Confusion of the competing interpretations

Zamin Khan Momand

M.Phil. Deptt of IR, Quaid-e-Azam university Islamabad

Power creates discourse. The phrase "war on terror" was coined by the sole super power, far away in the North America backed in September 2001.The phrase altered the discourse in the international politics. New realities and concepts surfaced in intellectual circles and media. Jargons like Al Qaeda, Talibans, WMDs, non state actors etc became the vogue of the political discourse. International community readily assumed the new jargons. As a stubborn nation, however, we are stumbling upon to consign our own meaning or adjust ourselves to the new jargons of world politics and realities. Delay in consigning meaning and the "stumbling upon" engendered confusion and ambiguity in our political diction.

A number of attempts are being made by a number of actors to bring clarity and assign meaning to the ongoing "war on terror" in our region. One can observe a buoyant sale of various interpretations of the phenomenon. While some are serious intellectual endeavors, other just propaganda and hunch dictated by various political motives. Broadly we can categorize these interpretations into four major views.

First, "media view" propagated by Pakistani media, particularly Urdu newspapers and channels. Critics say that media in Pakistan works as a mouthpiece of the establishment. The media, they allege, dances to the establishment's tone .One can draw, they argue, a line of demarcation between its dance to the changing tone of the establishment: change in view before and after Swat operation. Being in mechanical relation with establishment, view of the media undergoes a change with the metamorphosis of the former view. Before Swat operation, media pillorised government for its coercive measures against the embattling groups. It urged government to conciliate and negotiate with militants. To everybody surprise, in the offing of the Swat operation, media reversed its logic and depicted the embattling groups as terrorists. It held India and the enemy of Pakistan responsible for the patronage of these groups. In a way it tried to invoke "India centric" nationalism, alleging that militants are sponsored by India. Urdu newspapers and channels have a mass level readers and viewers and as a matter of fact, it enjoys a considerable level of influence over Pakistani society. Where most it is read or viewed, the more it has exacerbated the confusion of the competing interpretations.

Another is a "boomerang view". The adherent of this view claim that over the years establishment nurtured and trained Islamic groups to attain "strategic depth" in Afghanistan and bleed India in Kashmir. After the "Lal masjid episode", they contest, Islamists parted company with the establishment. The former came up with their own agenda of either Islamising Pakistan or at least establishing an "Islamic amarat" in th North West of the country. In the whole caboodle, boomerang view blames Pakistani foreign policy in the past decades responsible for the non-remitting violence in our home. Embattling groups and their terrorist activities are the upshot of our foreign policy. The proponents of this view claim that our foreign policy has backfired, unleashed religious violence in our society.

Third, "war economy" lured the imagination of some commentators. Over the years, they assert, both militants and ruling elites developed stakes in the ongoing "war on terror". War, according to this view, has become a profitable business for both parties. On one hand, after every peace deal handsome amount is paid to the militants as a compensation, on the other hand, inflow of the international aid, textile quota in the Western market, writ off or re-scheduling of the loan etc are accruing as a reward of the "war on terror" for successive regimes in Pakistan.

  • Finally, in the mess of different interpretation, academia has nourished its own interpretations. There are two sub-groups of academicians pertinent to the academia view. One sub-group supports the "double dealing" thesis, while the second sub-group tries to unearth the causes of violence by referring to the "historical role played by religion in the region". "Double dealing", Ahmad Rashid and Bernet Rubin say, is a complex foreign policy pursued by Pakistani establishment in the post 9/11 scenario. Moreover, they explain, immediately after 9/11 Pakistan was compelled by circumstances to take a U-Turn in its foreign policy vis-a-vis Afghanistan. By doing this Pakistan averted the wrath of the world community. However, President Bush casual approach toward Afghanistan lured the interest of Pakistani establishment again in the "strategic depth" policy. Consequently the establishment re-established its umbilical cord with Islamists. It was a second U-Turn. What is happening now, they allege, is destined by a double U-Turn of the establishment, usually refers as "double dealing" of the Pakistan.

"The historical role played by religion in this region" interpretation is floated by political anthropologists. Historically, political anthropologists claim, religion has been instrumentalized by charismatic clerics of the region against the invaders. They cite references from the anthropological works of Akbar S.Ahmad, Lindhom etc to prove that anthropological lenses can gear us toward understanding of the religious violence in Pakhtunkhwa. American occupation of the Afghanistan is the raison d’etre of the unrest in the region.

The multitude of interpretations represent different interests as well as different truths. All disseminated interpretations claim monopoly over truth about a phenomenon happening amidst our homes. But in spite of numerous interpretations, a widespread confusion haunts our society. Why there is a confusion about a phenomenon happing amidst our homes? The question invokes Hegel who says "people become stoics under two conditions: when they live in a time in which there is a widespread fear of becoming enslaved or dominated in some way and when there is a high regard for the power of intellect to know the Truth." In our case "fear factor" promoted stoicism in our society. Stoicism of the society paralyzed open political debates and inquiry. Second the ongoing conflict is a covert war. No body knows exactly about the warring groups, their purpose and nature. They are faceless and invisible groups, therefore no one has reliable evidences, As a result commentators resort to rumors and speculations. No doubt rumors and speculations disseminate some valuable information, but it also adds to ambiguity and confusion. Third, being a historically "closed region" a few media persons have direct exposure and access to first hand information. Most of them rely upon the reports released by the ISPR and telephone calls of the militants leaders. Twists in information create twists in interpretation and subsequently absurdity in truth.

There are so many interpretations, nevertheless, we ask explanations about the ongoing turmoil on our land. Habitually we exchange meaningless hotchpotch ideas with each others. Everyone is striving to assign an "agreed upon" interpretation to the multitude of the “competing interpretations”. As a practice every attempt exacerbated confusion, so this article is not going to turn the table. Whatever i will tell you i doubt may worsen the confusion. Ludwig Wittgenstein says "whatever i was told i rejected not because it was a false explanation, but because it was an explanation." In the welters of interpretations, I fear my attempt may not turn out as an explanation. Then let unsayable things do exist, because it seems that every one knows what is going on here, but every one is "posturing ignorance". When "posturing ignorance" becomes an interpretation itself and above all an art of survival every one prefers red herring or silence. Let me confess i do not sort confusion out. Because i do not want to become a pariah within the community of posturing ignorance.


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