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Saleem Safi’s about-face – no one should be surprised


In the past, LUBP has posted several articles by Saleem Safi in which he exposed the hypocritical nature of many Pakistanis’ support for Jihad – i.e. that Jihad was good when it was fought in Afghanistan but not good when it was directed at the Pakistani state. An example of one of his articles critical of the Pakistani state policy regarding Jihad is this one entitled “Taliban aur hamari munafiqat” in which he critically reflects on his own trip to Jalalabad as a student of IJT and criticizes the Hamid Gul-led policy of sending fighters to fight against the Najibullah government in the early 1990s. Another such article was mentioned on LUBP here which critically examined the claim that the terrorist attacks inside Pakistan were being conducted by agents of RAW and Blackwater.

Given this background, it is sad (but not surprising) to see that Saleem Safi’s period of introspective analysis is now over. In today’s “The News”, Saleem Safi has an article called “Talks with Al Qaeda” in which he advocates that Pakistan should resume a process of reconciliation with Al Qaeda because all the Pakistani Taliban are under the control of Al Qaeda and if Pakistan does not reconcile with Al Qaeda then Al Qaeda will unleash a reign of terror within Pakistan.

The Al Qaeda leadership, known for its intelligence and long-term plans, understands that if Pakistan overlooked its activities, it will easily carry out its agenda in Afghanistan and the Arab world. But if Pakistan resisted its plans with full force, its ambitions for the region and Arab world may fail. So it has adopted a “wait and see” policy in Pakistan.

However, if Pakistan adopted a strict policy, Al Qaeda would wreak havoc in the country. The signs show that Al Qaeda has prepared itself for this eventuality and may very well turn every big city into Waziristan

According to him there is no reason that Pakistan should treat Al Qaeda as an enemy. In stating this he chooses to ignore the dozens of terrorist attacks that have targetted Pakistani civilians carried out by the Pakistani Taliban who are by his own admission under the complete control of Al Qaeda:

Though capable of spreading destruction and carrying out some terrible attacks in Pakistan, Al Qaeda has no enmity with this country. The majority of these people still consider Pakistan a scared land and love its people. They turn violent against this country and its people due to their perception that Pakistan and its people are creating hindrances

It’s sad that pundits such as Saleem Safi who clearly possess the ability to analyze Pakistan’s pro-jihadist policies of the past with a critical lens change their line with the wind according to the way the establishment thinking is tilted at any given time. Last year, when the establishment required some journalists to critically assess Pakistan’s pro-jihad policy in order to build up public support for the Swat and FATA operations, journalists like Saleem Safi were given free reign to persuade public opinion about the hypocrisy and danger of supporting terrorist groups. He was even given his own show called “Jirga” on Geo with access to interview many religious leaders and militants. In fact it was his interview with Sufi Muhammad and his interview with an unsuccessful suicide bomber which were instrumental in changing public opinion against the Swat peace deal and the Pakistani Taliban. It was an excellent example of the use of media to positively influence public opinion. However now that the establishment is in “reconciliation mode”, Safi Sahib is willing to do an about face and actually call for reconciliation with the most hateful and vicious terrorist group of them all.

Saleem Safi’s about-face reminds me of the reflections of Mushahid Hussain that I read on a website a long time ago. Basically, Mushahid Hussain argued that the establishment had always hired journalists to influence public opinion towards it. As anyone even remotely familiar with Pakistan’s political landscape will know, Mushahid Hussain himself has been one of the most famous examples of such lifafa journalists. In fact this is how he described the founding of “The Muslim” – the newspaper that he later became the editor of under Zia-ul Haq’s regime:

It is no accident that The Muslim was launched a month after the hanging of ZAB since it helped create a “tolerant” image of the military regime.

But the detachment with which he was able to analyze his own compromised role was really interesting. In Pakistan we have an intellectual class which is fully aware of its own shameful role in toeing the establishment line. These individuals are fully capable of critical thinking but they deliberately suppress their critical thinking abilities and instead choose to pursue a more lucrative career path as paid handmaidens of the establishment. Shame on them for misleading the Pakistani people and shame on us for ever giving any weight to their opinion.

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Laila Ebadi

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