Posts Tagged ‘Nadir Hassan’

Nadir Hassan’s Missing Link

Thursday, November 1st, 2012

Nadir Hassan wrote for Express Tribune that it is time to de-link drones and terrorism. Nadir Hassan’s analysis is based on a commonly accepted idea: that TTP and Afghan Taliban are two distinct groups with different goals.

Much of the terrorist violence in the country is the handiwork of the TTP, a coalition of various militant groups that operate inside Pakistan, while drone attacks chiefly target militant groups that have found refuge in the tribal agencies but are mainly interested in carrying out attacks in Afghanistan. Linking the use of drones on the latter with the violence of the former makes about as much sense as blaming Protestants for the sins of Catholicism. They may have similar ideologies rooted in the same religion but they have goals and aspirations which rarely overlap.

Unfortunately, this appears to be more wishful thinking than verifiable fact. In February 2009, Geo TV reported that TTP leaders in Waziristan formed a new group named Shura Ittehad-ul-Mujahideen and swore allegiance to Mullah Omar as Amir-ul-Maumineen.

The basis for this thought is that militant groups that attack American targets in Afghanistan don’t usually attack targets in Pakistan. Some of these groups, like the followers of Jalaluddin Haqqani who has also sworn allegiance to Mullah Omar, are even considered by some to be ‘pro-Pakistan’. Since these fighters of the ‘Haqqani network’ are not carrying out attacks inside Pakistan, it is assumed that they are not a threat. Nadir Hassan repeats this in his piece also.

In pursuing its own interests, the US uses its drone technology to target those it sees as a threat to its troops and interests in Afghanistan. That same instinct of self-preservation leads the US to constantly pressure Pakistan to carry out a military operation in North Waziristan against the Haqqani network, which has attacked targets only in Afghanistan. We have obviously refused to do so since the Haqqani network poses no immediate threat to Pakistan.

We should examine the claim that Afghan Taliban are only fighting an occupation by the Americans and don’t have broader goals. If this is true, why such attacks at the suicide bombing of the Eid Gah mosque in Maymana that killed almost 50 people including women and children? Why the Afghan Taliban threaten consequences to girls’ schools, including the killing of the headteacher of a girls’ school? Why the beheading of 17 people including women for attending a mixed-gender party? These are not the acts of a liberation army, they are the acts of militant group seeking to force its ideology on the people through violence and intimidation.

It is worth noting that the same types of attacks are carried out by TTP in Pakistan. The suicide bombing at Data Darbar, the attack on Malala for promoting education of girls. Yes, Afghan Taliban also attack American military bases, and TTP attacks Pakistan military bases, but even this raises an obvious question: Are TTP and the Afghan Taliban fighting two fronts of the same ideological war?

Hassan’s conclusion is worthy of consideration:

“The only distinction our military has drawn is that of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban. This may be about as unhelpful a designation as one could get. ‘Good’ Taliban are described as those attacking Afghanistan, while the baddies are those who go after us. Instead of moralistically differentiating between them, it would be far more persuasive to differentiate on the basis of practicality.”

So then the question we should be asking is whether it’s ‘practical’ to let a militant threat develop on our Western border. This is the question that neither Nadir Hassan nor anyone else seems willing to address.

Abdul Majeed: Why believe conspiracy theorists?

Monday, March 26th, 2012

In the piece below published by Express Tribune, Abdul Majeed examines the claims of journalist Nadir Hassan who recently wrote that all the anti-American conspiracy theories of recent years have proven to be true. After careful examination, though, Majeed finds Hassan’s argument lacking. We wanted to highlight this piece for our dear readers for two reasons.

First is that it reflects well on Express Tribune that the editors are willing to allow alternative points of view to those projected by their regular columnists.

Second, it should be noted that Mr Abdul Majeed is not an investigative journalist by training but a medical student. This may have some advantage for his ability to see through conspiracy theories as he is trained in the scientific method which puts the greatest value on facts.

In the pre-scientific period, many believed that medical issues like seizure were caused by evil jinn and the patient would be treated by a mystic who would try to expel the jinn to cure the seizure. Following fact-based research during the scientific revolution, it was learned that seizure was actually a result of medical causes like abnormal brain activity, stroke, fever, etc etc etc. As a result of this emphasis on facts instead of superstitions, doctors were able to cure more people improve quality of life for the masses.

Do we need a scientific revolution in journalism? Till date many journalists continue to look for modern day jinn like ‘foreign hand’ and ‘Hindu-Zionists’ to explain all types of events rather than using the scientific method to find facts that can give a correct conclusion based on reason, not superstition.

Abdul MajeedI read an article written in The Express Tribune yesterday by veteran journalist Nadir Hassan, titled “What if the conspiracy theorists are correct?”. In his piece, he said that all anti-US conspiracy theories of recent years have proven to be true. He also expressed the view that it is possible to be both anti-US and anti-Taliban at the same time.

I was surprised at the lack of understanding displayed by the esteemed writer. Conspiracy theories, by definition, cannot be proven either right or wrong; as far as anti-US conspiracy theories are concerned, he just glossed over a few of them and justified them later as being true. Anti-Americanism and conspiracy mongering are not as simple and straightforward as have been presented by Mr Hassan.

I would like to share some of my thoughts about conspiracy theories, their origin and genesis. According to historian Dr Mubarak Ali:

“Myths gradually have lost their appeal in those societies where intellectuals produced new ideas, thoughts, and concepts to guide people. Myths flourish in those societies which are stagnant and rely on the out dated ideas”.

We have all heard the following phrases:

Everything is being controlled by America

Hindus and Israelis are working in tandem to destroy Pakistan

This is all a Zionist global conspiracy

Osama was dead long before the May attacks

Dengue is an American Conspiracy

Al Qaeda is just a front for Amrika

Tehreek-e-Taliban are a bunch of Hindus

Imran Khan is a Jewish agent

It never ends.

Such conspiracy theories and people who promote them are present across the length and breadth of this world. From the most civilised countries to the most downtrodden ones – conspiracy theories weave their web of lies with relish.

A primary factor responsible for the proliferation of myths and conspiracy theories is the pathetic state of our textbooks. In 2003, the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI ) published a report titled “The Subtle Subversion“ on the state of textbooks in Pakistan. The report drew the following conclusions with regards to to textbooks in Pakistan:

Insensitivity to the religious diversity of the nation

Historical falsehoods and inaccuracies

Glorification of war and the military

Omissions that could have been enriching

A recent report by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) stated that schools in Pakistan are using textbooks that preach intolerance towards non-Muslim religious minorities. Probably the best text on the fallacies present in our textbooks is the book “Murder of History” written by historian K K Aziz in 1991.

Nadeem Farooq Paracha and Fasi Zaka have also written about the rise of conspiracy theories and the way they shape our understanding of the world. In a television program on “conspiracy theories”, Nadeem F Paracha recalled that the film “Loose Change” (about the theories regarding 9/11) was broadcasted in Pakistan with much fanfare. In fact, there were three to four other parts of that documentary that were subsequently made, in which the earlier mistakes were rectified. Those “other” versions were never shown in Pakistan.

The above-mentioned conspiracy theories have never been proven correct, neither can they ever be. As far as anti-Americanism is concerned, a survey for international broadcaster al Jazeera by Gallup Pakistan found that 59% of Pakistanis felt that the greatest threat to the country was the United States. A separate survey by the Pew Research Center, an independent pollster based in Washington, recorded that 64% of the Pakistani public regards the US “as an enemy” and only nine per cent believe it to be a partner.

In one of his columns, Fasi Zaka, suggested that the kind of anti-Americanism found these days (among the middle-classes of the country) is extremely ill-informed. He wrote that a lot of young Pakistanis are basing their understanding of international politics by watching low-budget straight-to-video ‘documentaries’ on YouTube!

These so-called documentaries that Zaka is talking about are squarely based on re-hashed conspiracy theories that mix age-old anti-Jewish tirades and paranoid fantasies about Zionists, Freemasons and the Illuminati. Locally, all these are then further mixed with flighty myths about certain Muslim leaders, sages and events recorded only in jihadi literature and flimsy ‘history books.’

The aforementioned article also pointed out that Farhat Taj’s research is not based on actual statistics and that’s a controversial thing to say. Her book “Taliban and Anti-Taliban” should be read by Mr Nadir for clarification.

The writer further metioned Zaid Hamid and Ali Azmat; these two have said a lot of weird things, but if one or two of them turned out to be true, it must be regarded as an exception, not the rule. Let’s not forget that Zaid Hamid said in Episode 17 of his program, “Iqbal ka Pakistan” that long marches or democracy can’t bring any change in the country.

In episode 21 of the same show, he mentioned “Tsunami” as a political force. Ali Azmat claimed in another show that after 1945, all the musical instruments in the world have been tuned to a specific frequency that is destructive for cellular structure and cause mass hypnotism and crowd control.

These are just some very obvious examples of conspiracy-mongering by these two guys. (If anyone is interested, please take out some time to read a complete post-mortem of Zaid Hamid’s musings in “Iqbal ka Pakistanhere), merely the tip of the iceberg.

At the end, I just have one thing to say to the respected Nadir Hassan: I expect better from you.

Conspiracies, Media and a Willing Public

Saturday, December 11th, 2010

I’m glad that the discussion of these fake Wikileaks cables has not ended with the apology of some newspapers. I’m truly disappointed – no, I am truly depressed – that even after the story is admitted to be fake, some newspapers and TV networks continue to peddle the story. If it is unknown to be a forgery, the story is a mistake. Once it is known, it is simply lies. So, why do these lies continue? Unfortunately, the answer is too complex for some simple conspiracy theory. But reading several writers today, you can begin to piece together the answer.

Nadeem F. Paracha calls them ‘The liars collective’, a media that is used by agency men to protect the vested interests of an establishment whose irrelevance threatens its very existence.

Each time any of these institutions is rocked by a scandal or an exposé, certain newspapers and TV channels suddenly start teeming with loud deniers who would go to absurd lengths to divert the public’s attention towards something more ‘substantial’, such as of course, the ‘record-breaking corruption’ of this government, the fantastic job the free judiciary is doing, or how India remains the greatest threat to Pakistan. Or some feel-good lectures by a crank or two, usually crammed with airy myths presented as historical facts, are unleashed.

This has happened so many times that one wonders whether what many journalists and politicians on the other side of the ideological fence say, is true. Whether most of the media personnel we see on our TV screens or read about in the newspaper, who are always so passionately waving the flag of Pakistan and spouting contempt against corruption (especially when a narrative by the establishment comes under stress), may very well be the proverbial ‘agency men?’

NFP, as usual, is on to something. In fact, his thesis is at least partially confirmed by one of these ‘agency men’ himself, Ahmed Quraishi, who admits using media to spread propaganda, even when it is not true.

Just like the Guardian and NYT, the Pakistani media retains the right to manipulate and highlight WikiLeaks documents that serve our interest. This could involve some exaggeration in some parts of the media. But not everything is ‘incorrect’, as the Guardian claimed.

The Pakistani story shifts the focus to India, and shows we too can use WikiLeaks for propaganda like everyone else. The Guardian and the other two journals have been doing the same for the past two weeks. I am not saying Pakistan did use WikiLeaks for propaganda but it certainly can, like everyone else.

This is not journalism, but psychological warfare by manipulating an unsuspecting public. It is not right for the CIA, and it is not right for RAW…and regardless of Ahmed Quraishi’s perverted justification – it is not right for him and the ISI to do either.

But even this is only part of the story. Unfortunately, things are not so simple. There is also the news agencies who have a perverse incentive to publish the craziest headlines without checking their facts. Cafe Pyala describes this situation in their post today:

The defence that “if anyone goes on Goggle [sic] and writes: Wikileaks Leaks About India, Israel and Afghanisan” one would be able to get the same news we got” would be uproariously funny were it not simultaneously so appalling. That’s your defence Online??? So tomorrow, if you go on the net and search for “Conspiracy Theories About Moon Landing Being Fake”, you would pass that along to news organizations as valid news? Second point: why exactly then do news organizations need you? I mean all they need to do to get their ‘news’ is Google (or Goggle, if that’s your thing), right?

Of course none of this takes away from the news organizations’ own responsibilities to verify stories they take on. Are we to gather from this that the news sense of the staff at these papers and channels has deteriorated to such an extent that NONE of them saw anything remotely strange about the story?

There are a lot of news researchers, producers, and editors out there who are not on the payroll of any intelligence agency. But they have their own vested interest, which is the public which consumes the news – us. As Nadir Hassan makes quite clear today, we also share responsibility for all this mess.

The media was only the vehicle for delivering the WikiLeaks-that-weren’t. The ultimate responsibility lies with us, the consumers. That the news stories based on the falsified cables were believed by so many people shows that they only told us what we so desperately want to be true. For a story to pass muster, it must ring true. And a heady brew of inflammatory textbooks, government sabre-rattling, media sensationalism and, it must be admitted, our own prejudice, have convinced a large percentage of the population that a hidden Hindu hand must be behind every local problem. Any media organisation which claimed, for example, that the slippery Swiss were behind the Baloch separatists, would be laughed into bankruptcy. Since we have so successfully demonised India, for many its involvement doesn’t so much as merit an arched eyebrow.

Since self-congratulation is easier than reflection, there will also be a lot of chatter in the coming days about the burgeoning photosphere. True, the fraudulent cables were first exposed as such by blogs and Twitter users. Inevitably, this will be used as proof that the Pakistani population is too sophisticated to fall for such hoaxes. Let’s not delude ourselves into thinking a few liberal journalists are representative of a country that is all too willing to believe the worst about its neighbour.

Fake stories are not published because of one sinister villain sitting in some hideout like in the movies. If it were so simple, we could simply find him and throw him behind bars. Problem solved. Unfortunately, there are complex reasons and complex motives behind media propaganda and lies. The good news is, there is a solution – it just takes a little bit of work. Just as word-of-mouth and ‘word-of-Twitter’ can be used to spread misinformation, it can also be used to expose it. It is said that sunlight is the best disinfectant. Therefore, let the sun shine on these cockroaches and we will watch them scurry away.

Nadir Hassan: 10 things I hate about TV news

Thursday, November 25th, 2010

Mr Nadir Hassan brings a bit of levity to the discussion of media with his article for today’s Express Tribune, “10 things I hate about TV news“. Some of his observations made me laugh out loud, but at the end of reading I also thought, ‘it’s funny because it’s true!’

1.     The dunce on the street. You know the guy; he’s being interviewed only because he was in the vicinity of something producers consider news. His insight, such as it is, consists of saying “you know” a lot and plastering a massive I’m-so-excited-to-be-on-TV grin on his face.

2.    The Mini Me analyst. News anchors are supposed to be objective so any time they want to slip a bit of political commentary in, they’ll invite an analyst-for-hire, someone who will say exactly what the anchor wants him to say. But we can trust him; he wears an expensive suit.

3.    The apocalyptic teaser. “Are you aware that you might die tomorrow? Join us after the break and we’ll tell you how.”

4.    The dancer in the background. There’s always this one jerk, usually lurking in the shadows, who likes nothing better than to add a bit of flavour to a beeper by gyrating madly. He is to the dunce on the street what Bonnie was to Clyde.

5.   Important hair. You know why there’s a dengue epidemic in the country? All the spray that should have been used to fumigate our cities is keeping up the hair of vain anchors.

6.   Casual racism. You will never see a dark face on news channels. After all, the survival of Fair and Lovely depends on it.

7.   The vague Pakistan connection. Never fear, news channels will find the cousin of a Pakistani citizen who was shopping at a mall three blocks away from a fire in Michigan.

8.    The child-like fascination with technology. This particularly materialises during elections. Anchors get so aroused by their BlackBerrys, touch screens and other assorted thingamajigs they can barely contain themselves.

9.    The illegible ticker. News channels have discovered a new font. It allows you to only read one out of every three words before disappearing from view.

10.   The expert for all seasons. No matter what the topic, this chameleon will become an instant expert. He throws in a bit of jargon, comes to some sweeping conclusions and calls on the government to do more.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 21st, 2010.