Recent articles published in the US media are giving the impression that Islamic State, with a global Jihadi appeal, is struggling hard to get a foothold in Pakistan but the authors of these articles are either downplaying the tell tale signs or the articles lack the necessary framework in which emerging terror organizations flourish.
As the Taliban lose steam as a result of the death of their supreme leader Mullah Muhammad Omar and splintering and internal fighting, stage is set for a new group to take over. A cursory look at the metamorphosis of Jihadi organizations in Pakistan and Afghanistan over the past two decades indicate that they are getting deadlier, sophisticated and high tech savvy with every passing year; from Mujahideen groups willing to negotiate to Taliban willing to blow up and finally to Islamic State willing to behead innocent people. This is a worrying development not only for the South Asian region but for the entire world as well.
US officials gave no reason for denying entry to a British Muslim family who wanted to visit Disneyland. It was the nightmare situation that everyone secretly fears as they prepare to travel: The family was stopped from boarding the plane at the airport, even though their trip had been previously approved. They were left holding their bags and forced to turn home. It was embarrassment for the parents, but heartbreak for the children denied the chance to fulfill their dream vacation.
The US is not the only country that is restricting travel, though. The UK has reportedly been denying visas to Pakistanis by the thousands, and in a truly heartbreaking story, the family of a Pakistani man was denied visa to Australia to visit their dying son. In this case, at least a reason was given. Officials said they were not convinced the family would return to Pakistan.
The same cannot be said for Westerners who want to visit Pakistan. Last year Interior Ministry adopted a new policy that all Westerners must submit to clearance by intelligence agencies. Short of denying all visa requests, this is surely the strictest way to limit visitors. We should ask ourselves if we would be happy to submit to investigations by CIA or MI5 agents before being allowed to New York or London.
All of this is backwards. We complain that Westerners think of Pakistan and Muslims as extremist and violent and that they do not know how we really are, but we make it almost impossible for any Westerners to come here. If we want easier entry to Western countries, we should give Westerners easier entry to Muslim countries. Instead of submitting Western tourists to intelligence agencies, we should be promoting tourism that would showcase the real Pakistan, not the terrible ‘Homeland’ version that most Westerners only know. Then regular Americans and Britons and Pakistanis and everyone else would know that they had nothing to fear from each other, and the extremists would not be able to easily divide good people.
When the identities of the terrorists responsible for San Bernadino massacre were revealed, the familiar sick feeling was revisited once again. Worst fears came true as the attackers were not only Muslims but also Pakistani. Since past several days, more information has come to light. As we learn more about the attackers, though, something peculiar has begun to take place.
When fact of Tashfeen Malik’s Pakistani nationality was reported, the popular response was to point out that she was born in Pakistan but was raised in Saudi Arabia. In other words it is not a fault of Pakistan that she became extremist it is a fault of Saudi. Now Saudi is saying that she was only there for two short visits. Then a copy of her CNIC was leaked. This was quickly dismissed even by liberals as photoshop.
Other conspiracy theories are also being heavily reported by the usual hyper-nationalist disinformation walas, creating more confusion and leading people to believe that even though they have watched the entire event unfold in great detail. Actually it is often the details that are used to create confusion. For example, I have seen many friends on social media asking if this woman was such a conservative Muslim why were her legs exposed and they point to the photos from the death scene. However they are ignoring the simple explanation that police had to search the bodies for bombs and other weapons!
While hypernationalist disinformation agents are spreading these conspiracy theories, there is a very real conspiracy that is proven to be taking place under our noses. Real journalists investigating Tasfheen Malik’s background have been threatened by agency men to stay clear or suffer consequences, and her professors have been warned not to speak to media.
Three professors at Malik’s university said they had been advised not to talk to the media, while men claiming to be from Pakistan’s security agencies told reporters to drop their investigations into her background on pain of arrest.
Conspiracy theories and logic-twisting denials have become routine in our society. Rather than face the terrible facts of what is happening around us, we choose to ignore it and blame some foreign conspiracy. In this case we are witnessing the activation of conspiracy theories at the same time as agencies are threatening real reporters. The question is hard not to ask…Who is really trying to hide what?
Overseas Pakistanis are in the headlines, but not for positive reasons. Authorities have identified Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik as the terrorists responsible for murdering 14 innocents this week before being killed in an encounter with US police. Farook was an American citizen of Pakistani descent. His parents moved from Pakistan to the US, but after the troubled marriage fell apart, his father returned to Karachi. Tashfeen Malik is from Karor Lal Esan, but lived most of her life in Saudi Arabia until returning to Pakistan to enroll in Bahauddin Zakariya University in Multan. The two met using an internet matchmaking site and the two were married in Saudi Arabia before returning to United States.
What is of particular interest however is that all of this detailed information has been presented in just a few days after the attack was carried out, and it has been shared openly with the media. Compare this to the infamous dossiers on Indian involvement in terrorism that were highlighted by all media groups before Ambassador Maleeha Lodhi delivered them to the UN and Prime Minister Sharif gave copies to American President Barack Obama. What has become of these?
Sartaj Aziz did say that the dossiers contained no material evidence, and only “contained the “pattern and narrative” of Indian involvement”. It is not clear what this means, but many believe the dossiers only contain news clippings and statements, not hard proofs. The actual contents are not known, but what is known is that there has been no response from either the UN or the Americans. Whatever was given, it did not leave much of a mark.
What do these two stories have in common? Though it may seem little, the truth is that it may be a lot. The dossiers are looking like something that was presented for the benefit of Pakistani audience, not international leaders. They were created to support the national narrative that terrorism and extremism are not a problem of Pakistan but are the result of foreign elements. Unlike government’s dossiers, the evidence against Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik is becoming more and more clear and impossible to deny. Once again, it is pointing to extremist and terrorist elements in Pakistan that are spreading to foreign countries, not in the opposite direction.
Many are worried that Western countries will react strongly against Muslims after the attacks in Paris and California. However the first thing we need to do is stop trying to cover up and ignore the problem of extremism in our own country. It is these extremist elements that are putting majority of peace loving Muslims at greatest risk both here and in the West.