Smokers' Corner: Let it bleed


Senior Member
Aug 27, 2011
Smokers' Corner: Let it bleed

11th Dec,2012 | Nadeem F. Paracha

Analysts and media men who have yet to be swept by the new wave of anti-Americanism roaring across Pakistan suggest that on most occasions such waves are a construct of the military-establishment. They believe that whenever the establishment wants to drive a hard bargain with the Americans, it whips up anti-Americanism with the help of sympathetic voices in the populist media and political circles.

The anti-Americanism then settles down as just background noise once the bargain is struck. However, in spite of the fact that the military has been able to strike various deals to its strategic liking with the Americans (in the context of war on terror in Pakistan and Afghanistan) there have been certain issues on which the Americans have simply refused to bend. One of the biggest in this regard is the mounting charge against Pakistan and its intelligence agencies of harbouring certain groups of extremists which, some believe, will help Pakistan protect its strategic interests in a future Afghanistan.

What's more, many in the establishment explain this as being Pakistan's inherent right; a right to negotiate a working relationship with some groups of the Taliban so once the US leaves Afghanistan, these groups can then look after Pakistan's interests in Afghanistan. Of course, not only has the US refused to come to terms with this thinking, scores of common soldiers, civilians and politicians have lost their lives due to the obvious dangers that such thinking attracts. As the deadlock on this issue between the military and Washington appears impossible to break, the game-playing between the two armies has become deadlier than ever. The message one can gather from the spiraling tussle is that the old ploy of pushing the US on the back foot by whipping up anti-Americanism among the people and media is now outmoded. Though this ploy has been used more frequently in the last one decade or so, its roots lie in the very first clear example of a maneuver to whip up anti-Americanism.

This line of thinking first emerged during the second year of General Ziaul Haq's dictatorship in 1979. After Zia's military take-over in July 1977 toppled an elected government, relations between Pakistan and the United States hit a sudden low (in 79 when the government of President Jimmy Carter began raising concerns about the Zia regime's human rights record.

Zia had begun to introduce various draconian laws against the press and politicians, including controversial Islamic edicts whose weight was mostly felt by Zia's political opponents, the religious minorities and women.

Incidentally, when US's criticism of Zia's regime reached a peak, an armed group of religious extremists attacked and occupied the Grand Mosque in Makkah. The same year, Iran was in the midst of an Islamic revolution that had toppled the pro-America Shah. After the Makkah incident the Iranians blamed 'Israeli and US agents' of capturing Islam's holiest site.

According to Yaroslav Trofimov in 'The Siege of Mecca,' the Iranians were well aware of the reality behind the takeover of the mosque by Saudi fanatics, but used the opportunity to embarrass both Americans and the Saudis by claiming that it was a part of an Israeli/US plot to 'occupy' Makkah. In Pakistan, though the state-controlled media kept rather mum about the event and only asked the people to 'mourn the takeover'; the Zia regime advised PTV and Radio Pakistan not to let out any details of the occupation.

The people, though aware of the takeover, knew nothing about the men who'd executed the diabolic undertaking. They switched to BBC for details. But since Saudi authorities had blocked any news coming out of Makkah, BBC began to quote speculative views from other sources. One such report that merely quoted a speculative and unsubstantiated claim made by the Iranian state-controlled radio was picked up and treated as actual news by a few rightwing Urdu dailies in Pakistan.

Unimpressed by American criticism and facing further American sanctions, the Zia regime did absolutely nothing to reveal the details of the attack, in spite of the fact that the regime had offered military help to the Saudi monarchy to dislodge the Salafi fanatics from the mosque. Suddenly, unchecked by the Zia regime, the bogus news broadcast by Iranian radio and reproduced by some Urdu newspapers in Pakistan was taken as a plank by members of the student wing of the pro-Zia Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) to organise a sit-in outside the US embassy in Islamabad.

Accusing the US of the attack on the mosque, the sit-in was then suddenly penetrated by some loud young men who instigated the gathered people to attack the embassy. The mob then surged forward towards the embassy, setting it on fire. The attack lasted for hours, but the police stayed put. Pakistan army helicopters hovered over the burning building but only landed on the roof of the crumbling structure after the mob had killed two American and two Pakistani employees of the embassy. Two protesters also lost their lives in the chaos.

In December 1979, as Soviet troops rolled into Afghanistan, Carter's criticism of Pakistan's ruling janta came to a halt and the embassy incident was shoved under the carpet. But according to a 2004 article written by Cameron W. Barr for The Washington Post (on the survivors of the embassy attack), the embassy staff accused the Zia regime of failing to come to the rescue of the cornered staff and for allowing the protesters to inflict as much damage before being stopped by the Pakistanis.

The tactic worked to win over an estranged Washington, and to revert to 'business as usual'. But today's is a changed world, and it remains open as to what works and what doesn't anymore.

Smokers' Corner: Let it bleed | Opinion | DAWN.COM

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