Conspiracies Drive Pakistani Dialogues (NY Times 26/5/10)
Americans may think that the failed Times Square bomb was planted by a man named Faisal Shahzad. But the view in the Supreme Court Bar Association in Pakistan’s capital is that the culprit was an American “think tank.”
No one seems to know its name, but everyone has an opinion about it. It is powerful and shadowy, and it seems to control just about everything in the U.S. government, including President Barack Obama.
“They have planted this character Faisal Shahzad to implement their script,” said Hashmat Ali Habib, a lawyer and a member of the bar association.
Who are they?
“You must know, you are from America,” he said smiling. “My advice for the American nation is, get free of these think tanks.”
Conspiracy theory is a national sport in Pakistan, where the main players — the United States, India and Israel — change positions depending on the ebb and flow of history. Since 2001, the United States has taken center stage, looming so large in Pakistan’s collective imagination that it sometimes seems to be responsible for everything that goes wrong here.
“When the water stops running from the tap, people blame America,” said Shaista Sirajuddin, an English professor in Lahore.
The problem is more than a peculiar domestic phenomenon for Pakistan. It has grown into a narrative of national victimhood that is a nearly impenetrable barrier to any candid discussion of the problems here. In
turn, it is one of the principal obstacles for the United States in its effort to build a stronger alliance with a country to which it gives more than a billion dollars a year in aid.
It does not help that no part of the Pakistani state — either the weak civilian government or the powerful military — is willing to risk publicly owning that relationship.
One result is that nearly all of U.S. policy toward Pakistan is conducted in secret, which serves only to further feed conspiracies. U.S. military leaders slip quietly in and out of the capital; the CIA uses networks of private spies; and the main tool of U.S. policy, the drone program, is not even publicly acknowledged to exist.
“The linchpin of U.S. relations is security, and it’s not talked about in public,” said Adnan Rehmat, a media analyst in Islamabad.
The empty public space fills instead with hard-line pundits and loud Islamic political parties, all projected into Pakistani living rooms by the rambunctious new electronic media, dozens of satellite TV networks that weave a black-and-white, prime-time narrative in which the United States is the central villain.
One of those pundits is Zaid Hamid, a fast-talking, right-wing TV personality who rose to fame on one of Pakistan’s 90 new private TV channels.
He uses Google searches to support his theory that India, Israel and the United States — through their intelligence agencies and the company formerly known as Blackwater — are conspiring to destroy Pakistan.
For Hamid, the case of Shahzad is one piece of a larger puzzle being assembled to pressure Pakistan. Why, otherwise, the strange inconsistencies, like the bomb’s not exploding? “If you connect the dots, you have a pretty exciting story,” he said.