- It’s RAW, of course
It’s been theorised that RAW or other foreign agencies are behind the enforced disappearances of Pakistani leftist activists and those suspected of abetting terrorist operations. Funnily enough, a parallel theory is being presented by the right-wing that these missing activists are themselves RAW or foreign agents, who deserve to be harshly interrogated for their conspiracy against the state’s political and military stability.
Putting them together, it seems that RAW is now abducting RAW agents, and their abductions are being protested by 60,000 RAW agents gathered in the streets of Peshawar; many of them carrying framed photographs of their missing RAW family members.
The point isn’t that foreign agencies have never attempted to covertly interfere in Pakistan’s internal affairs. Surely, there are many political games being played on many different levels. We’re just recognising RAW’s utility as a great, big repository of blame that our leaders, civilian lawmakers, and generals refuse to take upon themselves.
In this case, I believe the state owes RAW some gratitude for allegedly abducting activists who are critical of Pakistani army’s operations and the Pakistani state’s policies. Yes, why wouldn’t RAW be motivated to silence the resistance against Pakistani establishment’s unaccountability?
It seems that RAW is now abducting RAW agents, and their abductions are being protested by 60,000 RAW agents gathered in the streets of Peshawar
Consider the statement made by the chairman of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), who accused foreign agencies of being responsible for the enforced disappearances. It’s interesting to imagine Chairman Javed Iqbal as a detective investigating arson. The primary suspect is the family of the woman whose house burned down; not the angry neighbour who she recently had a fight with, and the one who has the most to gain from her being ejected from the neighborhood.
Similar logic could be applied to the invisible noose around Pakistani academia’s neck that seems to have suddenly tightened. A letter circulated by Nida Kirmani, associate professor at LUMS, draws attention to four separate but related incidents involving suppression of anti-establishment voices.
At Habib University, an event titled ‘Ethnic Rights, New Social Movements, and the State of the Federation in Pakistan’ was forcibly cancelled, ostensibly after a visit from state functionaries. One of the guest speakers was removed from the campus by security, despite having been invited by the university itself. Ethnic rights had to wait another day.
Meanwhile at Lahore University of Management Sciences, an event intended to commemorate the work and sacrifice of Mashal Khan – a socialist student who was murdered about a year ago at Abdul Wali Khan university – was cancelled on the same day it was planned to be held.
Gomal University in DI Khan received a visit from state functionaries regarding the content of the courses being offered. The faculty and the administration were reportedly warned not to provide their students the apparatus with which to critically examine state-approved historical narratives, and its political and military policies.
Punjab University – never quite a bastion of free thinking to begin with – too participated in what appears to be an organised crackdown on free academia. Ammar Ali Jan, associate professor of sociology, arrived at the university to find his office door locked. The termination of his service – for which he had allegedly not been paid either – was as suspicious as it was disgraceful. Ammar had previously been told for providing “unnecessary encouragement” to students opposing sexism and racial profiling. He had also been warned to stay clear of Manzoor Pashteen – the leader of the Pashtun march – at the risk of facing “dire consequences”.
The letter condemning this crackdown has been signed by hundreds of prominent educators, including Professor Noam Chomsky.
What ‘foreign agency’ is infiltrating our universities? What is this mysterious force arm-twisting our campus administrations and muzzling our professors? What is the force that benefits most from threatening, censoring, and abducting those who are critical of the state’s policies?
In our xenophobic zeal to blame ‘foreign agencies’, we’ve formulated a series of super-convoluted conspiracy theories about “engineered protests” and foreign infiltrators. All of these theories stem from the assumption that our own state is beyond criticism, and incapable of using fascist instruments to muzzle internal criticism. No. It’s probably Afghan agents abducting Afghan agents because…because…well, we haven’t figured out why, but we know its foreign agents through and through.
Imagine you being unable to critically analyse Nawaz Sharif’s political activity, or Zardari’s government before that, for the fear of being deemed ‘traitor’ and ‘foreign agent’. Surely someone is paying you to speak up against your own country’s prime minister or other civilian leaders? Is it RAW, Mossad, or CIA?
A democratic state demands constant criticism of the establishment by its people. As you are entitled to protest the lack of electricity in your home in Lahore, another Pakistani is entitled to protest the treatment he receives at a military checkpost. Neither of these actions is treasonous or anti-national.
The suppression of critical thinking and non-violent protest does not cause the problem to disappear. Shutting down the exhaust vents expelling hot air does not stop the machine from overheating on the inside.
The academia’s silence today is a harbinger for tomorrow’s political storm. This oppression merely convinces the people of the futility of non-violent expression, and makes violent and potentially catastrophic outbursts inevitable.