Letter From Pakistan: Gotcha!

KARACHI, Pakistan–The news the world had been waiting for ever since the United States declared war against A Qaeda in 2001 has finally arrived: Al Qaeda’s numero uno, the most wanted man in the world, Osama bin Laden, has finally been killed.

As CNN and BBC were showing thousands of Americans gathering outside the White House, cheering the news, the sounds and sights coming from Pakistani channels was at best bizarre.

As news anchors were shooting away, reading the fast-unfolding news, they seemed unsure whether to describe Osama’s reported death as “wo marey ja chukey hein” or “mara ja chukka hai”– both mean “Osama has been killed,” but the first sentence uses words like “chukey hein” that in Urdu and Hindi are used to give respect to someone older.

So, as Pakistani newscasters (especially on the ever-animated hyperbolic private channels), continue to zigzag between “chukka” and “chukey,” it was only a matter of time before we began seeing what is called the ghairat brigade, or the pride brigade, take their seats in front of the camera.

Pakistan’s private TV channels are brimming with the most gung-ho characters of this brigade– talk show hosts with an addiction for anything conspiratorial and rhetorical, and never far from using sheer jingoism to give weight to the shenanigans of the Pakistani right-wing, especially regarding the rightists’ blinding hatred for the U.S., the West, India and Pakistani politicians.

Merely an hour after the news about Osama’s death poured in, the usual suspects were up and running, questioning the validity of the reports.

The cynical display is quite pathetic, almost akin to the shock the loud mouthpieces of the agitated right-wing exhibited when CIA contractor Raymond Davis made a smooth exit from Pakistan, on the behest of the same security agencies that, ironically, were alleged to have been propping up a number of media men and politicians such as Imran Khan to pump up anti-Americanism in Pakistan.
Respected journalists and analysts like Najam Sethi, Ayesha Siddiuqa, Hasan Askari and Farrukh Saleem are correct to suggest that large sections of the country’s intelligence agencies are using certain media personnel and politicians to drown out America’s concerns that Pakistan has been protecting certain al Qaeda members as well as those belonging to militant Islamist outfits that, according to Washington, the Pakistani establishment considers to be “friendly.”

Nevertheless, whereas the largely knee-jerk and quasi-reactionary narrative peddled in the name of ghairat in the media and from the mouths of some politicians and TV anchors is now sounding as empty as empty can be, the government and the military establishment will have to think on its feet.

With Osama’s dramatic demise, the Pakistani establishment cannot hide anymore behind the padding that sympathetic media men have provided.

They have to answer one very simple question: When the Americans claimed that Osama was hiding somewhere in Pakistan, why did the Pakistani military, which has itself lost numerous soldiers in its war against al Qaeda and the Taliban, continue to deny it?

In a frenzy to impress their masters in certain sections of Pakistan’s security apparatus, these media men and politicians unleashed yet more of the kind of rhetoric that can leave Pakistan and its people not only isolated, but suffering from collective bouts of paranoia, delusion and xenophobia.

Even as it is becoming clear that Pakistani security agencies and the Pakistani government did have an inkling at least as to what the Americans were planning to do, instead of asking the question “What was Osama doing hiding in a compound situated in an area where there is sufficient presence of the Pakistan army and ISI?” these TV men were quick to suggest that the man killed might not be Osama.

As I go on monitoring the media, the atrocious narrative questioning the validity of the news about Osama’s death has fallen on its face, gradually replaced by the suggestion that the Pakistan military (not the government) should be given credit for this prize catch.

Perhaps the Pakistani security forces and institutions did play a role. But again, with the emergence of the corpse of Osama in Pakistan, we should be asking: Does this episode not validate almost all the other allegations and concerns that the U.S. has exhibited regarding Pakistan’s rather shadowy and topsy-turvy war against terrorists?

We must prove to the world that Pakistan is not a country that accommodates and hides mass murderers. But then, what to expect from a country where some politicians and media raise more hue and cry about U.S. drone attacks (which have killed around 2,000 people, most of them militants) than about suicide attacks by Taliban/al-Qaeda that, since 2004, have slaughtered over 34,000 civilians, policemen and army personnel?

Nadeem F. Paracha is a cultural critic and senior columnist for Dawn Newspaper and Dawn.com in Pakistan.

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