Mosharraf Zaidi’s column from last week about why we should praise the Wikileaks because they will help “end the war” is a mixed bag. On the one had, he does make a good argument that American willingness to believe that ISI is a bogey man is the same as our own willingness to see the hand of CIA or Black Water behind everything. But then Zaidi provides another example of failure to include realism in his call for the war to end.
Let’s start with the good. Mr Zaidi makes an excellent comparison between the way different nations have distorted views of each others intelligence agencies.
Over time, the space provided by an ineffective Pakistani state has helped the ISI occupy in western minds, what the Mossad and CIA represent in the Muslim world: a convenient red-herring to explain the complexities, difficulties and unpleasantness of war and diplomacy in a post-9/11 world.
Western conspiracy theories about Pakistan’s evil double-cross in Afghanistan don’t need to be rooted in absolute truth, just a scant kernel of the truth will often do. In that way, it is once again eminently clear that talk of a “clash of civilisations” is garbage. It turns out that human beings are the same everywhere.
Pakistan’s obsession with conspiracy theories is well-documented by the western media. This small sampling, for example, took less than five minutes to compile: August 24, 2005, “Pakistan: In the Land of Conspiracy Theories” PBS Frontline. May 12, 2009, “A Grand Conspiracy Theory From Pakistan” NY Times The Lede. November 17, 2009, “Pakistan’s conspiracy theories” Reuters Blog. November 27, 2009, “Pakistan conspiracy theories stifle debate” BBC News. December 24, 2009, “Conspiracy Theories ‘Stamped In DNA’ Of Pakistanis” NPR. February 12, 2010, “Blackwater Conspiracy Theory Thrives in Pakistan” AOL News. February 16, 2010, “Pakistanis See a Vast U.S. Conspiracy Against Them” Time Magazine. April 28, 2010, “Pakistanis just love conspiracy theories” PRI’s The World. May 25, 2010, “U.S. Is a Top Villain in Pakistan’s Conspiracy Talk” NY Times. May 26, 2010, “Times Square bombing conspiracy theory takes hold in Pakistani media” Yahoo News.
This kind of coverage of Pakistan irks some within the Islamic Republic. But it really shouldn’t. It is absolutely true that the current conflict between terrorists and ordinary Pakistanis has been made worse by our national and collective dependence on invisible and indefensible theories about the harm wished on us by other countries. Most of all, conspiracy theories, which tend to be based on small kernels of truth, help us avoid uncomfortable realities. Pakistan has a massive national security problem that is rooted in the violent extremism it once invested in as a strategy in Afghanistan. That is an uncomfortable reality.
It is too easy and too convenient for Americans to blame everything on ISI. It is obvious that the situation is much more complex and requires a more nuanced understanding. Similarly, it is ridiculous for conspiracy theorists like Shireen Mazari and Ahmed Quraishi to blame everything under the sun on some CIA or Black Water plot.
If Mosharraf Zaidi had stopped there, he would have had a pretty good column. But instead he concludes with a statement that is puzzling in its naivete.
Focusing on the adverse role of the ISI — real and imagined — in Afghanistan is a distraction. Ending Obama’s Afghan war is the true purpose behind the Wikileaks expose. For that it should be celebrated. Not mourned.
There are two major problems with this statement. First is that the Wikileaks will result in the murders of some Afhgan civilians at the hand of militants because they have been exposed as working against the jihadis. Maybe this doesn’t matter to Mosharraf Zaidi because it fits his political goal of “ending the war”. So these innocent Afghans will just be casualties of Zaidi’s own battle.
But what is worse is that Zaidi’s stated goal is “end the war”. This sounds nice, but what does it mean? What are the terms under which the war will end? If I tell you I will cook you dinner, that may sound nice. But if I serve you a bowl of garbage, will you be grateful?
Wars do not end in a vacuum. There must be some terms to the end. Wishing for everyone to simply put down their weapons and go home is a child’s dream. Mosharraf Zaidi is an adult and should not have such simple and naive thoughts.
Does Zaidi want there to be yet another peace deal with militant groups? How many times will we sign such “deals” only to be treated as a surrendering force? Has he not heard of the SHAKAI Agreement from 2004? Or the Sararogha Peace Deal? Or the Mirahshah Peace Deal? Or what about the deal that ended the fight against militants in Kalosha in 2004 after which Nek Mohammad Wazir declared that Pakistan Army had surrendered to him? Is this the “end to war” that Mosharraf Zaidi wants? Pakistan surrendering to a band of militant extremists?
Actually, we don’t know. Of course Mosharraf Zaidi doesn’t say anything except, “end the war”! This sounds great, but so does a free dinner. Unfortunately, Zaidi is offering a bowl of garbage. No thanks.