Life in Parallel Universe By Irfan Husain

Date: 18 Dec 2008



By Irfan Husain          
Life in Parallel Universe 

IF you do a Google search with 'CIA + RAW + Mossad + Mumbai attacks' as your parameters, you will get about 51,200 results.

So clearly, there are thousands out there who have developed elaborate conspiracy theories to explain who was behind the recent terrorist atrocity in Mumbai. Some of these theories have even appeared in the letters column of this newspaper. Sadly, Hamid Gul, the ex-head of the ISI, is one of the chief proponents of such hare-brained theories. The fact that he rose to become a three-star general makes one wonder about the promotion policies prevalent in our army.

It would seem that millions do not accept the evidence available, and are seeking to fit in the attacks with their world view in which nothing is as it seems; where we are all manipulated by forces that pull the strings from behind the scenes; and where we are ultimately helpless to change anything. In this parallel universe of smoke and shadows, reality shifts according to your point of view, and there is no such thing as objective truth.

Over the last week, my inbox has been flooded with at least 300 emails regarding the last two columns I wrote about the Mumbai attacks. I have been attacked for being naïve, as well as a traitor. But I have been supported by other readers for calling a spade a spade. So clearly, there has been a very strong reaction to the gruesome events across the border.

I had suggested that many Pakistanis are in denial about the extent of the terror networks active on our soil, and the threat they pose to our country. And while we have become accustomed to the growing mayhem they cause within our borders, other countries are not going to put up with their activities when their citizens are slaughtered by them. Despite the conclusive evidence that the recent attacks were launched from Pakistan by Pakistanis, many angry readers have asked me for proof. Others have accused me of betraying my country. Luckily, most of these diatribes have been poorly worded and argued, thus absolving me of the duty to respond. 

Nevertheless, it is a matter for concern that so many Pakistanis are simply not willing to face the truth. For unless they do, they will not demand the change of policy and direction that gave birth to these terror groups in the first place.

However, it is important to remember that Pakistanis are not the only ones given to spinning elaborate conspiracy theories to explain the most straightforward events. For example, millions are convinced to this day that the 9/11 attacks were caused by the CIA and/or Mossad. I even came across a guy who said the Japanese were behind the attacks to avenge the atomic bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Millions believe that Princess Di was killed by the British secret service at the behest of the royal family because she was going to marry a Muslim.

Most of these fantasies are harmless parlour games that occupy people with lots of time on their hands. But when a country emerges as a focal point for the global jihad, and people across the world are killed as a result of this terror campaign, clearly responsible leaders are duty bound to take action. And if the leadership of the country concerned is unable or unwilling to act, what is the rest of the world supposed to do?

In our case, the establishment responds to international opinion and pressure by pleading that Pakistan is the biggest victim of terrorism, as President Zardari has said in a recent op-ed piece in the New York Times. This is certainly true, but what are our leaders doing to crush the monsters we have created ourselves? Surely it is not enough to elicit sympathy for our victim status without doing something to change it.

Since it is not easy to close our eyes to the reality of terrorism in Pakistan, given the grisly toll it exacts almost daily, many Pakistanis find all kinds of reasons to explain and justify it. These range from Palestine to Iraq to Afghanistan, and are seen by both right and left as a legitimate response to western attacks on Muslim lands. Closer to home, the conflict over Kashmir is used to legitimise the actions of groups like the Lashkar-i-Taiba. 

What many Pakistanis forget is that these terror groups are more lethal for us than they are for other countries. How, for example, would the LeT have furthered the cause of Kashmir by vicious attacks on soft targets in Mumbai? The fact is that in purely tactical terms, the killing of innocent civilians does not gain any cause any support.

The ongoing crackdown against a handful of known terrorist leaders and groups will, I fear, result in little except to divert foreign pressure. We have seen that in the past, the same suspects were picked up for brief stints in jail or house arrest, and released as soon as the crisis was over.

One problem that we do not examine closely enough is the fact that since Zia's destructive decade in the 1980s, a climate of religious extremism has come to dominate the national agenda. In this environment, a generation of Pakistanis has grown up thinking it is perfectly acceptable to persecute religious minorities, marginalise women and kill in the name of Islam.

It is this acceptance of an extremist mindset that has created limitless space for terror groups to thrive in. Add to this outlook the disputed border with Kashmir and the porous (and also disputed) frontier with Afghanistan, and you get a scenario for sanctioned mayhem. The final ingredient in this lethal cocktail is a tottering economy that is simply not capable of generating gainful employment for millions of young Pakistanis.

But the rest of world is not interested in these problems. It wants Pakistan to crack down on terror groups now, and put them out of commission. However, given the lack of a national consensus and the political resolve needed to combat this menace, it is difficult to see the PPP-led government taking strong action, especially if the army is not solidly onside.

And here's the rub: for over two decades, the military and our intelligence agencies have been using many of these militants to fight their proxy wars. Many retired officers have developed personal and ideological links with the groups they handled while in uniform. To expect all this to change overnight is to demand too much of the fledgling democratic government.