The death toll from Sunday’s suicide attack against Christians in Peshawar continues to rise, the latest count reaching as high as 83 dead. The reaction to the bombing which came mere days after a Taliban bomb martyred Maj Gen Sanaullah Niazi has been one of visible shock. It’s almost as if many did not see this coming. But how? How could we be so blind? Over the past few days several writers have penned blistering critiques of Imran Khan and the narrative that has popularised which positions jihadi militants as ‘our estranged brothers’ instead of our killers. This gives the Kaptaan a bit too much credit. The pro-jihadi narrative did not begin with Imran Khan, and it does not end with him.
Saroop Ijaz says that ‘if there is a conspiracy against peace in this country, [Imran Khan is] the public face of it.’ Zahid Hussain writes that ‘Imran Khan’s toxic narrative only helps the Taliban and other militant groups that have declared war against the state’. But it’s Nadeem Paracha who begins to dig to the roots of the matter when he writes in his open letter to ‘Mighty Khan’ that, ‘I must admit, I was kind of apprehensive when I saw you hanging out with General (R) Hamid Gul.’
Last year, I wrote that Imran Khan is a creation of Ziaul Haq. I made this claim not based on any intuitive reading of Khan’s politics, but by just reading his own biography in which he details his political awakening at the hands of Zia, Hamid Gul, and others.
Zia and his generals were not so single minded as to put all their eggs in one basket. Imran Khan may be the most famous carriers of Zia’s Islamist narrative, but he is hardly the only one. Neither did support for Zia’s narrative die with Zia or retire with Hamid Gul. Earlier this year, Emaad Khalid, Zaid Hamid’s personal secretary, went public by telling that the media mujahid had been receiving Rs.6 lakh from ISI to promote a particular narrative in the media.
Not coincidentally, following Emaad Khalid’s revelation, the entire channel was pulled off the air.
Even Zaid Hamid, however, is but one pawn in the media operations being carried out. Blogger Omar Ali has written extensively about the ‘psyops’ or ‘psychological operations’ carried out to establish an Islamist political narrative, particularly online.
…ever since the time of General Zia, there has been a steady push to establish a particular Islamist version of Pakistani nationalism as the default setting. The process has not gone entirely smoothly and significant sections of the super-elite intelligentsia remain wedded to Western left-liberal(and more rarely, frankly capitalist/”neo-liberal”)) ideologies while the deeper thinking Islamists tend towards Salafism, but it has gone further in the emerging middle class and within the armed forces. There, a superficially Islamist, hypernationalist vision has taken root and can be seen in its purest form on various “Paknationalist” websites.
Here again the name Hamid Gul begins to show up. It is as if the General has been busier in retirement than he ever was as DG-ISI. A few years ago, some media bloggers began connecting the dots and exposed vast webs of linked propaganda websites, many of which were easily traced back to ‘retired’ military and intelligence officers.
This is why, even though Gen Kayani says that ‘no one should have any misgivings that we would let terrorists coerce us into accepting their terms’, the truth of the matter is much more complicated since there is not agreement in the military as to who the real enemy is.
To build the case that the TTP is as bad as bad can get, the less-visible, more-powerful boys drew up a list of several thousand names. Against each name, a sponsor was listed: CIA, RAW, NDS, Mossad, etc. These folk aren’t Taliban, the case was made, they’re mercenaries, paid agents of the enemies of Pakistan.
The real battle that has to be fought is among the boys themselves. The ones who get it, who understand the problem, exist. But so do the other kind, the ones who’ve drunk the koolaid of jihad and are drawn from a society that has lurched to the right.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has warned that peace talks with the Taliban could be scrapped following the most recent attacks. Chief of Army Staff Gen Kayani has warned terrorists that he will ‘spare no effort in bringing the perpetrators of these cowardly acts of terrorism to justice’. Doing so is going to require dismantling not only the militants ability to carry out armed attacks, but their ability to spread their propaganda and create the confusion that yields sympathy among the masses.
If we’re going to save the country, we have to scrap the old narrative that is tearing us apart and define a new one based on peace, hope and tolerance. And that, ultimately, that move has to come from a higher authority than Imran Khan.