Pak’s cult of victimhood

Not long after the horrific terrorist attacks on Mumbai in November 26, 2008, Pakistan Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani publicly stated that while he shared India’s sorrow, he also wished to underscore that Pakistan itself was a victim of terrorism. Given the rising graph of wanton acts of terror that have swept across Pakistan since then, there is more than a kernel of truth to that seemingly fatuous and insensitive statement. That said, Mr Gilani’s claim requires greater scrutiny.

The individuals who took part in that swarming attack that left the city and India’s security forces virtually paralysed for the better part of three days and cost 166 lives were all Pakistan-based terrorists belonging to the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT). That terrorist organisation was spawned in Pakistan, abetted by the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI-D) and continues to operate freely from its headquarters in Muridke, outside Lahore.
Consequently, while a host of terrorist organisations are now wreaking havoc across Pakistan, it needs to be underscored that key elements of the Pakistani state have yet to terminate their dalliance with terror. Specifically, the security establishment continues to rely on terror as a critical element of state policy, even though some of its acolytes have now trained their guns on their erstwhile sponsors. As matters are now seeming to spin out of control, a new trope is being increasingly relied upon: a considerable part of the violence is now increasingly attributed to India’s apparent machinations. Yet these assertions are made without a shred of accompanying evidence.
The unwillingness of Pakistan’s political and security apparatus to forthrightly come to terms with their own complicity in dubious ventures is, however, not of recent vintage. Their antecedents can be traced to the time of the creation of Pakistan. Barring marked exceptions, the vast majority of Pakistanis still argue that Indian intransigence and malfeasance on Kashmir triggered the 1947-48 war. Even today, despite ample evidence to the contrary, they refuse to recognise their own role in actively supporting the indigenous rebellion against Maharaja Hari Singh in Poonch. Instead, they continue to harp on the question of the timing of the acceptance of the Instrument of Accession and the arrival of Indian troops in Srinagar, thereby seeking to obfuscate their own collusion in the conflict.
This, of course, is not the only case of an unwillingness to come to terms with some of the more unsavoury features of their country’s history. Even the Justice Hamadoor Commission Report failed to forthrightly address the horror that the Pakistan Army unleashed on the hapless Bengali population of East Pakistan in 1971. Instead, it focused its attention on the decision-making pathologies that contributed to the military and political debacle. While apologies, both qualified and unstinted, have become the currency of international politics, no Pakistani leader of any note has come close to proffering one for the genocidal behaviour of the Pakistan Army in 1971.
Such a failure to apologise is not the most egregious failing of the Pakistani state and its citizenry. Even otherwise thoughtful and informed Pakistani scholars in private conversations with this author have argued that the Pakistani military, most assuredly, were also victims of violence in the East Pakistani crisis. They contend that the Bengalis showed little quarter to the beleaguered garrisons in East Pakistan and so there is little that the Punjabi-dominated Army of the time has to account for. Yet, as the British journalist
Murray Sayle revealed in a remarkable article, “A Regime of Thugs and Bigots”, in the Sunday Times in July 1971, the horrors that the regime visited on the Bengalis made British colonial atrocities in the North-West Frontier pale into insignificance. He compared the tactics of the Army to those of Mussolini and Hitler.
The passage of nearly 30 years did not lead to an end to this form of historical obfuscation. In the wake of the Kargil War, two forms of exculpatory arguments were set forth. The first suggested that the Pakistani military had not participated in the crossing of the Line of Control but instead local Mujahideen had chosen to act of their own accord. The war, they argued, was really the result of India’s jingoism and disproportionate military response. When ample contrary evidence undermined this questionable claim, Pakistani apologists suddenly argued that the Kargil incursions were merely a response to India’s occupation of the Siachen glacier in 1984. One might well wonder why it took the Pakistani state a decade and a half to attempt a military riposte to the Siachen conflict.
This mythmaking, sadly, did not come to a close with the Kargil War. As Mr Gilani’s statement in the wake of 26/11 demonstrated, it persists under yet another civilian regime. The Pakistani propensity to avoid coming to terms with politically and morally flawed choices is not a matter of mere academic historical accuracy. Instead, their failure to forthrightly confront ugly, painful and erroneous choices has had profound consequences for the fate of the Pakistani state. The obsession with the Kashmir dispute has made the military primus inter pares within Pakistan and has grossly distorted the country’s developmental priorities. The grotesque maltreatment of the Bengalis led to the break-up of Pakistan. Subsequent failures to deal fairly with other ethnic minorities have contributed to endemic conflict within the country. And finally, the willingness to use terror as an instrument of state policy has come to haunt the country’s domestic politics. In the absence of an honest accounting of these deeply problematic choices that started from the nascent days of the Pakistani state it is far from clear whether Pakistan will be able to extricate itself from the morass that it finds itself mired in.

The author is director of research at the Centre on American and Global Security at Indiana University, Bloomington, US

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