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The convenient curtain of myth

The convenient curtain of myth

Recently, I met some jihadis who have been in the business of holy war since the 1990s. I was surprised to hear that even though they were in support of the jihad in Afghanistan and Kashmir, they were opposed to the idea of destabilising Pakistan itself. When asked who was responsible for the suicide bombings and target killings they had an overarching theory to explain the tricky business. According to them, India, the United States, and Israel had colluded resources to create a super-agency to dishevel this entire region. Though they admitted that convincing a hardened jihadi that the government of Pakistan was also part of the enemy collaborative wasn’t too much of a stretch, they also added that a true jihadi would not be involved in the killing of innocent people.

Surprisingly enough, this whole India-US-Israel theory has a lot of popular currency these days in Pakistan, a country whose national sports should be lounge room politics and conspiracy theorising instead of cricket and hockey. The myriad of television talk-shows on every news channel are heavily relying on this theory of a triangulated axis of evil out to destroy Islam and Pakistan with one nifty stone’s throw of insurgent terror.

I don’t mean to dampen Pakistan’s highly built up superiority complex laced with self pity at the whole world’s always being out to get us, but has anyone ever thought of questioning why we always situate Pakistan at the centre of our world view? It is true that Pakistan is in the news a lot these days, and that the location of our borders in terms of resources and trade routes present significant geopolitical interests. But isn’t it a bit much to consider the current conflict in terms of issues that lie beyond the immediately obvious uses of Pakistan’s soil, and therefore hurl the current conflict in to the realm of myth and conspiracy?

Islamic mythology has obviously played a huge role in the formation of our national identity. It is telling that the history books we’re taught in school start from Mohenjodaro and Harappa, jump to the life of the Prophet in pagan Arabia, and then an interlude of early Islamic history until the likes of Muhammad bin Qasim finally brings Islam to the subcontinent. After that, the Muslim personalities involved in South Asian politics are closely followed up until the creation of Pakistan as a homeland for the Muslims.

Given this strange mix of religious indoctrination and nationalist propaganda, it isn’t a shock that our national identity is hopelessly intertwined with religion. The great ups and downs of our history are also then viewed though the mirror image of early Islamic Arabian history, starting with the Partition of 1947 where the oppressed Muslims in the land of infidels partake in a hijrah-like migration to greener pastures. This is also responsible for similar coinages as mohajir‘s for people who migrated from the other side of the border, and of course the Muttahida Quami Movement as well. Looking across the border with the same deeply rooted scepticism through which we historically view pagan Mecca also comes with the national identity combo-meal.

After two wars with our neighbour that have been cloaked in the same historical-identity mirror as jihads which the Prophet Muhammad participated in – the 1965 war, where a small number of Muslims beat a larger threatening army of infidels akin to the scenario in Jang-e-Badar, and the 1971 war being similar to Jang-e-Uhad, where the Muslims suffered heavy losses owing to their greed and indiscipline. Kargil would then be seen as the Battle of the Trench, had it not ended with such a national disaster.

The idea of martyrdom has been historically very close to these times of crisis when national unity is a must. The list of the dozen or so shaheeds who gave their life for the country is also present in every textbook. Unfortunately, the idea of the martyr as a member of Pakistan’s armed forces has become one that is hotly contested in recent times, as the right to declare a martyr isn’t the sole prerogative of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. The ISPR’s version of a shaheed in Waziristan is diametrically opposed to that of the TTP’s version of shaheed.

The same mujahids who valiantly fought in Kashmir and Afghanistan for Islam and Pakistan, seem to have turned on the Islamic Republic as the very fabric of propaganda which binds Islam with Pakistan is ruptured beyond repair. With the popularly elected government being portrayed as infidel rule propped up by the Americans, and the culture of the modern, westernised elites is labeled as shamelessness and excessive debauchery, it seems we’re caught in the middle of a storm where the hero can no longer be told apart from the enemy.

For decades, the enemy image coined in our heads has been that of the Islam-hating, darker-skinned Hindu at the eastern edge of our border. One can imagine how much violence the average Pakistanis’ worldview must have been subjected to when the heroic mujahid suddenly became the enemy, in less than a decade. A painful readjustment of the conventional enemy image is needed in order to re-galvanize the nation behind these destroyers of the idea of Pakistan.

This interesting transposition was evident in an armed forces award ceremony in which shaheeds from the current conflict were inducted into the ranks of those martyred in Pakistan’s conventional wars. The reenacted footage telegraphing each incident showed a mysterious tribal as the concealed enemy. The army also seems to be relying on foreigners being involved in the tribal areas as a way to distance the conflict from civil strife. The circulation of reports of large containers of alcohol belonging to Uzbek militants also seems to be a way of distancing Islam from the enemy.

However, it appears that instead of reevaluating things through a more rational approach, we’ve stuck to our patchwork quilt of mythological identity through a couple of quick-and-easy adjustments. As a matter of convenience for our security establishment, the principal enemy obviously remains India. But those polygamous infidels couldn’t possibly be the solely responsible for such an ingenious plan that redirects our tactics against them and literally brings the country to its knees? No, that’s not possible. So who could they possibly be in cahoots with?

Once again the answer is conveniently available from early Islamic Arabia, where the Meccan pagans were conspiring with scheming Jewish tribes. A simple transposition of the historical onto our mythological identity yields the result of India and Israel collaborating for the destruction of Pakistan, with the US sitting on the fringes like the Holy Roman Empire.

I think it’s time we quit hiding behind the convenient curtain of myth, and take the bitter pill of reality. For once, for that might help us frame this conflict in more rational terms and possibly lead us closer to a solution, rather than further feeding propaganda to the conflict. If the present reasoning of global evils out to destroy Islam and Pakistan continues, then the only answer is the apocalyptic war which is talked about in fringe mythologies related to the arrival of the Antichrist.

The last thing we want is for this to be a self-fulfilling prophecy! We need to step away from viewing this as a clash of civilisations, in terms of Islam versus the West. This is a misinformed dichotomy, since the West is not a religion, and Islam isn’t a geographical location. The more hopelessly intertwined our nationality becomes with a faux mythology, the more susceptible it becomes to being hijacked by those wishing to extract temporary gains from this vulnerability.

asifakhtar80x80 Lahore-based Asif Akhtar is interested in critical social discourse as well as the expressive facets of reactive art and is one of the schizophrenic narrators of a graphic novel. He blogs at and tweets at

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205 Responses to “The convenient curtain of myth”

  1. Omar says:

    Dear author. What is that thing which you call a rational approach, what is an alternate view of things. What is the root cause of the mess we see around, who is it actually doing it. Ok for the same of argument let me agree with you. But then you have to tell me whats the root cause?

    Ok lets be Rational, but what is the Rational explaination?

    Have I missed some line or para in the article which answers my questions?

    Bro let me know.

  2. MB says:

    Dear very well written and an inspiring article. Wish all other so-called “literates” who though have hi-fi Bachelor and master degrees but keep on sending senseless messages on sms against India and our so-called enemies wake up and use the upper portion of their head.

  3. Manish says:

    Wow, that was a good article.

    Wish the whole Pakistan good times always.
    From an Indian

  4. SQ Khan says:

    Today is the day all of us should bow down our head in shame and pay homage to the victim of last years Mumbai attacks by our mis guided countrymen. They were not Taliban’s, they were not from NWFP, and they were the boys next door indoctrinated to terror by vested forces in our country which thrive even today. This shows the extend of religious fanatics in our society. We are not yet able to book these crimnals, thanks to the vested political interests in this. We as a nation should understand that this game is not our future, our future lies in uplifting the millions from poverty and improving their standard of life. We are a nation not to promote terror officially and unofficially. Terrorism lives in the mind; our society is in the grip of that. We must change the social mindset than killing a few militants .we must detach the politics and diplomacy from religion .otherwise these incidents keep happening and will have to pay a huge price for this.

  5. Every body has to understand that world is not black & white but grey. We always aspire and seek the truth (Which is again our Nature) But one mans truth could be different from others. A Journalist job is to report the situation but The Journalist also with little editing will promote his opinion (Which definitely be different from the facts). Discussions are a mode to seek clarity and form opinion and to enrich the knowledge.

  6. Jehangir says:

    So many people so many conspiracy theories.

  7. Hameed Sayyad says:

    The problem with Pakistan is its security sector who are the zionists of Pakistan. They control the media, the average Pakistani people and etc.

  8. Rahul says:

    I agree with the author.

    Pakistan’s problem started when america left taliban after soviet was buried in afghanistan with the help of agencies and then agencies started using its own brain and thought why not use these leftovers against India. Hence the IC 814 hijacking when Masood Azhar was released by India. A few Pakistanis who hated India had this freedom to use the state machinery against India and why did they have this freedom because of frequent army takeovers. Democracy not being there led to all this mess and Pakistani till date likes to see indian people dead anywhere. Hope to see Pakistan with democracy which the whole world is proud of. General public however narrow minded wont let terrorists takeover.

  9. namedoesnot matter says:

    Not to change the topic by to answer karimbhai polygamy question, He will be correct to say that Islam only allow 4 maximum while other religions have no limit on the number. In bible there are examples of 1000 wives and no limit on cuncubines. ANd there is no limit in other religion on marriages including hinduism for man but for women sathi is the last resort. So please karimbhai do justice and throw away your bias eye.

  10. Bunny says:

    Sadly as long as Religion and Government shake hands this scenario is unlikely to change. Countries should be ruled by Civil Law and within that framework Individuals can rule themselves with whatever religion they choose or its lack thereof.

    Taliban’s need to understand that it is none of their business if a women dances in a club as long as the Civil law supports it. They have a right to their own life, not to others. The day people understand this basic argument, the world would be a far better place to live in.

  11. Amit says:

    When it comes to identity, every one has a need to preserve their own – whether it is nationalistic, religious, racial, or even something simple like a favorite sports team. Regardless, there has to be a commitment to truth. It is not about religion or race but about culture. People quickly learn to distrust a culture of lies, violence and victim hood. Pakistan is suffering from such a cultural decline today. Pakistani media spends too much time writing about the social evils and Jingoism in India. Does that justify terrorism? How many times does the media try to uncover why the terrorists are able to hide behind Islam without a massive opposition from the masses? When was the last time intolerant Indians came to Pakistani cities and shot up innocent civilians?
    The primary problem in South Asia is violence and hatred emanating from Pakistan in the garb of Islam.

  12. NameDoesNotMatter says:

    Good, intelligent people (in both India and Pakistan) never join politics.
    The people who have and who have had power for the last 60 years haven’t done any developmental work. Both countries still have poor literacy rates, extreme poverty, energy crisis (I can go on and on with the problems) and are still ‘Third World Countries’.
    Having done nothing for the people these politicians need issues to win elections – they feed on religion, race etc to distract people from real issues. The education system has been changed to fuel hatred. The press of both countries feeds on this hatred to increase revenues (painting other side in a bad light is what people on both sides want to read) and thus also adds fire to it.
    I experience a sense of deep and painful disappointment at the present situation. I pray to God for better sense to prevail soon.

  13. karimbhai says:

    The only religion in the world which allows polygamy is ISLAM. No other religion supports polygamy be it Christianity, Buddhism or Hinduism.
    So it is wrong to call some one polygamous infidels.

  14. The people of both Pakistan and India want co- existence and good brotherly relations but governments of both the countries are bent upon to never materialize this dream. They create hurdles in this way through adverse statements and propaganda’s against each other. This is being done with plannings. Both of the governments have created such organizations which promote hatreds and misunderstandings among the people of both the countries. I think there is a great need to warn both the people of these conspiracies.

  15. as says:

    “polygamous infidels” hehe :) We might be infidels but we are not polygamous. I’ll take it that you meant polytheist?

  16. Madhu says:

    Interesting to note the number of people who object to this article because some Indians have supported it. There is not even an attempt to challenge the facts or myths of the author. Instead there is just blind denial or rejection.

  17. paagle says:

    “They also added that a true jihadi would not be involved in the killing of innocent people”

    Of course not. They’ll just define anybody they don’t like as guilty using some religious-themed sophistry and off you go.

  18. Sachin says:

    I just want to say that Indians should not be allowed to comment on this site as despite being an Indian, I find most (80%) of the Indian comments in bad taste. It hurts me to know that Indians are using this site and the freedom of press in Pakistan to vent out their feelings.

    My request to my Indian brothers is ‘please keep your thoughts and opinions to yourself. This is not the forum for you to highlight your opinion on Pakistan. Please refrain from doing so. This country is better off without our intervention or advise.”

    To the people across the border, just a passing thought. In India, we too hope for a better world and a better country for ourselves. Our thoughts and hopes are not much different from yours. I have met a few Pakistani people during my travels and I see no difference between them and me.

    Hopefully the world and our countries will be a better place to live in the years to come. A sincere hope and thought.

  19. Spartan117 says:

    @Ali Atkhar

    “Whether India is involved in Pakistan or not but there is definitely a propaganda war against Islam and Pakistan which is having its effect and demoralizing us.”

    Incorrect India’s problem is only with Pakistan. India does not have problems with other Muslim countries (e.g. Iran, Bangladesh, the Arab world, Indonesia, etc.).

    “I have lived in western nations long enough to know that all this tolerance thing is B.S. all nations are extremely intolerant toward other races and religions and blind Nationalism is their god.”

    I am the son of immigrants and I find the US and other western countries to be extremely tolerant.

  20. Jai S says:

    @ Umair sir, let me give you an Indian perspective on the creation of Pakistan. I can tell you categorically that Indians are happier with the thought of Pakistan being a separate country than being a part of India. Do Indians want Pakistan to be a part of India? The answer is ‘NO’. I really don’t know where this perception that India has not accepted the creation of Pakistan, came from. Trust me, no Indian wants Pakistan to be a part of India. The only thing we want if for the Kashmir issue to be solved. But if that involves India ceding Kashmir, I don’t think it will happen. The only realistic solution is to make the present LOC into an international border. Otherwise, we’ll be fighting this for another 1000 years without a solution in sight. Sad but true.

  21. Akil Akhtar says:

    By writing such articles all the writer has achieved is a fan club in India and opportunity for the fan club to bag Pakistan. A Nation that bans all Pakistani TV channels and digs up cricket pitches when we visit and stand against its politicians if they say a good word about Jinnah should not give others lectures on tolerance.

    Whether India is involved in Pakistan or not but there is definitely a propaganda war against Islam and Pakistan which is having its effect and demoralizing us. I have lived in western nations long enough to know that all this tolerance thing is B.S. all nations are extremely intolerant toward other races and religions and blind Nationalism is their god. Same is true for India which blames Pakistan for everything so what is the difference if we blame India for the terrorism in Pakistan.

  22. Londoner says:

    The greatest indicator for how good this article is is the number of Hindustani’s who have posted messages to praise the author.

    Pakistani’s must be wary of their eastern neighbor, in the same way that Hindustani’s trawl through websites like this one and wait for articles like this to vent their own insecurities, the nation of Hindustan itself is united by nothing but a common hatred of Muslims, as can be witnessed by regular state-sponsored religious riots.

    The author seems blind to this, and is making a futile appeal for us to forego our identity. What is the alternative? We to surrender our eastern border and let the soldiers of Hindustan fulfill their ambitions ? Kashmir is the clearest example of what kind of status Muslim-majority areas would have in this mythical ‘united India’. Our soldiers threw themselves under tanks with grenades in their hands in 1965, just so that we would be spared this horror. Hindustani’s are allowed to wallow in self-delusion, because they rely on it to feel some misplaced pride in their own nation. We as Pakistani’s must be more realistic about our options, the turmoil that Pakistani’s are going through today and have gone through for decades.

    Poor effort by the author, but not the first time I have seen a Pakistani fall for the brahmin myth of a ‘civilized’ Hindustan.

    God bless Pakistan. God bless Quaid-e-Azam.



  23. Maria says:

    @IE: Why is it so hard for Indians to accept Pakistan as a neighbor? Your mind set shows why peace is so difficult. You seem to believe that only Europeans can define a nation but you forget that the land of Pakistan was hardly under British rule for 100 years. The British alone made the Raj in South Asia and before that invaders from outside were the only reason why different regions in South Asia were lumped together. A whole generation of post partition Pakistanis like me don’t but into the Indian myth of British India being some great “white man’s creation”. Partition wasn’t a blunder; it was inevitable. For centuries before that Pakistan has been part of many Kingdoms, Empires and nations. We are proud of our history. Sure there are some things in common between India and Pakistan but we also have a lot of things which are different. I respect your culture and right to be Indian and I expect you to respect my culture and right to be Pakistani.

    @SQ Khan: Does anyone doubt that the criminals are working against Pakistan’s interests and trying to destabilize the nation? We all know that they are finally getting the treatment they deserve and it’s almost ludicrous that these very terrorists dress up like women to kill innocent civilians. I think it’s important to point out to the world that Pakistan has suffered more from terrorists than any other nation. We have put up the greatest sacrifice and we will prevail. That’s why I get so bothered when others expect us to do more. It’s been proven that some of our neighbors actually behind the terrorist acts and I wish the world would put pressure on them. I’m upset that our Foreign Office isn’t doing a better job of showing our efforts and blaming the neighboring nations who are involved in a double game. They say one thing but they are trying to damage us too.

  24. tipu says:

    I am dismayed by my own people. Pakistan has no future unless we replace our ideology. Become true secular and rational. To those who romanticize Islam must read Sahi Bokhari first and then evaluate. It was really an extremely primitive and unhealthy environment, I wasn’t inspired even a bit after reading the religion.

  25. rich05 says:

    A good article and I hope someone like Moin Ansari reads it, its people like Moin who will take Pakistan to the abyss,

    The author courage is to be saluted, hope India too wakes up to its own trouble of naxal, and other terror group in India



  26. Ikram Ali says:

    While the author writes for Dawn, does he read it as well? That Pakistan is in a state of denial might be a common refrain but the ground reality hardly suggests that. Just a few days back, anyone who reads Dawn would have noticed that the clerics who congregated at Raiwand denounced the taliban thugs & terrorists in the strongest words.

    I think the Swat takeover by the taliban was a watershed moment for the country. Realization has downed most people since then about the enormity of the threat posed by such groups to the country. And thankfully there is an overwhelming consensus now that military action is vital to weed out the terrorists.

  27. SQ Khan says:

    We are not the victim of terror. We have created this to destabilize others. Now we fear that the same thing is going to destabilize us. lets not cry to that world as “Victim of terror” instead lets look into ourselves and rectify the mistakes what our policy makes of our nation have been making.

  28. Dinesh says:

    The institution of Democracy needs to be strengthened in Pakistan. More educated young professionals needs to join politics and bring about a change. The young and the educated has the power to change a country destiny.

    And most important, The average people in Pakistan and India should concentrate on their own issues first. Try to become a better individual, a better father, a better son. Rather than focusing on other peoples (i.e Kashmir, Palestine) problem.

  29. I E says:

    @ Maria …” I am tired of hearing the nonsense about British India being some kind of divine nation created by the White Man. Get over it! It was a colony artificially made by the British. “

    There was some reason why British kept this entire region as one colony. Despite all the diversity a common thread of culture bound the peninsula, not the religion. It wasn’t an artificial make-up. Let’s accept partition as blunder by political leaders of both India, Pakistan and Britain. But that would not mean you have to reverse it to correct it. Nations of Europe have learnt to be together based upon their common heritage and culture. Only if we could downplay religion as our core identity, we will have a safer future, otherwise I have faint hope and Pakistan is more to suffer because of its size related insecurities.

  30. vidhyarthi says:

    @ concerned american,
    Very well said. Agree with you.

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