Editorial: ‘Foreign hand’ myth strikes again
The federal interior secretary, Syed Kamal Shah, claims that the government has “credible evidence” that “hostile foreign intelligence agencies” were fanning terrorism in Pakistan. He did not identify the foreign agencies to the Senate Standing Committee on Interior Affairs which had asked him to explain the recent acts of terrorism in the country, but everyone in Pakistan knows what he means. He did not give details and the Committee did not ask for any.
We don’t know if he applied the old “foreign hand” gimmick to Ms Bhutto’s assassination, which the government has been tracing to Baitullah Mehsud, or to the widespread pillaging that took place in Sindh and Punjab after the assassination. But we can recall the number of times the government and its senior bureaucrats have relied on it to explain acts of terrorism in the past. This is not to say that India has never been indirectly involved in such acts, but we have to take note of the number of times the “foreign hand” gimmick failed and the government forgot to apologise after the real culprits were arrested.
The recent application of the “foreign hand” gimmick meaning “India is killing us” took place when President Musharraf went on record to reveal that the Indians placed in Afghanistan were egging on the insurgents in Balochistan with money and weapons. The charge was credible circumstantially on the basis of the game of tit-for-tat that had been going on between the intelligence agencies of the two countries. Pakistan supported the Kashmir insurgency with the extra leverage of the mujahideen that went in from Pakistani training camps. And although the cross-border low intensity war had simmered down, India had lately begun to “protest” state violence in Balochistan.
The tit-for-tat goes back to 1996 when Pakistan avenged the destruction of its embassy in Kabul by ousting the Tajik commander Ahmad Shah Massoud from Kabul and sent the Indian embassy packing out of the country. After 2003, India made a comeback and reopened its old consulates after nearly seven years of Pakistan’s “strategic depth” supremacy in most of Afghanistan. The Indian linkup with the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan goes back a long way when the families of the pro-Soviet rulers of Kabul lived in New Delhi.
The pattern is like this: Pakistan sends its people in — remember Masood Azhar and Umar Sheikh? — but India uses Pakistanis to do its dirty work. What this means is the subject of a separate study. In one confirmed incident, Imran Khan’s hospital was bombed by a Pakistani national living on the Pak-India border who took money from RAW to do the job. The purpose was to unleash discord in Pakistan, which did take place, after Imran Khan accused the government of Ms Bhutto of doing the deed. He did not apologise after the real culprit was nabbed. But 99 percent of the times, the use of the “foreign hand” gimmick has been belied by facts coming to light later on.
No officer or politician was taken to account after the “foreign hand” alarm was found to be false. Intelligence agencies got the newspapers to print ridiculous stories about “black cats” (beautiful Indian girls sent in as agents to seduce our sex-starved politicians) when they wanted the visa policy tightened up. Shia killings in Quetta were blamed on “foreign hand” but later it turned out that it was our own sectarianists. Absurdly, both Sunni and Shia communities blamed America which everyone knew was a political cover-up. In India too some of this got rubbed off: the ISI began to be accused of every thing under the sun and, as some wag observed, even for bad weather.
Intelligence agencies represent the paranoia of the state. They live in a world of their own without accountability and can spread their microcosm of make-believe on to the country. Unpopular leaders begin to rely on them rather than the experts and come to grief but not before bringing harm to the people they rule. Therefore Mr Shah should be careful how he deploys the old device without first going public on the “proof” he has acquired. His department has already made shipwreck on the Bhutto assassination case. He should be intensely conscious of the fact that most people in Pakistan believe that instead of Baitullah Mehsud it is the “establishment” — the finger is directly pointed to his linked agencies — that has removed Ms Bhutto from the scene.
The topping of the cake has come now in the shape of the news that Darra Adam Khel insurgency is manned by the six jihadi outfits that his department and the agencies once used in India, and the six include some who are still “protected” by the intelligence agencies as an “option” against India. Mr Shah should be careful. It is better for him to play his cards close to his chest till the time is right for a “show”. He can come to grief when his statements are investigated after Pakistan’s return to normal rule. *
Second Editorial: Maulana Edhi’s case
Maulana Abdus Sattar Edhi was recently detained at an airport in the United States, questioned for hours on his activities, deprived of his passport and his “green card”, and asked to present himself before a judge. Mr Edhi says he was meted out this treatment last year too. Mr Edhi apparently doesn’t know what has transpired and thinks that the US government doesn’t want him to do his social work in the United States.
This is the right case for action on the part of the Foreign Office in Islamabad. Our embassy in Washington should find out what the US immigration wants Mr Edhi to do. Retaining the passport and asking him to go to a court indicates a presumed irregularity requiring clearance. When the questioning began last year, the matter should have been resolved then with the help of the Pakistan embassy. The US embassy in Islamabad is in a position to establish the credentials of the philanthropist, but a procedural hitch, if it has happened, has to be removed in any case. Although ministers of other governments visiting the US have been maltreated in the past, there is no reason why Mr Edhi should be left to fend for himself in this case. *