By Khaled Ahmed
Aug 02 2013
The meeting of minds between the terrorist and the victim is complete in Pakistan
After the Dera Ismail Khan jailbreak on July 29, the spread of terrorism in Pakistan is a palpable threat to the state. What is, in fact, more threatening is the “consensus” al-Qaeda has formed on its worldview with the institutions and people of Pakistan? In 2006, I was shocked during a TV programme I was hosting in Islamabad with an audience drawn from local colleges. After a long discussion, the unanimous decision of the house was: al-Qaeda is no threat to Pakistan. Al Huda, a women’s Islamist organisation based in Islamabad, was preaching that Osama bin Laden was a “soldier of Islam”.
Al-Qaeda flourishes on the basis of its anti-American stance. Eighty-three per cent of Pakistanis have joined it in condemning America in opinion surveys. (Opposed to this, over 80 per cent of the people of Afghanistan hate the Taliban.) Bowing to populism and pushed by a consolidating process of Islamisation of the state, most religious leaders and politicians routinely condemn America. The army and its intelligence agencies are manned by officers who hate America on the basis of American support to India. There are successful retired generals who were “leaders” within the army because of their pathological hatred of America. Since America leads the West, most Pakistanis also hate the values that the West stands for.
Pakistan, being a victim of terrorism, should be clear about what terrorism means, but it is inclined to oppose the definition presented at the UN by the West, mainly because it doesn’t want to allow the label to stick to the non-state actors who carry out cross-border attacks in Kashmir and India. This obfuscation of the term helps al-Qaeda get adherents to its agenda. The slogan in “victim” Pakistan is, the “war on terrorism” is not “our war”. The slogan is so popular that Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan rely on it to shore up their popular following.
In the Pakistanis’ view, the real terrorism is the one committed by India in Kashmir and by the US in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Pakistan Peoples Party and, more outspokenly, Awami National Party (ANP) don’t acquiesce to this al-Qaeda-boosting slogan and have lost popular support. Additionally, al-Qaeda targeted their leaders during the last elections and not let them campaign. They took part in the polls in Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa on the assumption that they would lose to save their leaders from being exterminated. Can the elections of 2013 be called fair?
The police and the intelligence agencies help in this massive pro-al-Qaeda brainwash. After every act of terrorism that kills scores of innocent citizens, officers announce that the act was committed by foreign powers opposed to Pakistan. They name them too, but at times when the enemy is not named, people know they are the US, India and Israel. There are moments of embarrassment when the Taliban announces its involvement because it doesn’t want the “credit” to go to the US-India-Israel trio. The newly developed “theory”, which the Taliban despises, is: the Taliban are agents of the US and India, receiving money for killing innocent Pakistanis.
If al-Qaeda was once the master of hate speech, led by its leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, it has been superseded by the new hate-speech-mongers on social media, mouthing the same toxic rhetoric, only ratcheted up many-fold. Religious leaders backed by aggressive seminaries routinely empty their spleen on Islamabad and its enslavement by America, but the new bridegroom of hate speech is one called Zaid Hamid, who operates a fiery website pouring fire and brimstone on persons and organisations he doesn’t like, calling them Indian agents who receive money from New Delhi. Since the youth no longer read newspapers, they lap up the foul defamatory broth and pass it on with added vituperations. Now everybody in Pakistan is into hate speech, including several of my nephews, whom I have started fearing.
One can’t avoid noting, however, that hate speech growing out of extremism is not a disease exclusive to Pakistan. The entire Muslim world is quivering in its vice, and what starts as an outward thrust of maniacal anger re-enters the domestic space and targets Muslim and non-Muslim minorities, and potentially “excludable” communities. In Pakistan, the anti-Shia trend is on the upswing — backed by al-Qaeda and its affiliates — but in the Arab world, there is a full-blown sectarian war going on that will inevitably relocate itself in Pakistan, leveraged by Arab dollars. The Hindu community is facing extermination through forcible conversion and marriage of its daughters. The Shia are the “potentially excludable community”. The Islamic utopia as envisioned by al-Qaeda is blood-soaked.
Because of the “trickle-down” brainwash of the common man, democracy is no longer the form of governance that suits Muslims abroad and, increasingly, those living in Pakistan. The persuaders are al-Qaeda and its inspired saints, like Sufi Muhammad of Malakand. In Iran, the monarchy was overthrown to usher in democracy; the people of Iran chose the supreme leader instead, who would rule for over 30 years, rigging elections every five years. Egypt ousted a military dictator only to elect the Muslim Brotherhood, which will write a new constitution to perpetuate the rule of the Sharia, which means no democracy, like Iran. All Muslims abroad hate Saudi rulers because they think monarchy is not Islamic, knowing full well that monarchy will be replaced by al-Qaeda. The Kuwaiti prince toyed with democracy, only to see the elected parliament opt for Sharia.
Al-Qaeda and the Taliban are gunning for ex-army chief Pervez Musharraf. Instead of letting a suicide-bomber take care of him, the Pakistani public wants to do the job through the Supreme Court, under Article 6 of the constitution, which can hang him. The meeting of minds between the terrorist and the victim is complete. Al-Qaeda wants its agent Aafia Siddiqui released from an American prison, where she is serving an 86-year sentence. It has formally demanded that America release her. The last time it did so was after kidnapping an American contractor of the planning commission, Warren Weinstein from Lahore. It proposed a swap. So popular is Siddiqui in Pakistan that the political parties are vying with one another to be her advocates. Al-Qaeda watches, smiling quizzically. The same kind of Stockholm syndrome is in evidence in the case of the al-Qaeda-patronised Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) in Islamabad.
The Pakistan army is heavily into populism — read thralldom to al-Qaeda — on the subject of drones. No one in Pakistan today dare favour drone attacks in the tribal areas, where the Pakistan army is fighting the terror of al-Qaeda and the Taliban. The two parties who saw benefit in them against their killers — PPP and ANP — were routed in the last election. And the army, which once actually guided the drones onto the terrorists, has stepped back and denounced them, and is now spearheading the anti-American campaign of al-Qaeda without realising it. Populism also drove the stance it took on bin Laden’s death in Abbottabad.
Al-Qaeda has spread out into a disturbed Islamic world. Its presence in Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Nigeria, Mali and Egypt is so pronounced that one forgets that its headquarters are still in Pakistan because, after the death of bin Laden, its next leader, al-Zawahiri, is still here.
Khaled Ahmed is a consulting editor with ‘Newsweek Pakistan’