We Must Remove The Cancer

Mr. Irfan Husain gets to the heart of the matter of Faisal Shahzad and the nation’s infection with the jihadi cancer in his column for Dawn today. Too many people are too willing to bury their heads in the sand and pretend that there is no way for Faisal Shahzad to have connection with TTP. To listen to these people, you would think that they did not believe that TTP exists at all! Actually, we know too well that these killers are in our midst. We have to do something now before it destroys us.

Most tourists in New York will have visited Times Square, with its bright lights, buzz and non-stop energy. Named after the New York Times when the newspaper moved to its current premises in 1904, the area has seen its ups and downs.

Now, after being relatively sanitised, its drug dealers and other assorted low-life have been pushed to other parts of the city. But the shops, theatre district, bars and music halls hum with activity round the clock.

This, then, is the heart of America, and has come to represent a dynamic, thriving country both for its own citizens and for foreigners in all parts of the world. Therefore an attack on Times Square is construed as an attack on the United States. When Faisal Shahzad carried out his botched attack recently, he wasn’t just trying to kill and maim as many innocent people as possible, he was lashing out against the country where he had studied, got married and made a comfortable life for his family.

He was no suicide bomber brainwashed by jihadis and intent on claiming his share of virgins in heaven. Rather, he was a privileged member of the extended Pakistani military network: born in the knowledge that his father’s rank in the air force would open doors shut to most Pakistanis, he was given a visa to the United States, and then citizenship. There was little to suggest that he would choose the path he did. So much for the theory that education can make young Muslims reject terrorism.

Soon after, we learned of Mohammed Saif ur Rahman, a Pakistani interning at a hotel in Santiago, Chile, where he was arrested with traces of explosives on his hands and in his personal effects. While he has denied any attempt to blow up the US embassy where he had apparently been invited to discuss the cancellation of his visa, one does not innocently acquire gunpowder traces under normal circumstances.

So here we have two men with close connections to Pakistan who stand accused of attempted acts of terrorism in two continents within a week. Small wonder that newspapers like the Daily Telegraph can print highly speculative stories like the one that appeared on May 11 and expect readers to believe them. Headlined ‘Pakistan agents linked to US plot’, the story alleges:

“American investigators believe rogue Pakistani intelligence agents could have been involved in the Times Square bomb plot. They are examining a possible connection between Faisal Shahzad and Pakistan’s powerful military and intelligence establishment, a potentially devastating blow to the country’s shaky anti-terrorism credentials. Mr Shahzad’s background as the son of a senior Air Force officer might have brought him into contact with intelligence agents who helped build the Afghan Taliban and who have channelled cash and training to home-grown jihadis, according to a source familiar with the investigation…. Pakistan has a history of using jihadi groups as a tool of its foreign policy. Its Inter-Services Intelligence agency helped train and equip Afghan Mujahideen … They have also supported militant groups in Indian-controlled Kashmir.…” And so on.

While completely unsourced, the story is likely to be believed by many readers simply because Pakistan is now seen — and not without reason — as the epicentre of jihadi terror exported to different countries in an unending wave. While our default reaction is one of denial, the fact is that in many cases of terrorism abroad, there is an element of a Pakistani connection. Even when the terrorists are not themselves Pakistani citizens, they have visited training camps to obtain training, or have been brainwashed in one of our many madressahs.

Living as we do in post-Zia Pakistan, we do not notice how the poisonous environment created by extremist rhetoric amplified by an irresponsible media has infected millions of young minds. Like a virus, the call for jihad spreads across the land. Voices such as Zaid Hamid’s are provided a powerful platform like television to spout his violent brand of Islam where unsophisticated viewers lap up his vision. No anchor or regulator stops him — and others of his ilk — in mid-flow.

School curricula have been replete with hateful stereotypes of non-Muslims. God only knows what our madressahs are teaching their students: the government has washed its hands off these institutions and the hundreds of thousands of children unfortunate enough to be instructed there. The recent discovery of a substantial cache of weapons and Jaish-i-Muhammed propaganda material from a mosque in Karachi underlines how radicalised our centres of religion have become.

Despite the clear evidence of the involvement of many jihadi organisations in local and global terrorism, the government keeps its eyes firmly shut to the reality of the situation. No serious attempt is being made to rein in these killers, and to shut down their camps and training centres.

Together with the Jaish’s arms, receipts from donors were also found in the mosque. It should not be a very difficult task to find who these financiers of terror are, but I have no doubt the government will buckle under to threats and pressure from religious parties and not follow through with its investigation. Many similar enquiries have got nowhere, and as a result, the jihadi terror network continues to thrive.

Even when some of these terrorists are arrested, they are seldom convicted. Often the investigation is botched; in other cases, the judges are either too scared or too sympathetic to the cause of jihad to lock these people up. The result is that cops become reluctant to risk their lives to arrest these killers just to have the courts release them time after time.

Obviously, there are no easy answers. Jihad is now too deeply rooted in the country’s psyche to be quickly and painlessly excised. But if we are to survive as a nation, we need to agree that we cannot allow successive generations to be brainwashed by an ignorant coterie of mullahs and media talking heads.

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