ہے زلزلہ زمیں کو گہن میں ہے آفتاب / بارش ہے خون کی چشم فلک اشکبار ہے
ہے عنقریب پھونکے سرافیل صور کو / بس حکم کبریا کا فقط انتظار ہے
The Earth is shaking, the sun eclipsed, the sky is raining blood
The time is nigh when Israfeel will blow his trumpet (to end the world).
All that is awaited is a signal from God... (Mir Anis)
I saw a pair of big black boots coming towards me, this guy was probably hunting for students hiding beneath the benches.
My body was shivering. I saw death so close and I will never forget the black boots approaching me – I felt as though it was death that was approaching me.
I folded my tie and pushed it into my mouth so that I wouldn’t scream. The man with big boots kept on looking for students and pumping bullets into their bodies. I lay as still as I could and closed my eyes, waiting to get shot again.
When I crawled to the next room, it was horrible. I saw the dead body of our office assistant on fire.
She was sitting on the chair with blood dripping from her body as she burned.
(a surviving student's account)
7 men drove up to the Army Public School in a high security area fo Peshawar. They poured petrol on the car and set it on fire, then entered the school and started shooting people. They were not psychotic loners. They were trained soldiers, fighting for a cause.They were "moral" men. They were following rules and making distinctions. According to their handlers, they had been told not to kill underage children and in this they were following Sharia law (the example of the massacre of the Banu Qurayza was specifically mentioned). They cold-bloodedly went from room to room, shooting school children cowering under their desks (per one journalist, most of the dead had been shot once....in the head). And while students were shot calmly and the assassins may even have confined themselves to older children, some teachers faced a more horrendous fate. A couple of them seem to have been set on fire in front of their students. Whether before or after they were shot is not clear. Perhaps because they were female.
This is not a psychotic loner going nuts and shooting up a kindergarten. It is not even the same as Chechen terrorists taking a school hostage and causing the deaths of hundreds of children in the subsequent firefight and explosions (started accidentally or during the rescue attempt). This is atrocity at the Nazi level. People following orders, systematically and ruthlessly, for many hours. Shooting school kids. Burning teachers.
And proudly accepting responsibility and promising to do more.
They were also talking to their handlers all the time. The last time they called, the terrorist told his handler "we have killed all the children in the auditorium, what do we do next?"
These are the attackers, posing before they go to kill kids
There has been an explosion of outrage in Pakistan. Even Imran Khan managed to condemn the TTP by name (though PTI's offical account still tweeted that "Whoever" did this, did something awful). The Pakistani state has reportedly stuck back already at Taliban targets. The PM and the army chief have promised action (and are likely sincere, as far as that goes). The media has condemned the attack. Social media has been on fire. So far so good.
But within hours, the narrative has already started to fracture. First the media groups managed to invite people like Hamid Gul, Hafiz Saeed and Maulana Abdul Aziz (of Red mosque fame) to comment on this terrorist attack. And they managed to muddle the issue with references to the Indian hand and the eternal enemies of Pakistan (Afghanistan, Jews, America, that sort of thing). And on ARY (the most pro-army of Pakistan's many pro-army channels) the anchors themselves have been leading the charge. Mubasher Lucman, for example, angrily demanded that the first step needed at this time was to ban Indian overflights to Afghanistan! Top Military propagandist Ahmed Qureshi and loonies like Zaid Hamid have been busy blustering about how India will be made to pay for this latest atrocity.
The more things change. .
I wrote a piece three and a half years ago about the Pakistani anti-terror narrative and it's confusions and it is depressing to find that little or nothing needs to be changed in that article. The entire piece, unedited, is pasted at the end of this post.
There is a lot of talk about how this particular horrendous event is SO horrendous that now things really HAVE to change. Maybe. But do keep in mind that this is not the first mass casualty attack. There have been attacks on the Marriot hotel, an Ahmedi mosque, a volleyball match, a meena bazar, a church, even a mosque near GHQ (where the son of a corps commander was among the civilian victims killed in cold blood). And of course there have been countless massacres of Hazara and other Shias. Literally thousands of people have died in these attacks. But until now, there is no evidence that the army has changed it's basic "good terrorist/bad terrorist" policy. Terrorists who kill schoolchildren and shoot up railway stations in Kabul and Mumbai are good. Terrorists who kill children in Pakistan are bad. That policy has not worked for 13 years. It is not going to start working now.
How can we tell that GHQ is really changing policy:
1. Ahmed Qureshi and Zaid Hamid are suddenly out of a job and publicly disowned by the army.
2. Omar Saeed Sheikh, who was sentenced to death years ago for the killing of Daniel Pearl (a terrorist act he may not have committed, though he has surely committed many others). He has not been hanged. In fact there are intermittent reports of him living it up in prison. If he is hanged, that will be a sign of change. Especially since his handler was the famous brigadier Ejaz Shah (a close associate of the father of the double game, Pervez Musharraf himself).
3. Mumbai attackers rapid trial and punishment. Outside of Pakistan, everybody and their aunt knows that a group of ten terrorists from Pakistan landed in Mumbai in 2008 and cold bloodedly killed a 168 innocent people. In a famous picture, one of the attackes is calmly walking down the platform at Mumbai Railway station, shooting random civilians sitting on the platform.
Because of international pressure, the FIA (federal investigation agency) in Pakistan actually carried out a very thorough inquiry in Pakistan and identified several people who arranged things for the killers, who trained them, who sent them on their way. The FIA may not have reached all the way to the top, but they certainly made a case against some of the lower level people involved. But 6 years have passed and the trial of these terrorists has not moved forward. The prosecutor has been shot dead. And the supposed military mastermind (Zaki ur Rahman Lakhvi of the JUD/LET) is living it up in prison, and reportedly even got married and conceived a child in prison. If the army has changed it's mind about terrorism, then the trial of these terrorists has to move forward.
Unless you see some of these happenings, things will go back to "normal" ....
A dissenting note about the double game from a friend on facebook:
no, not a double game any more. they are being played by the taliban now, manipulating the internecine fault-lines inside the ISI and the army. they don't mind a few casualties in the mountains, if that is the price (in fact their foot-soldiers welcome the chance for martyrdom). they have the indomitable resolution of a madman doing god's work, while the army has the emptied ideology of a failed religious state being devoured by corruption. by day the generals pay hollow homage to the motherland and at night send tithes to their new fathers in the mountains, hoping to buy personal protection from the next suicide attack for themselves and their families.
A more sober take from the redoubtable Ahsan Butt on Five Rupees.
POSTSCRIPT: it is not looking good for those who thought some great sea change is coming. The script on the media has changed on PTV and to some extent on GEO, but remains the same on other channels and especially on the army's favorite channels like ARY and Dunya..... Blame India, CIA and the Jews. Invite Hafiz Saeed, Hamid Gul and other similar jokers to fog everything up. Bomb someone in the tribal areas and generate suspiciously exact body counts.
Until the next bombing.
Unfortunately it does look like the song remains the same...
Postscript2: Got some feedback from people focused on the role of Islam in these outrages. I would like to emphasize that while various forms of Islamism are causing problems in many parts of the world, Islam is NOT the proximate cause of the choices made by the Pakistani establishment. Hard Paknationalism is the primary driver. Someone like Musharraf (father of the infamous double-game) was not too bothered about Islam. What caused him to maintain the Taliban and other Jihadist groups was Paknationalism; specifically the "hard paknationalist" belief that we have to defeat India and to do that we need certain force multipliers/strategic-assets/deniable-non-state-actors and the Jihadis are the only people who will do that job. It is this belief that drives the "good-taliban/bad-Taliban" policy and the double games it entails. Commitment to fundamentalist Islam has little or nothing to do with it. (though of course, no Islam, no partition in the first place, so there are other turtles below the first one)...
Postscript3: Lakhvi granted bail by anti-terrorism court. He many not actually walk free if tremendous pressure comes from Uncle Sam, but signals are (or are being misread in Pindi) that Uncle Sam is OK with India-specific terrorists. Lets wait and see...
Postscript 4: Some explanation is needed of two positions that seem contradictory to some people.
1. I seem to imply that the Pakistani establishment is not going to change, at least not soon.
2. I objected to right-wing Indians who wanted to shut down "IndiaStandsWithPakistan" because they felt sympathy for a terrorist-supporting nation was unjustified or naive.
I tried to explain this on twitter with limited success. So trying again:
1. Simple human empathy caused most humans (EVERYWHERE) to feel intense sympathy for the parents of those whose children were so callously and brutally murdered in one of the most awful and bone-chilling atrocities, even in a world filled with atrocities. That simple human empathy is worth preserving and should not be dismissed. Without it, what will be left?
2. Pakistan is a state in crisis. It's core establishment is fracturing. There is a very real constituency for changing course. That constituency is not just in the so-called liberal parties like the PPP, ANP, MQM etc (not to speak of the tiny but culturally significant Marxist and Post-Marxist Left) but even (and sometimes more so) in mainstream civilian parties like the PMLN and even the JUI. The paknationalist hardcore (defined by complete loyalty to the "hard-paknationalist" agenda of permanent war against India, colonization of Afghanistan, dreams of power projection in Central Asia, etc etc) is still in control of key policy areas, but has to FIGHT to stay in control. Among the civilians, they mostly get their way via manipulation of media, pakstudies brainwashing, taking advantage of the foolishness of young PTI supporters and so on. True ideological clarity is limited to a relatively small faction of the army, it's pet journalists and think-tankers and touts like Sheikh Rasheed.
3. That fracture will increase with time anyway (since the Paknationalist hardcore cannot deliver what most pakistanis want: peace and development) but it is helped, not hindered by gestures like "IndiaWithPakistan". I suspect that some understanding of this lay behind the Modi government's willingness to express sympathy and make positive human gestures. Of course, they are also human, so some real human sympathy was probably involved. But beyond that, the cynical calculation is also in favor of such gestures.
4. When and if the hard-Paknationalist establishment spits in their face by doing something like bailing out Zaki Lakhvi, the fact that they made the gesture only goes in their favor. It does not hamper any other action they may or may not take.
5. With Uncle Sam desperate to get out and save face, options are limited. Planning has to be long-term.
“Dark house, by which once more I stand
Here in the long unlovely street,
Doors, where my heart was used to beat
So quickly, waiting for a hand,
A hand that can be clasp'd no more -
Behold me, for I cannot sleep,
And like a guilty thing I creep
At earliest morning to the door.
He is not here; but far away
The noise of life begins again,
And ghastly thro' the drizzling rain
On the bald street breaks the blank day.”
― Alfred Tennyson, In Memoriam
My older post from 2011...unedited. Original at 3quarksdaily.com
The Narratives Come Home to Roost
by Omar Ali
Most countries that exist above the banana-republic level of existence have an identifiable (even if always contested and malleable) national narrative that most (though not all) members of the ruling elite share and to which they contribute. Pakistan is clearly not a banana-republic; it is a populous country with a deep (if not very competent) administration, a very lively political scene, a very large army, the world’s fastest growing nuclear arsenal and a very significant, even if underdeveloped, economy. But when it comes to the national narrative, Pakistan is sui-generis. The “deep state” has promoted a narrative of Muslim separatism, India-hatred and Islamic revival that has gradually grown into such a dangerous concoction that even BFFs China and Saudi Arabia are quietly suggesting that we take another look at things.
The official “story of Pakistan” may not appear to be more superficial or contradictory than the propaganda narratives of many other nations, but a unique element is the fact that it is not a superficial distillation of a more nuanced and deeper narrative, it is ONLY superficial ; when you look behind the school textbook level, there is no there there. What you see is what you get. The two-nation theory and the creation of Pakistan in 712 AD by the Arab invader Mohammed Bin Qasim and its completion by the intrepid team of Allama Iqbal and Mohammed Ali Jinnah in the face of British and Hindu connivance is the story in middle school textbooks and it turns out that it is also the story in universities and think tanks (this is not imply that no serious work is done in universities; of course it is, but the story of Pakistan does not seem to have a logical relationship with this serious work).
This lack of depth and sophistication dooms this narrative to a cardboard existence and removes it from the ranks not only of the story of America or the history of that sceptered Isle north of France, but also of the “5000 year old civilization of China” and “Eternal India”. Some intellectuals are aware of these shortcomings and half-hearted attempts to remedy the situation have been made, but I think it is fair to say that nothing has yet brought home the (halal) bacon; the story does not fit the post-enlightenment liberal notions of the world and does not even offer an alternative that claims to go beyond the ruling paradigm. Instead, the claim of an alternative system is being used to create just another nation state in a world of Westphalian nation-states. The working part of the state is entirely within the world norm, the supposed ideology has almost no connection to that norm, and problems were bound to arise at some point. This statement will sound strange to many people since in polite company it has been usual to ignore the contradictions between the two-nation theory and liberal notions of national identity; to the point that even liberal Pakistanis are not conscious of their own unusual and unique position. This willful blindness is not without precedent in our world and can in fact be said to be just another “normal” facet of the world we live in, but there are contradictions and then there are contradictions. Ours have reached breaking point and will no longer hide quietly in the background. This is, of course, my opinion and may or may not make sense to everyone, but let it sit around in your mental living room for a few months; it may start to seem worth a look.
I would add that a superficial and even contradictory national narrative is not necessarily the road to ruin. Life goes on, even in countries with less than convincing “national narratives”. Pakistan is a country, it exists, it is located at a strategic location, it encompasses very productive land, it is blessed with many bounties of nature and a talented and resourceful population, and it has an ancient and resilient culture. It can succeed (and success is being defined here as nothing more than “normal” existence in the world of today, all problems of capitalism and nationalism fully included) in spite of its creation myth since human beings can apparently hold several contradictory ideas in their head at one time (it is even “normal” to do so). So this is not a claim that it is bound to fail, just that it can succeed in spite of its myths, not because of them. If someone wishes to argue that myths and hot air are being overvalued in my piece today, they may be right. But it is my claim that realpolitik and narrative have intersected with great force in Pakistan today, and while the “deep state” faces many very “real” problems that will take years to solve, the narrative is itself a problem that is making all the other problems much harder to solve.
Let us quickly review some history: In 1954, the ruling elite found its international partner (not without some effort) and Pakistan joined SEATO and CENTO. While Pakistan was happy to be part of the international anti-communist alliance, its elite saw India as the primary enemy. But when they launched an adventure in 1965 that ended in war with India in September, SEATO and CENTO were nowhere to be found. This started a narrative of American betrayal (a narrative that no American took too seriously) that was accentuated in 1971 when the Indian liberation of Bangladesh proceeded with little more than symbolic American intervention on the Pakistani side. The estranged lovers (estrangement being mostly one-way; the relationship was rather asymmetrical as Uncle Sam never seems to have paid too much high level attention to the hurt feelings of their “ally”) made up in 1980 in order to bleed the Soviets in Afghanistan.
But there was now a new element in the relationship since Pakistan was led by more ambitious and intelligent people at this time, and managed the relationship with greater independence and “agency”. The simple-minded and childish notions of the 1950s and 1960s were left behind and the Pakistani high command was able to use American aid while building nuclear bombs and planning for a future projection of Jihadist forces into Kashmir and Afghanistan and beyond. Whether the American side understood what was going on and ignored it for devious reasons of their own, or whether their arrogance prevented them from seeing that their agents had a mind and plans of their own, the fact remains that the United States was no longer the sole creator of policies and projects in this era. After the US left the region with “mission accomplished” in Afghanistan, their ally did not allow this to interrupt their glorious work of arming and training Islamist armed groups. Rather they accelerated the process, eventually arming and training half a million young men to fight in the cause of Islam. By the mid-1990s, Pakistan had established a somewhat unruly client regime in Afghanistan and Pakistan and Afghanistan became “Jihad central”; the “go-to place” for any young Muslim dreaming of a new caliphate. This growing network was supported by the intelligence agencies of the state and a wider network of international funders and political supporters built around some favored Madrasahs and the existing Islamist political parties like the Jamat e Islami.
When some of these warriors took the fight to the West and triggered a much larger war (justified or not is another argument) Pakistan’s military establishment decided to dump its more unruly friends (the “bad jihadis”) but either through lack of capacity or lack of will, did not wish to go after the good jihadis (the ones who target India and Afghanistan). Unwilling or unable to find a narrative that justified their sudden change from pro-jihad to anti-jihad, GHQ opted for a short-cut. Bad Jihadis were described as agents of evil powers (mainly CIA, RAW and Mossad). Many of the Taliban killed in Pakistan were said to be uncircumcised Hindus. India was said to have 14 consulates in Afghanistan from where they and their American friends were running this vile operation. Military-affiliated websites like paknationalists.com and rupeenews.com provided a narrative that may seem fantastically improbable to outsiders but that fit in well with previous military psyops efforts and was smoothly accepted by many middle class Pakistanis. When losses in this new civil war accelerated, another element was added to the narrative. Now we were innocent victims of America’s “so-called war on terror”. This narrative could also draw upon liberals in the West who had their own suspicions about their ruling elite and served as a rich source of talking points for the military’s favorite propagandists.
This narrative of “we are fighting America’s war” cleverly excluded any mention of our own role in bringing this menace to our shores. That America (and not just America) may have picked on Pakistan because Pakistan’s own armed forces had worked hard to make it the world headquarters of jihadist terrorism was not part of the story that was put together. Instead, it was all America’s fault. They brought the jihadis here, they dumped them on us and left. They were now using the jihadis as an excuse to attack us unfairly and with mala fide intent. The mala fide intent was usually presented as an American desire to “steal our nuclear arsenal”, but other theories like “imposing Indian hegemony” or protecting Israeli interests (the last being an activity that the US has long performed at great cost to itself, so it was not a claim without any foundation) were also cited.
This story, while useful in the short term since it got the armed forces off the hook and preserved the possibility that the mullah-military alliance could be revived once the Americans left, is now turning out to be too clever by half. The crucial assumption in this scheme was that America would leave and let us return to status quo ante prior to our being overwhelmed by the confused civil war we are fighting in the interim. This fine balance also required that the Americans remain indifferent to the narrative and don’t take counter-measures in the media-management field. Finally, it assumed that the US could be alternately pressured and pleasured forever without seriously rupturing the relationship. Unfortunately, the plan did not factor in Seal Team Six and Obama’s willingness to risk a unilateral operation that simultaneously humiliated and pressurized the military high command while putting them in a very uncomfortable position in front of their own people.
Only time will tell if the net effect of this operation will be positive or negative. In the early weeks, the only thing that is clear is that GHQ had not anticipated any such operation and may not even have known about Osama’s presence half a mile from their military academy. The Pakistani leadership (which in this case means not just the military leadership but also the political leadership, who have been handed an unexpected opportunity to play a role beyond being the military’s human shield) initially reacted by trying to find some backup from China and Saudi Arabia and even Russia. But early indications are that neither China nor Saudi Arabia is willing or able to bail them out if they continue with their past policies. The word is that the Chinese have told the Pakistani leadership that they are our bestest, fastest, deepest friends and the entire politburo prays for our health every day, but as far as budget support is concerned, it may be a good idea to apply to the IMF and Uncle Sam. The half-hearted effort to wave a Russian offer in America’s face is even more of a joke as both the Russians and the Pakistanis are just blowing hot air in an attempt to get Uncle Sam’s attention and neither is likely to get very far. Meanwhile, the jihadis are not rolling over and playing dead either, which complicates matters further.
In short, in the real world, the second coming is not about to happen and the black flags from Khorasan are not going to drive the infidels into the sea. Pakistan will have to live within its current boundaries and will have to make a serious effort to go after any transnational terrorists based in our territory. Even the India-specific terrorists will have to be told the game is over. For the deep state, this is not an easy news bulletin to deliver to its own people because they have been telling a very different story for a very long time. Most people in Pakistan do not even know that Pakistan was world headquarters for international Jihad for so long and that our own intelligence agencies set up most of the militant organizations and trained most of the terrorists we are now fighting. Most Pakistanis probably believe that 9-11 was an “inside job” and Mumbai was staged by some rightwing Hindu colonel. This amazing level of denial and disinformation has been carefully cultivated by the deep state, but is now coming home to roost. With the US plucking Osama a stone’s throw from PMA Kakul and with the jihadis attacking our most cherished institutions (GHQ, the Sri-Lankan cricket team, now Mehran airbase) the narrative is coming home to roost with a vengeance.
What will happen next? As an eternal optimist, I think things will slowly get better after several years of civil war in which the state will be pitted against the very people it created and lionized not too long ago. While the initial phases of this civil war were fought while telling our own people that our enemies are Hindus and Jews and their uncircumcised agents in the tribal areas, this clever scheme will have to be abandoned because it is impossible to fight one set of jihadis while working with another set as friends and allies. They all see each other as friends and they can see (even if some people in GHQ cannot) that this war can only mean that the state is abandoning its jihadi dreams in exchange for membership of the capitalist globalized world led by Chimerica. To them, this means war and it means war to the finish. This would be a very hard war to fight even if we know what is going on; it an impossible war to fight when our own people don’t know who is fighting whom. Which is why the narrative will have to be altered and a start has already been made by the generally pro-army anchor, Kamran Khan. It will not be an easy job and there will be much resistance from within GHQ’s own propagandists, some of whom have such serious psychological issues with India that this realignment threatens to fry their fragile eggshell mind. But there is no choice. Slowly but surely, the times they are a changing…
I may have been too optimistic. There are some other pieces too
see more at http://www.3quarksdaily.com/3quarksdaily/MondayMusings.html (scroll down a lot till you see my articles listed)