Saturday, February 6, 2010

Muharram Blasts in Karachi: Why the Government is Implicated

The government is of course implicated in these blasts. First, because the government is supposed to protect its citizens and their religious and civil rights. Unfortunately, some government officials once again want to blame their security failures on the public nature of the Muharram commemorations. They fail to recognize that be it indoor or outdoor location – government buildings, mosques, or schools – they have failed to stop terrorists from carrying out their attacks in the last couple of years. They also fail to recognize that Imambargah Ali Raza, Masjid-e Haideri, Mehfil-e Murtaza, and a number of other religious places that were hit by terrorists in the past few years were all indoor locations.

But, the failure to take adequate security measures is not the only reason that the government is implicated in this tragedy. For years, the power-holders and policy makers in this country have nurtured and manipulated the extremist-militant elements, within and outside of Pakistan, in the name of security, ‘strategic depth’, and ‘Jihad’. During the Cold War, these extremist groups openly received funding, training, and, quite often, their agenda through middlemen or directly from America and Saudi Arabia. Both of these powers were interested in curbing the influence of the Islamic Revolution in Iran and containing the Soviet advancements. The ‘establishment’ also saw it in its interest to support this agenda. From the 1980s onward, the security agencies allowed, and even endorsed, these extremist elements to spread hatred and violence against all others that did not confirm to their twisted ‘Jihadist’ ideology and politics – Shia and Sunni alike.

However, more recently, when this policy backfired and the country suffered the blowback with waves of suicide attacks and bomb blasts, the establishment took recourse in propagating a distinction between “Good Taliban” and “Bad Taliban”. Good Taliban are those who still follow their dictate; the Bad Taliban are those who have become independent or who now take their dictates and funding directly from other powers, within or outside of the country. While the Musharraf regime claimed to fight the war on terror, it continued to support the “Good Taliban” over the last decade with the money received in military aid from the US. The perpetual ‘India threat’ paranoia of the establishment as well as their desire for “strategic depth” was also at work. The establishment also feared that once the NATO forces would leave Afghanistan, Pakistan would be left with a hostile neighbor. (The “strategic depth” policy was recently reiterated by General Ashfaq Kayani, albeit in a modified version). What the establishment has not realized yet is that there are no good or bad Taliban – neither is good for the future of Pakistan or Afghanistan. Furthermore, America is not leaving Afghanistan in any near future. The “Af-Pak” is the new geographical category in the neo-imperial planning, with assigned roles given to both countries.

The establishment needs to stop using the “Good” Taliban and similar extremist-militant groups within and outside Pakistan as tools for its strategic objectives. This policy has demonized Islam and ideologically polarized the Pakistani society. Furthermore, the establishment needs to stop playing as mercenaries in the neo-imperial American plans for the region, under pressure and/or for military assistance. The American presence in the region, and its continuous bombardment and killing in the last few years, has only fueled more extremism and violence. Pakistan did not have any suicide bombers in 1998, and now it exports them! More violence gives the US more reasons to stay in this region to keep a check on Iran, Russia, and China. The so called “war on terror” has actually allowed Washington to expand its neo-imperial ambitions. Furthermore, for years now, America, Israel, and India have continuously conspired to undermine and neutralize Pakistan's nuclear capabilities. It is clear that Pakistani interests and those of the foreign powers are diametrically opposed to each other, and it makes no sense for the establishment to continue following the line given to it by Washington.

The civilian government is similarly implicated. The conditions under which the deal between General Musharraf and Benazir Bhutto was brokered by the Bush Administration are still unclear. The NRO (National Reconciliation Ordinance) was certainly one manifestation of that deal. Now it is an open secret that the establishment and the civilian governments are at odds with each other. First, over consolidation of one's power over the other. Next, over the agenda given to the civilian government by Washington. That tussle was clearly reflected in the civilian government’s failed attempt to bring the ISI under its control in July 2008. This tussle is a major reason for the ongoing instability in Pakistan.

Furthermore, the civilian government shares the responsibility of the tragedy because it showed no serious interest in tracing the hands behind the Ashura blast. No independent inquiry commission was set up. Rather, the government seemed more concerned about maintaining its political alliances and holding on to power. Otherwise, there was clear evidence about the systematic nature of the Ashura attack and the violence in the aftermath, and if examined carefully, the evidence would have unmasked many faces. However, the multiple hands that could have been exposed in the investigation are once again being covered up by throwing the labels of "suicide bombing" and "Talibanization" in public discourse. These labels serve as both description and explanation of violence: Call it "mindless fanaticism" and then there is no need to dig deeper for the hidden hands or bigger game plans. If the government is really sincere, then it should set up an independent inquiry commission to investigate both the apparent and hidden perpetrators and bring them to justice.

For specifics of the Ashura blast and the list of questions it raised, see "Six Talking Points about the Ashura Blast in Karachi." See a brief report of the Chehlum (or Arbaeen) blasts here.

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