From Naved to 26/11: How Pakistan has reacted when it's been accused of terrorism

The response of the Pakistani media and state to Wednesday’s Udhampur attack on a BSF convoy by two gunmen alleged to be from Pakistan, expectedly follows the usual formula: A troika of denial, misdirection and self-victimisation.

Even as captured gunman Mohammad Naved's father Mohammad Yakub admitted on Thursday that he was"the unfortunate father" and pleaded for his life to be spared, the spokesperson of Pakistan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs Qazi M Khalilullah sidestepped the admission, saying,"We have also seen media reports and I will not offer any comment on that issue".

The Express Tribune reported Pakistan's denial, quoting government sources who said, "NADRA (Pakistan's National Database and Registration Authority) record shows Indian claims of an arrested person, Usman Khan, originating from Pakistan are totally baseless".

But wait. To digress slightly, isn't this the same NADRA that could only authenticate 40 percent of voters in a Lahore constituency (May 2013 Pakistani general elections), according to a report in Dawn? Isn't this also the same NADRA whose top ranking officials were " involved in facilitating attempts by terrorists and miscreants to obtain fake identity cards" as reported by The Express Tribune on Thursday? The report adds that 22,000 fake computerised national identity cards were issued in 2014 alone.

But this sort of misdirection occurs only when the Pakistani media and state actually choose to acknowledge an incident.

 From Naved to 26/11: How Pakistan has reacted when its been accused of terrorism

Captured gunman Mohammad Naved. PTI

The Pakistani MOFA website carries a strongly-worded statement about “the unprovoked ceasefire violations (that) were started by India” on Tuesday, that resulted in two civilians “embrac(ing) shahadat”. It ends with a reference to India’s “continuous unprovoked ceasefire violations” and how Islamabad “impressed upon” New Delhi the need to “observe the 2003 Ceasefire Understanding to create peace and tranquility at the LoC and Working Boundary”. But Wednesday’s incident was only mentioned in a brief statement by Khalilullah, who accused India of “fabricated incidents”.

A number of newspapers have taken the cue and either buried or ignored the story entirely, opting instead to play up the Sialkot cross-border firing with a healthy dose of self-victimisation, relying heavily on the MOFA’s statement pronouncement  of India’s “continuous unprovoked ceasefire violations”.

Among those that actually reported on the Udhampur attack, most ran a threadbare and largely perfunctory report like the one that appears in The Express Tribune and Pakistan Today. Both pieces carry no mention of captured militant, even while noting that "one of them was neutralised". The Express Tribune article also indulges in misdirection, by stating that rebel groups in the region “have been fighting hundreds of thousands of Indian forces… for independence or a merger of the disputed territory with Pakistan”.

The Nation provides a quote-heavy report and admirably chooses not to gloss over details. However, an opinion piece in the same newspaper questions the logic of differentiating between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ terrorists, but makes a thinly-veiled effort to shift the blame by hinting that Islamabad’s lack of action on anti-India groups may be linked to “Beijing (being) perfectly fine with eastward looking jihadists as long as they steer clear of the multi-pronged CPEC (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor) routes”.

In the past too, Pakistan has leaned heavily on its three-pronged approach.

27 July, 2015 – Gunmen attack Gurdaspur

Following the terror attack in Punjab’s Gurdaspur, the MOFA was quick to condemn “terrorism in all its forms and manifestations” (words that are in danger of losing meaning, such is the frequency of their use and re-use). But after three days, the ministry issued a response to India’s, specifically Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s allegation that the terrorists were from Pakistan.

The statement embodied all three elements of the typical response: Denial (Pakistan “categorically rejects the baseless allegations”), misdirection (noting that Singh’s “provocative comments are a threat to peace and security of the region”) and finally, self-victimisation (identifying “a continuing tendency of India to cast blame on Pakistan for any terrorist incident in India”). Member of National Assembly from the PML-N Talal Chaudhry took a similar view, as reported by newspapers including The Pioneer, pointing to the “habit of the Indian government to blame Pakistan as and when an incident occurs at its soil no matter if it is an outcome of their own repressive policies”.

Punjab Police during the Gurdaspur attack. PTI

Punjab Police during the Gurdaspur attack. PTI

A Daily Pakistan report emphatically headlined ‘Indian hyper-nationalists, leaders take 3 seconds to blame Pakistan for terror attack’ milks the opinion beyond the realms of hyperbole by proclaiming that “(e)verytime there is an incident in India, Pakistan becomes an easy scapegoat. There are literally dozens of separatists movements in India, from Khalistan to Kashmir and Maoist Naxalites, however Indian far-right does not let any facts get in the way of blaming Pakistan .”  

Dailies like the Pakistan Observer took these sentiments a step further as in an opinion piece that claims:

“Whatever happened there in Gurdaspur seems a desperate effort of face saving by the Indian authorities. They were facing no doubt very bitter criticism from their own nation and from the International forces on sending a spy-drone to Pakistan and just to pacify and cool-down the critics and to give the world an impression that India is in a serious trouble at the hands of Pakistan-supported ‘Militants’.

Indeed.

Fortunately, The Express Tribune took a reasoned and longer view of events, stating that “(w)hoever was responsible for the attack, it will have automatically fuelled the trust deficit that already exists, and further bedevil any chance of peace between the two states”.

26 November, 2008 – Mumbai terror attacks

Former DG of Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency Tariq Khosa’s op-ed published on Monday by Dawn, claimed that Pakistan “facing the truth and admitting mistakes” was a prerequisite to dealing with the Mumbai attacks “planned and launched from its soil”. But this admittedly bold decision by the author to go public — not to mention the publication for carrying the piece — came 2,441 days since the events of 26 November 2008.

At the time, condemnations were issued by then president Asif Ali Zardari, then prime minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani and the MOFA. Amidst the denunciation of the heinous attacks, emerged a familiar theme: Self-victimisation. The MOFA statement mentioned how “Pakistan itself has suffered because of terrorism and sacrificed much in fighting this threat”, while Zardari spoke about how “Pakistan and India will continue their joint struggles to counter the actions of terrorists”. Gilani played it safe and highlighted the “need to take strict measures to eradicate terrorism and extremism from the region”.

But elsewhere and in a classic case of misdirection, conspiracy theories were doing the rounds. From the Geo News report about the claims of Pakistani lawyer CM Farooqe that in 2006, Ajmal Kasab — the only terrorist captured during the Mumbai attacks — had been arrested in Kathmandu by Indian authorities, with the help of Nepalese forces. The Economic Times had at the time reported on a series of conspiracy theories being floated at the time including an editorial by the Frontier Post that chose to shift focus to an alleged intrusion into Pakistani airspace by IAF jets. The most mind-boggling theory was arguably propounded by Pakistani political commentator Zaid Hamid on the NewsOne programme Mujhe Ikhtilaf Hai (I disagree) where he suggested that the 26/11 attacks were perpetrated by “Western Zionists” and “Hindu Zionists”.

It was in February that the Pakistani media began to acknowledge the inescapable fact that Kasab was in fact, Pakistani, as this piece in Dawn points out. The report quotes a high-ranking government official as saying, “Sadly, it has been established that Kasab is a Pakistani national”.

Not entirely unexpectedly, things took a turn for the bizarre with the same publication reporting eight days later that “the Samjhota Express incident and Mumbai attacks were interconnected”. The report quoted Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi saying “the (26/11) investigation process could only proceed if India responds to questions asked by Pakistan (about Samjhota Express)”.

How the Pakistani State and media twists and weaves its way through the Udhampur attack will become clearer over the next few days. We predict a strategy that combines denial, misdirection and self-victimisation.

Updated on 7 August

Updated Date: Aug 07, 2015 10:59:06 IST