Paranoid Press

A Pakistani editor elaborates on how to handle the situation, and says that at the very least “shouldn’t the Pakistan government suspend cooperation with the US, at least temporarily?” The stopping of NATO supplies and “the downing of a drone” will send a clear message

Saadia Gardezi

No one really knows why Faisal Shahzad decided to try to drive a car, containing alarm clocks connected to fireworks and petrol tanks, into Times Square? The Pakistani press is getting a lot of mileage out of this one; every TV anchor has his conspiracy theory dialogue rehearsed. The facts are strange, and the audience is emotional and attentive; nothing better than that to start off with that ambrosial phrase, “You know what I think…”

This time, it’s not the Taliban. The TTP has claimed that the groups have fighters on American soil who are poised to attack, but deny responsibility for the fizzled car bomb in Times Square. Pakistani military spokesman Gen. Athar Abbas, on May 5, questioned the ability of the group to reach US soil. “Anybody can claim anything,” he said.

It’s not his failed attempt that has shocked the world; it was who he was that has surprised us all. The script of our media on terrorist activities linked to outfits like the TTP is well rehearsed, but Faisal’s profile does not fit plots that we have seen before. This may have added to the media concocting speculative theories about why he did it, and who was behind it.

One of the conspiracy theories that came up, but has seemed to lost popularity again, was that of the Indian-Zionist-CIA plan to destabilize Pakistan. These reports postulate that Indian RAW with the tactical support of Mossad and CIA agents played a key role in motivating Faisal Shahzad to seek revenge against Americans. One of these theses goes on to say that RAW indirectly used so-called Indian Muslim scholars for brain-washing and indoctrination of Faisal. The Pak Observer on May 17 reports that “according to leading analysts” Faisal Shahzad’s prompt confession is indicative that the failed plot was part of a wider conspiracy. Furthermore, “Pakistan, the only (Muslim) nuclear power in the world, is an eyesore for both Israel and India”. The fact that Faisal’s interrogator was of an Indian origin and had a Jewish wife has also fed this analysis.

Then we have the increasingly common viewpoint, Muhammad Jamil a columnist at the Daily Times (8 May) writes, “If one glances through the reports by Reuters and other news agencies, it is not difficult to conclude that this is a gimmick to keep Pakistan under pressure and push it to go after the Haqqani network in North Waziristan.” Other attractions include programs hosted by the likes of journalists like Talat Hussain, Kamran Khan who echo the same view that that there was some secret plan to pressurise Pakistan to “do more”. Other anchors are speculating that the time of the statement by Hakimullah also suggest a conspiracy against Pakistan.

On May 11, The Nation newspaper made a very serious claim. The article says that after Hillary Clinton issued a “threat” to Pakistan, “an even more ominous threat” has been given by Gen. Holder i.e. if Pakistan failed to take appropriate action against the Taliban, the US would. The article goes on to say, “If the message is still unclear to anyone in Pakistan, this latest threat should leave absolutely no room for any doubt that the US now intends to target Pakistan far beyond the FATA region and certainly with more than just drones.” Just to curb any curiosity here is what General Holder actually said on ABC Television, “In connection with the Shahzad investigation, they have been, extremely aggressive. They’ve been cooperative with us. And I think we have been satisfied with the work that they have done. We want to make sure that that kind of cooperation continues. To the extent that it does not, we will, as Secretary Clinton indicated, take the appropriate steps. But as of now, we’re satisfied…”

Writing for The Nation, on May 10, Shireen Mazari was of the view that our civil and military leadership needs to stop being silent on questioning the US intent. “Why are we allowing the US to threaten us while we continue to entertain their civil, military and intelligence teams/delegations? Why are we not insisting on our investigation team being in Washington if the US can send an FBI team to Pakistan?” She elaborates on how to handle the situation, and says that at the very least “shouldn’t the Pakistan government suspend cooperation with the US, at least temporarily?” The stopping of NATO supplies and “the downing of a drone” will send a clear message.

Their analysis of the situation, without labeling it as wrong or right, has only left people at home scratching their heads, but even the foreign media in an uproar. The Boston Globe has called our press paranoid and of all the horrible things to say, the editorial repeats the most feared by our media; that Pakistan must “do more” in the fight against terrorism.

There are many theories floating around as well that are a bit less overwhelming. Here’s one from a common blogger (replying to a post at “My theory is that he got mixed up with the wrong people while visiting family in Pakistan, had his young family threatened if he didn’t use his free pass into the US for this purpose. So he set out to make something that couldn’t possibly explode, but would satisfy his extortionists… Then he used highly visible clocks, useless wires, and parked the car in such a way that it would attract attention and be identified. Or he’s just stupid. That’s the simplest answer, but doesn’t jive too well with the college degrees and family.”

According to Shaun Gregory, the Director of the Pakistan Security Research Unit at Bradford University, the bomb attempt was not orchestrated by the US but the incident required a “hard-ball response” from the US. He highlighted two issues, “a chance to push the Pak Army to move into North Waziristan; and a chance to deflect attention away from a real concern in the US namely the threat posed from within the US’s own Muslim population.” Professor Gregory opined that this community is around 8 million with 300,000 of Pakistani origin. Thus the concern of the US is that such US citizens with terrorist intent are harder to track and anticipate. Furthermore, their links with Pakistan are complex and “radicalisation pathways – resulting from personal issues, identity issues, contact with radicals, etc – flow in both directions”. What Professor Gregory says meshes well with evidence; there have been no solid links found with the TTP, or any other outfit. For the US this sort of an attack by a US citizen is a dangerous national security problem.

There are a variety of views about what might have happened including views from the audience of the news media, from the national media itself, from international media and international academia. It is obvious that information is incomplete, but it is also clear that the sort of an analysis our news pundits are producing from this information leaves much to be desired. What sounds more plausible: the idea that the US planned this tragic play to scare us into submission, or that there are there are people in the world who do wrong things and there are consequences to suffer after the deed is done? You be the judge.

In The Friday Times, 21-27 May, 2010


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