Posts Tagged ‘Wired’

Media Conspiracy Theories Continue to Embarrass

Friday, February 25th, 2011

GlobalPost logoPakistan media has already been termed ‘conspiracy-palooza‘ by one prominent magazine, and now Global Post has also taken notice of the conspiracy theories running riot in our media. Reporter Nicolas Brulliard says the Raymond Davis shooting began as a nightmare, but was quickly exploited and transformed into ‘a field day for Pakistan’s conspiracy theorists’.

One important observation by the reporter is how media conspiracy-theorists conveniently ignore the facts in order to twist events to shape accusations against a mysterious ‘foreign hand’.

The country’s calamities are frequently blamed on a “foreign hand” that in the past was virtually synonymous with India but increasingly refers to the United States. In conjunction with the war in Afghanistan, the C.I.A. has been conducting covert operations in Pakistan as well as running a drone program that has caused numerous civilian casualties and is deeply unpopular here.

The C.I.A. collaborates with the Pakistani intelligence services, and as evidenced by diplomatic cables released late last year by Wikileaks, the Pakistani government has condoned the American drone strikes on its territory. Still, these operations are seen as an unacceptable violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty and have fueled deep resentment toward America among the general population.

More intriguing, however, are the numerous tales of conspiracy and conjecture woven from thin air – the same conspiracy theories that Wired magazine termed ‘transparently silly stories’.

Based on the reported presence of a bag of naswar — a local dipping tobacco — among Davis’ belongings, one local newspaper concluded that he had probably picked up the habit during long stays in Pakistan’s northwest, got addicted to it and was likely to be experiencing withdrawal symptoms in jail.

One theory has Davis plotting terrorist attacks in Pakistan with the help of insurgents, while another presumes a massive operation by U.S. forces to either rescue or eliminate the man dubbed “the American Rambo” by the Nation, a Pakistani newspaper. A man who sued former President George W. Bush for $165 trillion a few years ago also claims that Davis was in the country to terrorize him and force him to withdraw his suit.

One might think that for all the concern expressed over the national honour by the chattering class, one of these talking heads might actually take notice that their behaviour is embarrassing the nation in the eyes of the world. Following a tragic incident, these self-appointed guardians of ghairat have turned a nightmare into a field day and are competing for first prize of silliest story. Ansar Abbasi may take great pride that the international press has repeated his line about a ‘Hollywood-style Rambo sting operation’, but what he does not realize is that his colleagues in media are quoting this not because they are impressed with his reporting, but amused by his silliness.

Pakistan Media Termed ‘Conspiracy-Palooza’

Thursday, February 24th, 2011

Wired logoAmerican news magazine Wired has termed the Pakistani media ‘Conspiracy-Palooza’ due to the number of conspiracy theories being circulated about the Raymond Davis case and notes that such rumours are fueling the very crisis. The article specifically mentions the role of The Nation and Express Tribune in spreading “transparently silly stories”.

Al-Qaeda’s nuclear arms dealer? The top recruiter for the Pakistani Taliban? A terrorist “mastermind?” These are just some of the explanations that have been picked up by the Pakistani press ever since Raymond Davis, an employee of the U.S. embassy in Pakistan, shot two Pakistani men he claimed were menacing him on the streets of Lahore.

The nature of Davis’ work — now acknowledged to be on contract for the CIA — and the prolonged vacuum of information regarding it has invited in a host of outlandish theories to fill the void.

Early on in the Davis affair, The European Union Times, an online news site printed a transparently silly story about Davis running weapons of mass destruction for al-Qaeda.  You see, a Russian intelligence report indicated that Davis had documents detailing U.S. shipments of”nuclear fissile material” and “biological agents” to al-Qaeda for the purpose of starting a world war that would restore the American economy to global dominance. Absurd as it is, the story has since been picked up by Pakistan’s The Nation, as well as by Pakistani journalists on press listservs and Twitter.

The narrative of the U.S. colluding with terrorists to attack Pakistan was later taken up by the Express Tribune , which ran a story claiming that Davis had gone rogue on the U.S. and started working for the Pakistani Taliban. “Davis was instrumental in recruiting young people from Punjab for the Taliban to fuel the bloody insurgency,” according to an anonymous senior police official from Punjab quoted in the story. The source called Davis’ arrest a “blessing in disguise” because he was suspected of “masterminding terrorist activities in Lahore and other parts of Punjab.”

In support of the allegations, the Tribune quotes more anonymous sources claiming Davis’ cell phone records indicate he was in contact with members of the Pakistani Taliban the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, another Pakistani terrorist group.

Of course, those phone records, if valid, could also be the hallmarks of someone spying on, rather than recruiting for, Pakistani terrorist groups, as the CIA now claims was Davis’ job.

But the choice of interpretation speaks to a deep distrust among the Pakistani public of the United States and its covert war in the country. Last week, Pakistani sources claimed (fairly dubiously) that the Davis shootings were responsible for a month-long halt in drone strikes. Now, as Pakistan’s intelligence service warns of a “split” with the CIA over the incident, all eyes are again looking to see whether the already tense relationship will buckle under the weight of public outrage, distrust and the rumors that help fuel it.