FEW would disagree that ours is a country in which conspiracy theories proliferate often and widely. Many otherwise sophisticated minds are often exasperated enough by this mostly bogus theorising to insist that that we have somehow become culturally prone to thinking in conspiratorial ways.
A more nuanced and meaningful explanation is, however, necessary to explain why we so often fit extremely complex social and political phenomena into a one-size-fits-all explanatory straitjacket — most often the one that blames RAW or some other ‘foreign hand’ for crises that are often of our own making.
The story starts with the institutions of the state that — via the media, educational curriculum and our heavily manicured political discourse — have inculcated an insular worldview within a majority of ordinary people which emphasises our exceptional qualities as a Muslim ‘nation’, and the attendant evil designs of at least some of our neighbours/ global powers to undermine us.
The biggest casualties of this worldview are, paradoxically, the very ordinary people who buy into it because they are often ill-equipped to think critically through their own problems — including but not limited to class exploitation, patriarchal violence and ethnic-national oppression. Of course, no amount of manipulation of public discourse and/or direct censorship can guarantee a completely docile population, so when organic movements and their intellectuals arise to identify the real causes of strife, they are subject to character assassinations and accusations of serving the interest of anti-Pakistan conspirators.
This cycle has repeated itself throughout our 70-year history. Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan and his Khudai Khidmatgar movement were amongst the first to be labelled anti-Pakistan despite their possessing a clear electoral mandate to rule the then NWFP in newly independent Pakistan.
Mujibur Rehman and his Awami League were probably the most well-known ‘conspirators’ — the former’s electoral mandate to lead a united Pakistan following the 1970 general election ripped by Operation Searchlight in 1971. Soon after the secession of the eastern wing it was Ghaus Bakhsh Bizenjo, Attaullah Mengal and other Baloch leaders whose elected National Awami Party (NAP) government was unceremoniously sent packing barely a year after it came to power — despite the fact that Bizenjo Sahib was one of the architects of the 1973 Constitution.
Our's has been a managed political dispensation from the start.
Zulfikar Ali Bhutto is often ‘credited’ with towing the establishment line against both Mujib and the NAP government in Balochistan, but even if one were to believe such accounts of history, the fact is that as Pakistan’s first elected prime minister, Bhutto, hanged in 1979, too was subject to the allegations of conspiracy against the nation. The statist narrative then had become so totalitarian that the country’s elected head of government could be accused of conspiracy against Islam.
The list could go on — and here I have mentioned only a handful of the prominent names in our history who have been accused of hatching anti-Pakistan and/or anti-Islam conspiracies. The number of ordinary political dissidents to have been accused of working at the behest of the foreign hand and then suffering exemplary punishment accordingly is off the charts.
Today we are at a crossroads where a social movement has erupted in the war-weary Pakhtun northwest asking simply for peace, respect and recovery of the many thousands who have disappeared during the ‘war on terror’. Sadly, but perhaps not unexpectedly, the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement is being labelled in much the same way as those of its ilk have been in the past.
It is possible that this never-ending storyline continues to play out in novel ways especially because the powers-that-be, as Zahid Hussain wrote earlier this week, are always devising more sophisticated methods to foment ‘managed’ political dispensations. But then again, our's has been a managed political dispensation from the very beginning, the binary between those whose integrity can never be questioned and those who are always on the wrong side of official history.
Of course states — the ones we love to hate, those who we claim as permanent allies and even our own — do compete, spy on and sometimes conspire against one another. But reducing every social and political crisis caused by the machinations of our political and security establishments to foreign conspiracies is getting old, and exacerbating our problems in a hurry.
Besides, if we want to talk conspiracy, what about manipulating the political system and clamping down on the freedom of expression, not to mention masterminding coups against constitutional rule, disappearing people and engineering encounter-killings? Isn’t it about time we started writing into our history the conspiracies of military dictators who sold our bases and resources to the highest bidders?
The writer teaches at Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.
Published in Dawn, April 20th, 2018