Early this week, the Olympic torch for the Sochi winter games in Russia next year was spacewalked outside the International Space Station. The torch was unlit since it may have proven hazardous to the crew. Hours later, the torch touched down upon Earth, escorted by a cosmonaut and a pair of astronauts.
The relaying of every torch, though, isn’t quite as tortuous. But the process can still be potentially inflammatory and suck the oxygen out of manoeuvres, especially when it’s centred in the Af-Pak region.
The Tehrik-e-Taliban has a new torchbearer after its previous flamethrowing amir Hakimullah Mehsud was extinguished by a Hellfire missile launched from a drone. That execution set Pakistan ablaze. The man who targeted the country’s own security apparatus was deemed a ‘martyr’, with interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Khan blaming the US for the “murder of peace in this area.”
Well, if you can’t have peace, there’s always Waar. That’s the new blockbuster that takes the Pakistani parlour game of conspiracy mongering and sketches a scenario of a nation that’s been subverted by ‘external forces’. Since I have only watched the film’s rather jingoistic trailer, I’m not sure if the schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai figures in it. Given that apparently nefarious designs are being plotted through her, I wouldn’t be surprised. A blogger at the Pakistani daily Express Tribune snarkily combined the calumnies to suggest “she is a clone of George W Bush who had an Israeli surrogate mother and was raised by two R&AW agents, who are men and in a gay relationship.”
Since the attack on a well-appointed compound in North Waziristan that eliminated Mehsud came just after the US released $1.6 billion in aid to the Nawaz Sharif government, perhaps this was payback time. The buzz over those drones hummed through Islamabad, which officially condemns them, while conspiring silently. That schizophrenia has its own challenges. As Newsweek’s Pakistan edition pointed out, its ministry of defence argued that just 67 civilian deaths were caused by drones since 2008. That figure was contradicted by the ministry of foreign affairs, which placed that number at nearly 400, and added 200 noncombatants. Helpfully, the article noted, both ministries are within the prime minister’s ambit.
Predictably enough, the latest deletion by drone and outrage it evoked was described as a “new low” in the ties between the US and Pakistan. Just when you thought the relationship couldn’t get any lower, that supposition stands corrected, as in the case of Justin Bieber’s fast-plunging star.
As Mehsud was interred, Afghan terrorist Nasiruddin Haqqani, chief fundraiser for the Haqqani network that targets the Hamid Karzai government in Kabul, was gunned down near a bread store in Islamabad. Of course, as in the case of a certain departed occupant of a mansion in Abbottabad, Pakistan’s intelligence had been insulting everyone’s else by claiming the Haqqani group operated in the lawless Waziristan region, although Islamabad was apparently a favoured destination for Nasiruddin. Denial definitely flows through Pakistan.
Meanwhile, Mehsud’s successor as terror chieftain is Mullah Fazlullah. While in the past he railed against loose morality being caused by TVs, CD players and similar electronics and ordered them destroyed in his domain, he saw no irony in airing his rants over a pirate FM network that earned him the sobriquet Mullah Radio. He voiced his opposition to the education of girls and masterminded the attack upon Malala. He also launched an anti-polio vaccine campaign that enhanced Pakistan’s export profile since terrorists from there may have transmitted that virus to Syria, crippling over a dozen children.
Fazlullah’s home territory is Swat. In controlling that region, he follows in the footsteps of Abdul Ghaffur, the 19th century Akhund. As nonsense versist Edward Lear once wrote: If he catches them then, either old or young,
Does he have them chopped in pieces or hung, or shot,
The Akond of Swat?”
Currently based in Toronto, Anirudh Bhattacharyya has been a New York-based foreign correspondent for eight years. The views expressed by the author are personal.