Cyril Almeida: In Pakistan, the blame game only compounds our troubles

A toxic brew of militancy has gone unnoticed by the media
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The Independent Online

"Make no mistake, al-Qa'ida and its extremist allies are a cancer that risks killing Pakistan from within," President Obama said while introducing his strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan. Trouble is, Pakistanis are not convinced.

With militants rampaging through a police academy in Lahore yesterday morning, security reinforcements were beaten to the scene by reporters and cameramen from local TV channels that pump out raucous, bawdy reporting. It's a familiar pattern, one that transfixes a nation that can see its own dying live on TV while the state flails about helplessly every time.

Within hours – if not minutes – though, another pattern begins to play out, often unnoticed by the outside world unfamiliar with the local languages in which most local coverage is done.

Blame is apportioned. But rare is the voice that blames the militants. The first candidate for blame is inevitably RAW, India's mysterious and, were Pakistanis to be believed, infinitely powerful intelligence agency. Some of it is perhaps inevitable; when faced with a frightening, amorphous threat that seemingly strikes at will, the oldest of enemies is trotted out as a whipping boy.

But as the day wears on and the channels dig into their archives and chronicle the orgy of violence that has consumed this country in recent years, the second suspect is flogged: America's war in Afghanistan.

Since public proof of Indian involvement in violence in Pakistani cities is thin, it becomes necessary to acknowledge the possibility of local complicity.

But almost in the same breath the "experts", anchors and sundry talking heads provide the excuse: "Yes, our tribal areas may be a source of militancy, but there was none before America arrived in Afghanistan"; "The Pakistani state is responsible for the violence because it does America's bidding."

Nowhere, at least in the vernacular media, is there talk of what some Pakistanis have pieced together in recent years: a toxic brew of militancy is emerging in Pakistan in which earlier identities and separate ideologies may no longer be relevant, and it's gone unnoticed by a media that clings to the fears of the past – India, the US.

Consider what happened when Rehman Malik, the Interior adviser, spoke to the media yesterday. Mr Malik said he had no proof yet of who was behind the attack, but flagged the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi as a possible suspect.

It was a logical choice. The Lashkar is a Punjabi Sunni outfit that earned an especially violent reputation in the 1990s when Pakistan's Shia and Sunni militant groups were at each other's throats.

Probably unknown to most Pakistanis is that al-Qa'ida's ideology has a virulent strain of sectarianism – and that since 9/11 the collaboration between Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and al-Qa'ida is believed to have grown to the point that the Laskhar is considered the local arm of al-Qa'ida.

Predictably, when Mr Malik mentioned the Lashkar – Lahore is the capital of Punjab, the province from which most of the Lashkar's cadre is drawn – the reporters ignored him. "What about RAW?"; "Wasn't today's attack similar to the Mumbai attack?" – thereby implying that perhaps India had a role to play in that, too. Nobody asked a follow-up about the Lashkar.

In the days ahead the investigation into yesterday's attack may reveal who is behind it. But if the past is any yardstick, don't expect the media here to make much of local involvement, if any.

Instead, anonymous sources may leak "clues" of Indian perfidy, as has been the case with the attacks on the Sri Lankan cricket team. Recently, it was "revealed" that some of the weapons used by the militants in that attack are used by India's security forces.

Weapons used by third countries were identified, too, but, predictably, the other countries did not make the cut in the front-page headlines. "Indian weapons used in attack on Sri Lankans" – no need to read the fine print below.

But if I can connect the dots, why can't others in the media?

Because I'm not really "Pakistani". I write in English (Westernised!). I don't believe the primary goal of the Indians and Americans is to break up Pakistan. I don't drink at the fountain of right-of-centre tripe that passes for public discourse. I don't believe a "strong" Pakistan, ie. one armed to the teeth, is a prerequisite for a "better" Pakistan.

All of that makes me a minority. You don't win a media war being in the minority.

The writer is an assistant editor and columnist for Dawn. The views expressed are his own