Public support of Malala Yousafzai fuels a new set of conspiracy theories

 

ISLAMABAD

It's a well-known fact in Pakistan that Osama bin Laden died in 2006 and the US commando raid on his compound last May was merely a "drama" orchestrated by President Barack Obama to help win his re-election.

Of course if that were true, Obama might have waited until after that first presidential debate to fake bin Laden's killing.

But no matter. Pakistanis love a good conspiracy theory.

Some national newspapers and TV cable outlets routinely report that the United States is behind terrorist attacks and supports the vicious war the Pakistani Taliban is waging against Pakistan's government and military. The U.S. Embassy in Islamabad has to regularly churn out "Corrections for the Record" that take media to task for carrying outrageous claims.

For years, nefarious NATO and U.S. warplanes, including B-52s, were sighted in the skies over Pakistan as frequently as Bigfoot and Elvis are still seen on some grassy knolls in America.

Now, the latest conspiracy theory to gain traction is the notion that America was behind the Taliban hit on Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani student who criticized the extremist group for denying girls education.

The purported purpose of the ruse: to make the Taliban look really, really bad, and thus generate public sympathy for CIA drone strikes — and whip up support for a Pakistani Army invasion of North Waziristan to rout out Haqqani network militants based there.

A Taliban spokesman immediately claimed responsibility for the attack on the schoolgirl and her two classmates. But no matter. The idea of U.S. involvement has spread widely, even generating its own meme on Facebook.

A photo of Obama sharing a hearty laugh with members of his staff is making the rounds, being circulated and "liked" by thousands on social media sites. Its caption reads: "Sir, they still believe that Taliban attacked Malala."

To many Pakistanis, Yousafzai is a national hero. But others claim she is a spy because she once met with the late U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke — another photo shared on the Internet.

Part of the reason there's so much conspiracy thinking is because Pakistanis live in a security state that many believe is controlled by the shadowy spy apparatus known as Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI. It is widely seen — and feared — as a hidden force capable of steering domestic and foreign affairs.

A.Z. Hilali, chairman of the political science department at the University of Peshawar, says politics is also behind much of the conspiracy mongering.

"When the incident happened with Malala Yousafzai, the people thought the security establishment might be involved because there is pressure from the U.S. that they have to take action against the Haqqani network," Hilali said. "That perception was already existing in Pakistan. Right-wing parties just exploited the situation."

But now, said Hilali, "Right wing parties are in a great crisis because Malala has deep sympathies from the common people. . . . They believe the Taliban has crossed a boundary. Malala has become this symbol and the right wing is losing support."

International relations professor Nasreen Ghufran said a common sentiment in Peshawar is that the horrendous deed had to serve other agendas. "They think that Taliban on their own would not do anything unless the ISI and the army is behind it," she said.

There was good reason to think the U.S. was pushing for an operation in North Waziristan. In August, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Pakistan's military leaders "had developed plans to go into Waziristan. . . . Our understanding is that hopefully they're going to take that step in the near future."

Pakistan denied it, saying its military lacked the manpower to do it and they never did.

As for the theories that besmirch Yousafzai as an agent of the West, they will ultimately come to naught and even enhance her stature, said Hilali. The Islamists "were already against that girl, but there is not just one Malala, there are many Malalas."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
Powdered colors are displayed for sale at a market ahead of the Holi festival in Bhopal, India
techHere's what you need to know about the riotous occasion
Arts and Entertainment
Larry David and Rosie Perez in ‘Fish in the Dark’
theatreReview: Had Fish in the Dark been penned by a civilian it would have barely got a reading, let alone £10m advance sales
News
Details of the self-cleaning coating were published last night in the journal Science
science
News
Approved Food sell products past their sell-by dates at discounted prices
i100
News
Life-changing: Simone de Beauvoir in 1947, two years before she wrote 'The Second Sex', credited as the starting point of second wave feminism
peopleHer seminal feminist polemic, The Second Sex, has been published in short-form to mark International Women's Day
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Assistant / Credit Controller

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are an award-winning digit...

Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform Engineer - VMware / SAN / Tier3 DC

£45000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform En...

Recruitment Genius: Purchasing Assistant

£10000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger Assistant

£17000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable