View Full Version : Convenient pretext - HUMA YUSUF - 11th May 2015

11th May 2015, 10:14 AM
EVEN by the standards of a country that thrives on heady rhetoric, recent public statements about the menace of ‘foreign hands’ have been notable in their frequency and pointedness.

Foreign agencies, specifically India’s Research and Analysis Wing, have been accused of destabilising Pakistan, including playing a role in the targeted killings in Karachi and fuelling separatist unrest in Balochistan. The accusations have come from the army chief to an SSP in Karachi, from the ISPR and MQM’s London headquarters.

In January, Pakistan shared a ‘dossier’ with US government officials which reportedly included evidence of the involvement of Indian agencies in militancy here.

‘Foreign hands’ have been blamed for a variety of problems.
The specific allegations against India follow a years-long trend whereby the ever elusive yet omnipresent foreign hands have been blamed for much — from militant attacks to mushrooming seminaries. Some have even blamed them for the catastrophic 2010 floods. The identity of the foreign hand changes with the times and geopolitical circumstances: sometimes India, other times Israel; at one time the US, at other times Afghanistan.

The recent revival of allegations against India is on some level likely to be strategic, as has been noted by writers on both sides of the border in recent days. The Pakistan military has launched wide-ranging operations against militants based on national soil, and the majority of them are Pakistani.

The operations — like others before them — are starting to raise questions about the killing of Muslims by Muslims, of Pakistanis by Pakistanis. What better way to prevent existential or identity crises at a time when security priorities deserve the focus than to link the internal enemy with an external one, particularly one that has long been the ideological focus of the security apparatus and the fulcrum of our nationalism?

By rhetorically implicating India in militancy, Baloch separatism and other internal challenges, the state can ensure broad-based support — both from the public and also from within military ranks — for the ongoing operations. It can also do so without investing time and resources in creating new, and inevitably more complex nationalist narratives, than those that have dictated national security and strategic priorities for decades.

The mounting accusations could also signal the expansion of military operations under Zarb-i-Azb into Balochistan. The army chief alluded to this possibility last month and the heightening tensions around discourse on that issue suggest plans are brewing. As such, there is an element of savvy to implicate an arch rival in the insurgency so as to justify further operations on domestic soil as well as the harsh measures under way to prevent scrutiny of security policies or critical debate around them.

Of course, this does not necessarily mean that accusations are pure propaganda. It has proved effective to blame the foreign hand for Pakistan’s ills in the past because there has been some element of truth in the accusation. Covert intelligence actions by foreign governments have led to many of Pakistan’s greatest embarrassments from 1971 to Abbottabad in 2011.

Pakistan’s role in the US-led ‘war on terror’ and particularly its involvement in Afghanistan have also led to increased covert activity by regional players. In the 1990s, the country was the staging ground for a sectarian proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Private donors throughout the Gulf continue to fund madressahs and Pakistan-based extremist groups.

Moreover, Pakistan frequently acts at the behest of larger powers. Over the past decade the power was the US; in the coming decade, it is likely to be China as Beijing seeks to expand its access to the Persian Gulf. In other words, there has been no shortage of external pressure or direct intervention in our domestic affairs.

The time has therefore come for greater transparency from all quarters, starting with our government. It has levelled frequent enough accusations against the foreign hand, and claims to have shared evidence of Indian meddling with Washington. This evidence should be shared with the public, directly with New Delhi, or at an appropriate international forum to enhance the credibility of accusations.

Transparency is key to stemming covert activities that are allegedly under way on Pakistani soil. But it is also essential in a domestic context to restore the credibility of Pakistan’s institutions and citizens’ trust in their state.

The problem with foreign hands is that they can be blamed for anything, anywhere, at any time. They strip the state of accountability, and so disenfranchise the public. After all, if a foreign hand is the source of your problem, what recourse can there be? And without any regard for the recourse that democratic systems offer — in other words, checks and balances on power — how can a state continue to function?

The writer is a freelance journalist.