Arshad Bhatti has been a rebel since the time I have known him as my student at the International Relations Department in the Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad. He left a lucrative job to start a restaurant with a difference. It is called ‘Civil Junction’ where the youth and civil society are encouraged to meet and organise functions. Thus, I was not surprised when I heard that Bhatti was organising a vigil in remembrance of the victims of the Mumbai attack. I received SMSes and emails, urging me to join but I could not go. I am glad I did not: less than 15 people in a city of more than 1.5 million turned up. The fate of another function organised for the same purpose by another peace activist, Liaqat Ali, in Lahore, was no different.
One can partly attribute this lukewarm response to the apathetic attitude prevalent today in Pakistani society about any issue. The media makes fun of civil society demonstrations stating that there were more fancy cars parked at demonstration venues than protesters. Even then, the turn-out at Bhatti’s vigil can be called pathetic.
The few who participated were probably frequent visitors to the Oberoi and the Taj. Many also associated the attack with the September blast at the Marriott Hotel. It is also possible that more people would have joined these vigils had New Delhi not outrightly blamed Pakistan and the Inter-services Intelligence (ISI) for the attacks.
Many would find it hard to believe but there is a sizeable section of the educated people in Pakistan who feel that the September 11 attacks were the product of a Zionist-cum-CIA conspiracy to malign the Muslims and topple the Taliban and Iraqi regimes. Thus, I found it hard to convince a friend that the Mumbai attacks were unlikely to be the handiwork of the RSS, the VHP or the BJP. Since the attacks, this line of reasoning has become stronger, with the Pakistani electronic media taking the lead in forming such an opinion. However, this attitude of the Pakistani media is new and probably is a reaction to the perceived Indian media hype against Pakistan.
There is a growing public opinion in Pakistan that the Indians should also be asked to hand over Lieutenant Colonel Shrikant Purohit and Pragya Singh Thakur for planning the Samjhauta Express blast and killing Muslims elsewhere in India. Obviously, this is a reaction to the old Indian demand to handing over 20 terrorists who are said to be living in Pakistan.
Indian news channels are not shown on cable TV in Pakistan, although the entertainment channels and Hindi movies are widely popular. However, the Pakistan TV channels have been reporting that the Indian media had started to blame Pakistan within minutes of the first attack in Mumbai. One small TV channel even went to the extent of playing national and martial songs that were played during the 1965 war. In fact, the majority of Pakistanis feel that they had won the 1965 war.
The most popular TV channel, other than the government-run PTV, is Geo. Geo News covered the attacks round-the-clock and blamed the Indian Government for failing to anticipate the attack and mishandling the rescue operation. News clips repeatedly showed the Mumbai police officers running from the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminal and people like Hameed Gul, former Director General of the ISI, and Shirin Mazari, former Director General of Institute of Strategic Studies, were interviewed by all channels.
These hawks classified the Mumbai attackers as either Indian Hindu militants or Indian Muslims, but definitely not Pakistanis. A lot was made of the photographs of one of the militants in which he was seen wearing an orange thread on his wrist. It is true that Pakistanis don’t tie such threads and this was seen as clear evidence that the attack was by a non-Muslim group. They found it hypocritical that the Indian media has not picked this up at all.
Though Pakistan has not yet started to rehearse what these hardliners said, the country is in sort of a martial mood. However, almost everybody believes that there would be no war, thanks to American intervention. This is a sad reflection on the state of Indo-Pak relations. We are proud of our status as nuclear powers but are unable to sort out our differences bilaterally and have to depend on other countries to broker peace. Our political leaders hug and indulge in double-hand shakes in front of cameras but react emotionally at the first tense moment.
However, Mubeshir Hasan, a well-known peace activist, says, “The people and the governments of India and Pakistan are well on their way to improve relations between the two countries. There are hiccups now and then but they will be overcome. The two governments face insurgency situations in their countries, and as such, are not in full control of the elements who take up arms against their own State or other States.” An optimist, no doubt.
Anees Jillani is a lawyer based in Islamabad