It doesn’t take a murderous attack on a 14-year-old schoolgirl to know that the Pakistani jihadi heart is today filled with poison.
But even days after Malala Yousafzai, the teenaged campaigner for girl’s education in the heart of the Pakistani Taliban homeland of the Swat Valley, was shot at by the jihadi-minded gunmen, the narrative among the Pakistani far-right reflects a sickening, unrepentant tone.
Malala has been flown to the UK for treatment, but the move also effectively removes her from harm’s way for the moment: the Taliban has said that while Malala may have escaped this time, they will kill her someday.
If you think that it shows up abject cowardice for groups of armed men to issue death threats to an innocent 14-year-old girl, the contortions that even mainstream political parties in Pakistan have subject themselves to for fear of offending the Taliban by blaming them for the attack are even worse.
Leaders across the political spectrum, from Prime Minister Raja Perves Ashraf to Interior Minister Rehman Malik to Opposition leaders, including the charismatic Imran Khan, have limited themselves to issuing ritualistic proforma condemnation of the attack without criticising the Taliban by name.
In fact, Malik went so far as to claim that the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) was perhaps not involved in the attack on Malala, and that it may have been the handiwork of a splinter group. It was a bizarre attempt to offer the Pakistani Taliban an alibi, given that the group’s leaders had themselves crowed about the attack, and their intention to deliver death to Malala on another occasion.
Imran Khan, whose soft approach to the Taliban has earned him the nickname of ‘Taliban’ Khan, too appeared to walk on eggshells to avoid displeasing the jihadi groups. Khan and his partymen perversely invoked the emotive issue of US drone attacks in the ‘Wild West’ tribal areas of Pakistan to establish a false equivalence between the attack on Malala and the killing of jihadis in those drone attacks.
As this Pakistani writer points out, the problem with Khan’s reasoning is in the manner in which he contextualises the attack on Malala. “The moment you and your supporters say ‘we condemn the attack on Malala and also those who shot her, but…’, the moment this ‘but’ enters the rationale, the duplicity of thought, the ambiguity of intent, the ambivalence of attitude and the confusion, yes confusion of vision bubbles to the surface like a toxic pollutant.”
Of course, for days after the attack on Malala, civil society in Pakistan responded with an outpouring of grief and outrage. But today, the Pakistani social media space has been vitiated by elaborate efforts to justify – or at least provide an ideological reasoning for – the attack on Malala.
As this blogger notes, some fringe Pakistani political parties and extremist outfits are working actively to spin the attack on Malala as the work of the CIA.According to this bizarre conspiracy theory, the attack on Malala was intended to provide the justification to continue the drone attacks in tribal areas of Pakistan, to protest which Imran Khan had recently taken out a “peace march” to Waziristan. Imran Khan’s peace march, one report claimed, had caused civil society in the West to put pressure on their governments to stop the drone attacks, and by falsely blaming the Taliban for the attack on Malala, the US was providing the grounding for drone operations to continue.
More insidiously, archived photographs showing Malala and her father meeting US officials (including Richard Holbrooke, who served in the CIA, among other capacities) have been circulating on Twitter and Facebook. The unstated but cynical attempt appears to be to project Malala as a ‘CIA agent’ who deserved what she got, and more.
Such perverse justifications of the attack on Malala provide the “ideological ground that allows terrorist outfits like the Taliban to operate,” points out blogger Jahanzaib Haque. “It is an information-fuelled rabbit hole, which goes deeper and deeper depending on the depths an individual wishes to go, and unfortunately, whether it is a preppy teenage PTI supporter up at the top, or all the way down to a hardened ultra-nationalist being paid to pour out propaganda online, the result is all the same: It creates the space for terrorism and extremism to flourish.”
It probably didn’t need a murderous attack on a 14-year-old schoolgirl to confirm that the Pakistani jihadi heart is today filled with poison. But the elaborate justification of that attack by mainstream political parties and by blind adherents of extremist ideologies shows just how deep the venom has travelled.