Some people have asked us why he have not "covered" the bomb attacks in Karachi yesterday.
This is meant simply to be a brief explanation of why we did not blog about the carnage that engulfed Karachi yesterday or have not blogged about earlier such incidents. It's not that terrorist strikes do not affect us or that we live in some sort of cocoon far removed from the reality of present-day Pakistan. They certainly affect us very personally - emotionally if not physically - and, in fact, we know many people who have lost friends and relatives in the bloodshed or seen them injured. Many of our colleagues in the media have also suffered.
No. The reason for not blogging about it has more to do with seeing no need to replicate the wall to wall coverage that is already present in the media, and with a reluctance to speculate on something about which the facts are often still murky, at least to us. Yes, we know that there have been terrorist strikes in Karachi on Ashura and Chehlum, for example, but can we really say with 100% surety who was behind them? Can we add anything to the discussion that has not already been said? All too often people are willing to jump in with prescriptive opinions on the basis of silly assumptions, hearsay and wrong data.
Let's take the Ashura bombing and subsequent "rioting" that followed. The original claim of a suicide attack on the procession was eventually officially struck down (after a week!) and it was pretty apparent right at the beginning that the burning of Boulton Market et al was hardly an act of 'spontaneous rioting by enraged people in the targeted procession.' (Processionists at such religious congregations do not generally carry with them chain-cutters, gloves and inflammatory chemical material, all of which were used to break into shops and burn them, as we saw on the closed circuit camera footage.) Now, had there actually been a suicide bomber, the probability of jihadists being behind the bombing would have been quite high - if there's one thing paid mercenaries are unlikely to do, it is to sacrifice themselves for a 'cause'. But since there was apparently none, the possibilities of who could be behind the bombing multiply. This does not mean that jihadists (and I will come back to them later) could not be behind the attack (in fact, at least one spokesman for them claimed it). Just that the pool of possible perpetrators increase.
Depending on your point of view, it could be Al-Qaeda aligned jihadists (Pakistani Taliban or Lashkar-e-Jhangvi types), foreign agents (out to sow chaos in Pakistan and depending on your point of view, this could mean Indian, Afghani, American), local shadow government agents (out to derail the government), or even ruthless political players (out to score petty local gains). The only thing we know for certain, at this time, is that whoever it was, falls squarely into the definition of "terrorist", i.e. they want to achieve some political aim through an act of violence that is designed to create a scare among ordinary folk.
Let's look also at the allegations hurled about after the arson that followed the Ashura blast. The MQM immediately blamed the 'Taliban' (in their mind often a shorthand for Pashtuns from the north who have active support from the Pashtuns in Karachi), while others immediately blamed the MQM, ostensibly because the City Government (CDGK) it controls wanted to shift / demolish some shops in the area earlier and, sotto voce, because it allegedly wants to drive the Pashtuns out of the city by initiating a backlash. Neither side has been able to provide conclusive proof so far.
The problem with the MQM allegations is not that the jihadists could not be responsible, it is that its knee-jerk pinning the blame for every such act of violence on the Taliban / tribal Pashtuns reeks not a little bit of political opportunism and racism. Is it too much to ask to wait for an investigation to uncover some facts?
On the other hand, the Jamaat-e-Islami led allegations against the MQM, in this case at least, have not yet been backed up by real proof. Not only has the supposed CDGK plan to evict shopkeepers whose shops were actually burnt not been backed up by any concrete proof, it boggles the mind that, with such a dastardly plan in place, the MQM would go out of its way to capture footage of the arsonists and provide it to the police and the media.
What we do know is this: since the calculated act of arson could not have been carried out without the cover of the blast, it would be reasonable to connect the two. So, those who planned the arson would, in all probability, have had to know at least that there would be a situation created wherein their activity was possible. There is no point in speculating beyond that.
However, a final word about jihadists, a term I am using simply as a shorthand for a certain mindset. There is a section of opinion that has got so carried away with its anti-American and anti-establishment rhetoric that it paints the Taliban and its allies as some sort of romantic resistance movement against neocolonialism. And I don't mean just Imran Khan or our shadow warriors like Colonel Imam and Hameed Gul. I have heard even some otherwise reasonable leftists spout similar rhetoric. Let's get one thing straight: they may be anti-American (right now) but the Taliban are no resistance movement against neocolonialism. They and their allies are among the most ideologically regressive bunch of people to walk this earth who would be all too willing to be in bed with Unocal once again if they were in power.
But one of the other most irritating things to hear in the media is the claim that such acts of murder could never be committed by Muslims. That of course not only blithely ignores the whole history of internecine Muslim violence over 1400 years, but also deliberately ignores the commonality between the Taliban and their jihadist allies: their Wahhabist aversion to Shia Islam. Al Qaeda, The Taliban, the Mehsud-led Tehrik-e-Taliban, the Sipahe Sahaba, the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, the Jaish-e-Mohammad, the Lashkar-e-Taiba et al, they are all part of a continuum that sees Shias as innovators in religion (and thus worthy of condemnation) or outright heretics (and thus worthy of being killed). And this mindset has been tolerated at one point or another (or continues to be tolerated in the case of some) by not only their military handlers but also by the majority of Pakistanis sold on the idea of romantic resistance.
So let's not kid ourselves. The jihadists may not have been behind the bomb attacks in Karachi on Ashura and Chehlum. But not because they could not intrinsically do this sort of thing.