Everywhere the foreign hand

For Pakistan, India and Israel are a permanent fixture, addition of US is another mental trapeze act.

Written by Khaled Ahmed | Published:January 3, 2015 12:00 am

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The Muslim world is in the grip of the “foreign hand”, which usually means America. The current myth is that the Islamic State (IS), by killing Shia Muslims in Iraq and Syria, is actually working for the Americans because “it is a creation of America”. In Pakistan, add India. Or better still, tag Israel too. At times, it is amazing how inspectors general of police will insist on the “foreign hand”, even after the Taliban has owned up to a big hit. The message behind their insistence is that the Taliban is actually an agent of America, India and Israel. Hafiz Saeed has recently used this device; only this time, no one in Pakistan is prepared to listen.

There is a deeply psychological reason behind this, and it is pure collective psychosis. The idea is to demonise the terrorists and, for that, take recourse to textbook demonology. India and Israel are a permanent fixture, but the addition of America — after the “double-faced” Afghan policy adopted by Pakistan in recent years — is yet another useful mental trapeze act.

Pakistan must be morally tormented while including America among its villains.  It is collecting over a billion dollars yearly as
its partner against terrorism. You can’t pocket someone’s money and call them a villain. But there is an escape hatch here
too. America is the villain at the level of the global Muslim community.

The new rhetoric goes like this: Pakistanis must pay psychologically for getting cosy with the patron of Israel, which has caused
so much suffering to Muslims. America bails Israel out each time it is in trouble with its Muslim neighbours. And, there is that dreadful Jewish lobby that actually rules America! But here there is yet another escape hatch. If America doles out dough to Pakistan, Saudi Arabia helps when we don’t have money to pay for oil. So, if our conscience needs a poultice of complex justification, there is the Guardian of the Holy Places, which can’t be wrong, leaning on America to save its neck from Iran. We are useful in Bahrain, where the Americans have their fleet.

In an article in Dawn, Munizae Jahangir reported that Peer Saifullah Khalid, the imam of a large madrasa in Lahore, stated with a straight face: “The Taliban are wrongly blamed for the bomb blasts in Pakistan, it is actually India that is responsible.” The article goes on to enlist a number of politicians, including Punjab’s ex-law minister Rana Sanaullah, who is in the habit of claiming there are no terrorist “safe havens” in that province.

The “strategic” mind in Pakistan too sees Pakistan as beleaguered in the midst of agents bent on changing the map of power. Premier strategist Maleeha Lodhi, slated to be Pakistan’s ambassador to Washington, wrote in The News on December 9: “Unfortunately, the tyranny of geography — a volatile neighbourhood and the main faultlines of geopolitics — and the burden of history have consistently put security at the top of Pakistan’s national agenda.”

It is funny that the said neighbourhood — including friendly China — complains of Pakistan being the epicentre of this volatility, radiating violence in a widening circle. Another scholarly person, Shireen Mazari, now a leader of Imran Khan’s pointedly “anti-American” Tehreek-e-Insaf, said something significant about Punjab when she was editing Lahore’s The Nation. In a TV discussion in October 2009, Sanaullah insisted that south Punjab was as much a home to terrorist organisations as any other part of Pakistan, meaning that it was not a safe haven for terrorists. Mazari, who hails from Dera Ghazi Khan in south Punjab, wrote about the dominance of the more jihad-oriented madrasas there, pointing out the “foreign funding” they were receiving: “In Dera Ghazi Khan, there are 185 registered madrasas, of which 90 are Deobandi (with a total of 324 teachers), 84 are Barelvi (with a total of 212 teachers), six are Ahl-e-Hadith (107 teachers) and five are Fiqh-e-Jafaria (10 teachers).” She continued: “Of the Deobandi madrasas, only the Jamia Ataul-Ulum, with 200 boarders and 20 day-students ranging from 5 to 25 years and eight teachers, receives donations from Kuwait as well as from private local and religious trusts, and is affiliated with the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam. Another madrasa, Jamia Darul Rehmania, with the same credentials, offers education upto middle and has 350 boarders plus 230 day-students and 28 teachers. The total number of Deobandi madrasa students in the DG Khan district is 11,535. Interestingly, in this category, it is the large madrasas — linked to the JUI that receive foreign funding — almost solely from Kuwait.” By the way, Kuwait’s private donors are the largest supporters of the IS today.

Then, in May 2010, an FIR lodged in Jhang in Punjab accused the Jaish-e-Mohammed, the jihadi outfit that coexists nicely
with the Shia-killing Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, of colluding with “Taliban commanders who often come to the city on their way to southern Punjab as the network of Tehrik-e-Taliban is fast expanding in the region”.

What defies logic is, why should America or India want to kill the Shia? Here comes another mental knot that Pakistanis
can’t undo. Because of orders from Shia scholars, desperately looking to Iran, the families of the murdered Shia glibly blame America for the bloodshed. Still more mind-boggling is the fact that while Iran blames the Great Satan America for all mischief, the Iran-hating Arabs across the Gulf also indict America.

In Balochistan, where Pakistan officially charges India with inciting terrorism, the Shia are no longer bound by false oaths. They name the Taliban-affiliated outfits targeting them and accuse the Quetta establishment of allowing them impunity. And they have stopped pointing to the “foreign hand” from America or India.

Over 80 per cent of Pakistanis hate America, if the polls are to be trusted. It is because the state of Pakistan doesn’t know how to interpret its relationship with the superpower. In the past, if it leaned in favour, it was doubted; if it pulled out, it was called untrustworthy. Today, suddenly, America and Pakistan find themselves on the same page once again. Will this phase be followed by another bout of bitterness and regret? Will Pakistan go after the jihadists it has created to bother its neighbours?

The Americans resolve the riddle of dealing with Pakistan by calling the relationship “transactional”. The Pakistani mind simply doesn’t accept this “self-seeking” label; bilateralism has to be based on “eternal” and “ideal” friendship involving collective passions. You should read how Pakistan describes its relationship with China in newspaper headlines. And China is the most “unidealistic” nation on earth today! The floodgates of opinion suppressed in the past are open today after the Peshawar massacre. Will Pakistan change?

The writer is consulting editor, ‘Newsweek Pakistan’

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