Deceptive Narratives – Proxy War

In the wake of the horrendous attack on an Army-run Public School in Peshawar in December 2014, the question uppermost in peoples’ minds is whether we as a nation can finally turn the tide against this dire internal menace that hangs like the Sword of Damocles over us all. The short answer: yes, we can, provided we can let go of the false narratives that have been constantly injected into our collective psyches and which we have unreservedly embraced without questioning.

Let’s analyse one such narrative: that all problems in Pakistan stem from a KSA- Iran proxy war. While seemingly even-handed in approach, I believe that we have been lapping up this fallacy of a proxy war for a long time, simply because it is convenient and self-serving, though an objective look at the facts would tell us that it is also self-delusional. Post-9/11, let’s have a look at what has been targeted: shrines, graveyards, schools, markets, mosques, churches, Defence, CIA & Police installations, Shias, Ahmedis, Christians,Bohras, Sunni Sufi Barelvis, moderate Sunni scholars, tribal elders, polio workers, international sportsmen, Defence, CIA & Police personnel, all of which heinous acts have been proudly claimed by the adherents of one virulent ideology. By way of contrast, just hazard a guess as to how many suicide bombings, indiscriminate slaughters, hostage taking or any other anti-state activity can be attributed to the opposing proxies.

The second aspect pertains to funding. KSA and other wealthy monarchies have unbelievably deep pockets, both public and private, with vast resources going into their pet projects of setting up of Mosques abroad in their own image and radicalisation of Madrassas. By a conservative estimate, over 20,000 have been set up all over our country since 1980 and being lavishly maintained through such funding. In stark contrast, Iran soon after its revolution, was dragged into a long-drawn war with Iraq and has since been on the receiving end of crippling sanctions. Whatever little it could spare has presumably gone to Hezbollah after the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 and propping up the Syrian regime. Just try to ascertain how many Shia Madrassas are functioning in the country in the first place, let alone those supposedly funded by Iran and we’ll all be pleasantly surprised. Just drive around Islamabad on a lazy winter afternoon and vast mosque-cum-Madrassa complexes will be visible at virtually every step(under the shadow of the towering Saudi-funded Faisal Mosque), most of them in the choicest areas, with not even the green belts being spared. How many out of them do we think are Iranian-funded? By last count, there are 193 Deobandi-Wahhabi Madrassas in Islamabad alone, as opposed to 8 for the Shias. The unfortunate fact is that the Wahhabi-Deobandi combine had been given free rein to encroach upon any land they thought fit.

The third aspect relates to state patronisation and partisanship. KSA and other Gulf monarchies are so deeply embedded in our state architecture that we have never been able to say no to them in any matter. No less a person than our venerable ruler of 11 years, General Ziaul Haq, is on record as having said that if a request came from KSA it would not be a request but would be an order. A prominent member of the Royal had also publicly stated that our current PM is ‘very much Saudi Arabia’s man in Pakistan’. A KSA Ambassador had also candidly admitted that his country is ‘not an observer in Pakistani politics but a participant’. I don’t think anyone in Iran can make or elicit suchlike assertions.

During the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, the CIA with KSA support, brought radicals from all over the Arab world to Pakistan for Jihad( later joined in by Uzbecks, Chechens, Tajiks, Uighurs and what have you) who remained firmly entrenched thereafter and kept fomenting trouble without being challenged by the state. Sunni Barelvis and Shias were deliberately blanked out of the anti-Soviet Jihad, with the result that after the Soviet withdrawal, we ended up with thousands of battle-hardened radicalised warriors, with the rest of us ‘unbelievers’ being simply cattle fodder.

Although we keep trying to sweep this issue under the carpet, the fact is that the most damaging aspect of the KSA indoctrination drive has been its embrace of the Takfiri philosophy. KSA, as far back as 1986, enticed a prominent Indian Deobandi-Tablighi Jamaat cleric to seek and collate fatwas from a number of known Pakistani Deobandi seminaries as to the apostatisation of the Shias, which work he proudly published as his ‘masterpiece’. Soon after the Shias were declared ‘wajibul qatl’ as a result, the killings began in earnest. A sponsored Lashkar from Afghanistan the same year, unhindered and perhaps assisted, went on to wreak havoc on the unarmed citizens of Gilgit. Shias all over the country, doctors and lawyers in particular, as well as their mosques, imambargahs and congregations , kept on being indiscriminately fired upon and suicide-bombed, just for the crime of being born in the wrong family. For the past 20 years or so, Sunni Sufi mosques, shrines and even Eid-Milad-un- Nabi congregations, all have been so hard hit that over 40,000 innocent lives have been needlessly snuffed out. No counter narrative or ideological counter response appears to be visible in practical terms. The beleaguered Hazara community of Quetta, being easy to spot owing to their distinctive features, are being literally subjected to what amounts to genocide to the extent that they have been completely ghettoised. All those who could manage have tried to flee abroad to safety, often with disastrous results. If Iran was inclined to generate proxies of its own, wouldn’t it have helped this community in some way to relieve the pressure? Let alone planning reprisals, the Hazaras are not even sufficiently equipped to defend themselves. They have been extensively targeted in markets, in clubs, in congregations, and even off-loaded from buses and shot like defenceless sheep, while we don’t ever hear of anyone being killed from amongst the perpetrators, not even by the LEAs.

A few other questions are worth pondering upon: whose proxy has been beheading our valiant soldiers and playing football with their heads? Whose proxy had declared( in the heart of the Capital) that the funeral prayers of those brave soldiers who sacrifice their lives fighting anti-state elements are not valid? Whose proxy had said that even a dog fighting the Americans is a martyr, while a soldier fighting the Taliban is not?

I hold no brief for anyone but I honestly believe that we as Pakistanis can only thrive as a nation if we divorce ourselves from our deeply-embedded dogmas and embrace the cult of objectivity and reason. Our natural affinities notwithstanding, we should let the facts speak for themselves and try to absorb the correct conclusions emanating therefrom. Without a certain clarity of thought, the way ahead would be difficult to chart.

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