However, government officials and media pundits should not loosely wag their tongues unless they actually know.
Imagined conspiracies serve only to distract us from the enemy within, the religious extremists who have repeatedly declared they will wage unending war upon the country and its people until the establishment of an Islamic state in Pakistan. We need facts not finger-pointing if we are fighting those who murder Pakistan’s schoolchildren, lawyers, policemen, and soldiers.
Pervez Hoodbhoy teaches physics in Lahore and Islamabad.
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