On The Side Talking Points

What is the wildest conspiracy theory pertaining to Pakistan?

Updated 19 Jun, 2015 06:35pm

Osama bin Laden was a US agent, who perished long before the raid in Abbottabad three years ago. Malala Yousafzai is also an American agent. Most of the country’s troubles and travails are, in fact, not homegrown, but the result of an omnipotent Jewish lobby — also known as a yahoodi saazish. And if it’s not the Jews stirring up trouble, it must be the Indians.

Here in Pakistan, we love our conspiracy theories. Bored of mundane explanations for the country’s problems, such as mismanagement, poor governance and political instability, we eagerly come up with alternative theories to keep things exciting — and, more often than not, the media also joins the conspiracy chorus.

What has been the wildest conspiracy theory pertaining to Pakistan? Herald invited a number of writers, commentators and intellectuals to sound off on the question.

The almighty USA had bombed the area between Kaghan and Kashmir to capture Osama Bin Laden, causing an earthquake in the process

Supporters of Jamiat Ulama-e-Islam burn an American flag to condemn the killing of Osama bin Laden, in Kuchlak | AP
Supporters of Jamiat Ulama-e-Islam burn an American flag to condemn the killing of Osama bin Laden, in Kuchlak | AP

I heard the mother of all conspiracy theories in November 2005, a month after the earthquake. I was forced into visiting a family, where the husband worked for the government in some mid-level job. While the women got talking, the man leaned over, sly smile and jogging eyebrows, to conspiratorially ask me what I thought of the earthquake. “Bhonchal baray ki khyal ae fer?”

The demeanour left me reeling. Why, a hundred thousand innocent souls had perished, property worth billions destroyed and he thought it was some trivial absurdity. Seeing my reaction, he condescendingly informed me that he knew the reality from a ‘respectable’ Urdu paper.

The story was OBL’s extermination in his hideout somewhere between Kashmir and Kaghan. Why, I had to be stupid and ignorant if I did not know that almighty USA had bombed the area to get the man! The bomb was one humongous meanie that bored deep into the ground before blowing itself up. Hence the earthquake.

But here was the twist. The Indians said they would only permit the scheme to go through if no damage was caused on their side of the border. That was a cinch for almighty USA. Why, they had just the kind of bombs that could guide destruction in any programmed direction and the Indians had nothing to worry about.

The Americans sent their invisible fleet of jets with their gopher arsenal that burrowed right under the mountains and detonated under OBL’s bed, even as the man was preparing to rise for the dawn prayer. For good measure and in order to teach Pakistan a sound lesson for harbouring a terrorist even as we pretended to be a US ally, it was ensured that a goodly portion of the rest of the country got plastered as well.

The man who believed this story was 59. I think he also believed in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy.

By Salman Rashid, travel writer and fellow of Royal Geographical Society

The US is behind all terror attacks in Pakistan

Supporters of Jamaat-e-Islami chant slogans during an anti American rally in Abbottabad | AP
Supporters of Jamaat-e-Islami chant slogans during an anti American rally in Abbottabad | AP

Sunshine bores the daylights out of folk in Pakistan, particularly our quaint Islamabad — city of the faithful, where faith means believing in things even when common sense suggests otherwise. In this capital of rumors and allusions, we’ve learned to understand political phenomena mostly in terms of conspiracy. And sure, a little intrigue never hurt anyone. But can we afford to chase after shadows when real monsters haunt the land?

My favourite theory: The Taliban are secretly working for the US; or another version of the same theory: That the US is behind all terror attacks in Pakistan.

This theory makes me feel sorry for the conspiracy theorist and even more so for the Taliban. A majority of those who defend this theory – that the Taliban are in cahoots with the US – are also the same people you will hear championing the Taliban as the great guardians of Islam each time they execute a successful attack against a US target. Which also makes the US – this so-called sponsor of attacks on itself – a champion of Islam.

It’s a shame because I don’t think the conspiracy theorists intended to make this point. It’s our fault for making the connection.

The worst part is that this theory completely undermines the hard work and planning the Taliban put into each attack. How frustrated must they feel when they carry out spectacular assaults and everyone turns around and says the US must be behind them? It’s unfair, dammit.

On a serious note, I have my own conspiracy theory about why Pakistanis love conspiracies: When secrecy is part of the very system of government, when all you have are the shreds of ‘truth’ that you get from your elected representatives, military officials and the media, sometimes you can’t help but buy the cuckoo explanation or reach the wacky conclusion. Simply put, rationality is much more likely to thrive in a space of better information.

By Mehreen Zahra-Malik, Pakistan correspondent for Reuters

The real Ajmal Kasab, despite a public hanging, is still alive

A man reads a newspaper about the legal process over the Mumbai attacks, in Kolkata | AFP
A man reads a newspaper about the legal process over the Mumbai attacks, in Kolkata | AFP

I came across a Facebook page one day stating that a certain Ajmal Kasab was an entirely different person to the one shown in captivity by Indian law enforcement. It also said that the real Kasab, despite an unfortunate public hanging, was very much alive and well.

This wasn’t overly surprising, after all, there used to be a Facebook page dedicated to the idea that Hitler was still living in some Italian monastery as a nun.

But this page claimed to have proof.

There were photos. It was hard to tell from them whether the man’s name was Ajmal Kasab or not, as it was hard to tell whether the man was from Faridkot, Okara, or even Pakistan. But, at least, there were photos, which bore no resemblance to the alleged Kasab who died in India, just like the other seven billion or so people on this earth that bore no resemblance to him.

But wait! There was more. The page, lovingly devoted to exposing the treacheries of ‘Jew TV’, also claimed that the entire drama had been staged by RAW agents, on the payroll of CIA, who had bribed Pakistani news channels to create a false background for Kasab, and had paid then interior minister Rehman Malik to allege that he had received training from Lashkar-e-Taiba.

Kasab I mean, not the minister, who sounds like he’s never received any kind of training in his life. Well I read the page, had a good chuckle, left the obligatory ‘Helo brothers, myself am actually Ajmal Kasab but have to change the name becaus RAW is behind me’ comment, and moved on with my life. Fast forward to earlier this May when I read about a school teacher from Okara claiming, in a court of law, to have met the real and presumably still living Ajmal Kasab only a few days prior to giving his testimony. He was providing testimony in the trial of the nine Lashkar-e-Taiba members allegedly involved in planning the Mumbai attacks, and had previously testified to not knowing Kasab at all, in addition to saying he’d been threatened for siding with the prosecution.

Still, one spark is all that’s needed to rekindle a fire. I think I’ll stop browsing Facebook for a while.

By Haseeb Asif, Lahore-based writer

Believing that there are no conspiracies

US national and CIA contractor Raymond Davis | AP
US national and CIA contractor Raymond Davis | AP

Worse than the conspiracy theories themselves is how many of them have actually been proven (even partially) correct. Take the whole ‘polio vaccinators are spies’ one for example. Well, guess what? It turned out that the CIA, true to form, actually were using such covers for its extensive spying program. It has now promised not to do so again, which means that they’ll probably move onto bigger and better cover identities.

Then there’s Blackwater, reports of which were initially considered rabid fear mongering. Once again, the claims, even if some were completely wild, were not too far off the mark. And as for reports of omnipresent CIA agents roaming around Pakistan, armed and up to no good? Well, Raymond Davis is exhibit A here. The same could be said of the early claims that drones were in fact operated from Pakistani territory; they were. And what about the oft-repeated belief that the TTP et al are ‘foreign agents’? Well, there is certainly evidence of facilitation from across the borders, and there is the small matter of Mullah Fazlullah being located in Kunar. Add the CIA’s Penny Lane facility to the mix, which aimed to ‘turn’ jihadis into double agents, factor in Abdullah Mehsud’s post-Guantanamo attacks on the Chinese in Pakistan and you have what seem to be the dots of a rather vast conspiracy.

And here’s where the theorists tend to overreach: They keep drawing lines even when the dots run out, connecting to the Rockefellers, the Illuminati with a dose of Dajjal thrown in. That then makes their claims wild-eyed and implausible to most thinking people. Over-indulgence in these theories does of course effectively absolve one of national responsibility for the mess we find ourselves in, but to believe that there are no conspiracies may well be the greatest conspiracy theory of all.

By Zarrar Khuhro, Assistant Editor, Dawn

The HAARP Conspiracy

That cold day in Alaska, the air was thick with tension as HAARP director Dr Abraham Yehud, watched by other white-coated scientists, unlocked the control panel and pressed the red button. A powerful burst of electromagnetic waves from HAARP’s 180 VHF transmitters smashed into the earth’s ionosphere, creating plasma hot spots that merrily danced in the sky. Years of patient physics research, aimed at coupling the earth’s mantle to charged atmospheric ions, was now at stake. All eyes went to the global seismograph monitors fixed on the walls. For a while nothing showed. Then wild cheering broke out — Northern Pakistan was bucking like a bronco. When it was all over, there were 90,000 dead under the rubble.

Fast forward five years to 2010. The ambitious Dr Hanood, though distrusted by some because of his dual nationality, had ousted Dr Yehud. Widely respected in the CIA for his expertise in weather change, he was a patient man. A decade-long study of monsoon patterns in South Asia had convinced Hanood that now was the time to act. Enhanced solar activity meant that HAARP’s pulses could go unnoticed if emitted at moderate intensity. But they could still do the job if turned on for at least nine days. He was right. By July, a flood of biblical proportions left a fifth of Pakistan under water.

This fictionalised story is not pure fiction. In the October 17, 2010 issue of Dawn, Pakistan’s premier scientist, a Fellow of the Royal Society and former head of the Higher Education Commission, wrote an eye-popping article entitled “HAARP”. He suggested that many disasters which Pakistanis normally assume to be natural were, in fact, deliberately engineered by the United States. The good doctor has subsequently retreated somewhat from his position that HAARP caused the 2005 earthquake, but still insists that it could cause floods and weather change. A good course in high school physics could disabuse him of even this possibility. Meanwhile his article makes it understandable why, in spite of the billions pumped into it, Pakistan’s higher education system progressed so little in his tenure.

By Pervez Hoodbhoy, nuclear physicist, essayist and peace activist

This was originally published in Herald's June 2014 issue. To read more, subscribe to Herald in print.