Conspiracy Theories 'Stamped In DNA' Of Pakistanis
ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:
From NPR News this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
In Pakistan, conspiracy theories abound regarding U.S. intentions. Pakistani TV talk shows have fueled the conspiratorial thinking.
From Islamabad, NPR's Julie McCarthy explains what theories are out there and who is disseminating them.
JULIE MCCARTHY: The most popular conspiracy theory sweeping the land is that the United States and India are engaged in a global conspiracy to bring down Pakistan. The chief weapons: The CIA and Blackwater.
Unidentified Group: Go. Go, Blackwater...
MCCARTHY: About a hundred black-suited lawyers assembled last Saturday amid a shower of rose petals, to rail against the private American security firm and demand it leave the country. Blackwater, now known as Xe, is despised in Pakistan for its role in the killing of civilians in Iraq. The mere suggestion the company is in Pakistan sends a collective shutter down the nation's spine.
TAUFIQ ASIF: (Foreign language spoken)
MCCARTHY: Listening to Taufiq Asif, president of the Rawalpindi District Bar, is a crash course on Pakistani loathing of Americans and suspicion about U.S. intentions. "Today we are gathering to purge Pakistan of the cursed Americans," he says. The crowd cries, "We must beat back America and save Pakistan."
As Asif's stem-winder gathers momentum, he makes clear that Blackwater agents aim to takeover the Kahuta atomic facility not far from the demonstration.
ASIF: (Foreign language spoken)
MCCARTHY: "We will protect this atomic plant with our blood," he tells the small crowd. "All of Pakistan is united," he says. "If we must eat dry bread or even grass, we will survive. But," Asif declares, "we will not compromise Pakistan's sovereignty or atomic program."
Many Pakistanis, including attorney Mohammad Siddiqui Awan(ph), believed that the U.S. is using Blackwater to organize suicide attacks as pretext to rescue Pakistan's nuclear weapons.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOB)
MOHAMMAD SIDDIQUI AWAN: No doubt. No doubt they are (unintelligible) involved in suicidal bombing. They provide assistance to the persons who hired them with daggers, provide them ammunitions. They want to destabilize the country just to capture the atomic (unintelligible). What else? Only.
MCCARTHY: Another favorite conspiracy is that the United States has deployed Pakistan's homegrown militants to dismember Pakistan.
Pervez Hoodbhoy is a physics professor and social commentator.
PERVEZ HOODBHOY: There is a climate of denial. A denial of facts and it's always easier to deny rather than to accept that the fault lies within.
MCCARTHY: Hoodbhoy says conspiracies theories usually begin with a grain truth, which is why Blackwater is a good example of how conspiracies get woven. The CIA's admission that it had at one time contracted Blackwater employees to load missiles onto U.S. drones at a Pakistani air base, confirmed that they had been here. Similarly, Hoodbhoy says the idea that the U.S. is conspiring to seize the Islamic world's only nuclear bomb is also predicated on a fact that Washington is extremely concerned about Pakistan's nuclear weapons.
HOODBHOY: Especially since we know that there is a large jihadist constituency in the country. On the other hand, for the United States to create this kind of instability is simply ridiculous. Because that very instability could cause the nukes to disappear without a trace, and nobody would know where all those bombs have gone.
MCCARTHY: The enemy, depending on the day, can either be: The CIA, Moussad or RAW, India's intelligence service.
Newspapers editor Najam Sethi says conspiracy theories are stamped in the DNA of the culture dating back to 16th and 17th century Mogol emperors, who consolidated Islam in South Asia.
NAJAM SETHI: Mogol history is full of palace intrigues, not just within the contestants for power within the Mogol Empire, but also with other allies and other enemies. So that is one element of our memory, especially the Muslim memory.
MCCARTHY: Today, the Internet and proliferation of television talk shows accelerate the dissemination of conspiracy theories.
(SOUNDBITE OF A TALK SHOW)
ZAID HAMID: (Foreign language spoken)
MCCARTHY: Defense analyst Zaid Hamid runs a Web site called BrassTacks. He passionately tells viewers that the next target of the United States is the Pakistan Intelligence Agency, ISI, and the army.
HAMID: (Foreign language spoken)
MCCARTHY: "The attack on the army general headquarters this fall was to kill the army chief and to eliminate all the leadership," he says. "The suicide attack on a mosque attended by military officers in Rawalpindi this month, was to kill the senior leaders offering prayers," he says.
Zaid Hamid declined to be interviewed.
Analyst Najam Sethi says the danger in conspiratorial thinking is that it dissuades Pakistanis from owning up to their own problems.
SETHI: Therefore we are unable to come up with our own solutions to some of those problems. And then some of those solutions are thrust upon us or explained to us from outside. We tend to resent it because we said this is an imported solution.
MCCARTHY: And Sethi says in the absence of credible information, you tend to get conspiracy theories. "The oxygen for which," he says, "is anti-Americans."
Julie McCarthy, NPR News, Islamabad.
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