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Terror without doubt

Publication Date : 05-07-2012


Karl Marx may have miscalculated the shelf life of profound social upheavals but his self-declared motto to an interviewer — “doubt everything” — could be a useful starting point for some journalists.

In particular, the questioning spirit must become mandatory if the beat involves keeping an eye on the tangled web of zealous states and their use of multi-layered agencies to hoodwink their own citizens among others.

It is curious that often those that should be the prime suspect as sources of disinformation are not confronted with simple questions journalists are taught to ask. On the other hand, many scribes assume the role of Squealer, George Orwell’s propagandist pig, by faithfully transmitting official handouts as credible news.

Technology has not helped. The race to break the story on TV has found the media tripping up badly. What is the gain from such reckless hurry if the difference between Sarabjeet Singh and Surjeet Singh mocks their enterprise? Were they not required to report, with a degree of accuracy, which of the two condemned Indians was actually released from the Pakistani jail?

It gets that much more worrying when the error in a narrative had crept in not in a reporter’s hurry to beat the deadline but was carefully inserted fiction. It doesn’t seem to matter if a fellow journalist is at the receiving end of a sloppy or tendentious reporting. The ordeal of Iftikhar Geelani and Syed Mohammed Kazmi is a case in point.

You could have easily spotted the malevolent hand of the state apparatus after a so-called recorded confession of a convict was thrown out by the apex court as bad evidence in the parliament case but it got prime time TV on a premier New Delhi channel — a bizarre attempt to deny the man acquittal, which he got nevertheless.

Goebbels would blush at today’s democracies that use the media to wage wars, declare emergencies, suspend civil liberties and even impose press censorship. The United States went a step further when it successfully hoodwinked its own top official with inspired disinformation as a step to occupy Iraq.

“Yes, a blot, a failure will always be attached to me and my UN presentation,” writes Colin Powell, the former US secretary of state in a new book that draws on his experience in the Iraq war. “I am mad mostly at myself for not having smelled the problem. My instincts failed me.”

Powell makes a spectacle of himself as he laments that no intelligence official had the “courage” to warn that he was given false information that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction during preparations for his February 2003 briefing to the UN.

Powell’s unsupported assertions of mobile Iraqi biological warfare labs and a “sinister nexus” between Iraq and al-Qaeda terrorists, was based on “deeply flawed” evidence. “So why did no one stand up and speak out during the intense hours we worked on the speech?” Powell writes.

As I write this the foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan have finished their first round of talks and are meeting again to set the stage for a foreign ministerial meeting, followed possibly by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Pakistan.

Practically every time the two countries are about to mend fences something catastrophic happens to distract them. There are people in New Delhi that don’t want the prime minister to go to Pakistan.

So how could Jalil Abbas Jilani and Ranjan Mathai, the foreign secretaries of Pakistan and India, meet without the naysayers subverting the proceedings? The hawks’ case was shored up when a fugitive was deported from Saudi Arabia into the safe arms of Indian sleuths two weeks before the talks.

I have watched this game before — the handing over of seven Sikh hijackers of an Indian plane to India by Dubai. This was probably in 1983, a year before Indira Gandhi was assassinated. Then we witnessed the arrest of Hashim Qureshi the mysterious hijacker of the Ganga, the Indian plane he commandeered to Lahore and destroyed. The incident had prompted India to shut its air corridor to Pakistani troops flying to battle the Bengali upsurge in 1971.

Qureshi was arrested under L.K. Advani’s watch, the former home minister, the self-styled iron man. Not much later, the hijacker greeted me with aerated drinks and branded potato chips in his prison cell in Srinagar. Suddenly he was freed and projected as a chief ministerial hopeful of Jammu and Kashmir. Men at work?

The iron man also let off the seven hijackers, probably as part of the condition Dubai had set for deporting them. These incidents are a journalist’s challenge to explore but I have yet to see anything informative in India’s mainstream media.

To me, the latest case of "deportation" raises as many questions as it purports to answer. The first question that comes to mind is: has Saudi Arabia helped India in showing up Pakistan’s ISI spy agency as a bastion of international terror?

If that be so my question is instantly elevated to one about a tectonic diplomatic shift in Riyadh, not one related to a mere repatriation of a dubious suspect in the Mumbai carnage of November 2008. Whoever Abu Jundal is and whatever his role in the targeted massacre of unsuspecting people — innocent Indians and foreigners alike — he could only have been deported by the Saudi intelligence to New Delhi with a thorough assessment of the diplomatic pros and cons vis-a-vis Pakistan. It would be farfetched to imagine that Jundal was dispatched to India with the consent of the Pakistani spy agency. Was he then handed over with the full knowledge that the Saudi favour to India would be seen by Pakistan as a betrayal by Riyadh with which Islamabad has had a long and intimate bonding?

Going by the official Indian account of Jundal’s deportation, the implications are huge and diplomatic. They are enormous, not because the captive has helped nail parts of Pakistan’s state apparatus as complicit in the Mumbai tragedy.

That is already a given. There are any number of Pakistani journalists who will agree with India’s assertion of ISI’s complicity. The bigger question is about the bigger implications of this big catch. Any doubts?

The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.


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