By Raza Rumi
March 19, 2012
The new al Qaeda
chief, Ayman al-Zawahiri in his new video statement has urged the people of
Pakistan to overthrow the “corrupt” government in Islamabad. Interestingly, he
has also asked the people to rise against the Pakistan Army, which has been
fighting a battle against some extremist groups in the North West of the
country. Al Qaeda has been making such desperate calls for a decade now. But
the worrying part is that the message — or its operative part — has gained
currency in many middle class Pakistanis. Despite the crackdown, Hizbut Tahreer
(HuT) continues to operate like several other militant groups. The extent of
its advocacy for overthrowing the generals and the politicians is such that a
HuT affiliated senior army official is on trial these days.
But these trials and
military interventions are pointless when Islamabad, virtually a security zone,
displays HuT posters and stickers almost everywhere. Why are the activists not
tracked down and why do the government and the all-powerful intelligence agencies
allow proliferation of such propaganda? A partial explanation is that elements
of the state are also steeped in this a similar mindset. It is an established
fact that the composition of the officers’ corps in the army and civilian
bureaucracy is overwhelmingly middle class.
In his latest
statement, again al-Zawahiri has mentioned the 70-year-old American aid worker
Dr Warren Weinstein, who was kidnapped in August 2011 from Lahore. The message
from al Qaeda is that Weinstein will not be released until their demands are
met. Among others, a key demand is the release of Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani
scientist sentenced by the US courts and currently languishing in an American
prison. Ms Aafia’s story is still incomplete and there are competing claims over
her role in perpetrating ‘terrorism’ as well as her innocence.
But in the popular
imagination, Ms Aafia is a victim of US aggression. Pakistani Urdu media and
sections of its political class have declared her the ‘daughter of the nation’.
Even a secular party such as the MQM had to appease public sentiment and held a
huge rally in Karachi against the US. It’s a separate matter that the ‘nation’
(looking at what the Baloch are rejecting as their Pakistani identity) here is
as contested as the idea of its ‘daughter’ being imprisoned and violated by the
US. Even the missing persons case is instructive. On balance, there is more
noise about the missing persons allegedly linked to the militants than those
belonging to the Balochistan province. This is not to suggest that the state
has any right to incarcerate a citizen without due process but the
‘ideological’ tilt is quite clear.
Dr Weinstein was never
charged of spying and no evidence has been brought in public light. Equating
his case with Afia Siddiqui or others, as some Pakistanis do, makes no sense.
If anything, the silence in our media about the plight of an old, frail man who
lived in Pakistan as a development worker betrays how the aversion to US harms
our collective humanity. Should Pakistan become a state where no Westerner is
safe, considering that millions of Pakistanis are living in the West,
especially the US?
confidence is not all that misplaced. The dominant sections of media comprise
the middle class, which views the Taliban and other militants as forces pitted
against Western imperialism. Sadly, there is also a growing trend where
scholarship is legitimising jihadis. The postponed agenda of
counter-radicalisation by mainstream politics is giving way to a new political
force which popularises simplistic solutions to extremism and blames ‘liberal
scum’ instead. Such lies are being fed to younger Pakistanis who want positive
change, better prospects and a safer Pakistan. For economic progress, security
is important and sustainable peace cannot be achieved when millions readily
justify the violent version of ‘jihad’. This misleading political narrative
must be challenged and reclaimed from such apologists. Rejecting and fighting
US hegemony is not enough. The domestic battle against the many-faced protégés
of Mr Zawahiri is equally important.
The writer is a former consulting editor at The Friday
Source: The Express Tribune, Lahore