Ali Sethi, a soon-to-be-published novelist in Pakistan, has a wonderful — and disturbing — account of Lahore’s reaction to the cricket attacks in today’s New York Times. As is true in most parts of the region, including in the Middle East, after any such event, a persistent set of rumors takes hold, usually involving a vast conspiracy theory. In this case, the attacks were either orchestrated by the Indian intelligence agencies (to make Pakistan look bad) or the Pakistani government itself (to make the jihadis look bad) — anyone is blamed but the attackers themselves.
Take this exchange:
“Everyone at the hospital was saying the same thing,” Ali Raza told me later that night, as we stood in line at a brightly lighted stall selling paan — a mild stimulant made with betel nuts — near the Main Market roundabout, just a short walk away from the site of the attack. “They were saying that this was done to show the Indians that we in Pakistan are also the victims of terrorism.”
“You think our own government did it?” I asked.
“No one else could get away with this kind of thing,” he insisted.
I’m sure sociology experts have written studies on this, but here’s my take: first, there’s obviously some element of local shame that prevents a completely dispassionate analysis. To admit that this was a massive security failure would be to admit weakness, which no one wants to do.
Secondly, the event itself eludes understanding: can anyone explain why several young well-armed and well-trained men would want to attack a group of Sri Lankans? And can anyone explain how all of them actually got away?
Thirdly, a lack of information and a charged, complex political atmosphere make for a bad combination. On the one hand, given the number of factions in Pakistan’s own intelligence agencies, no one knows who’s sincere, and who’s not. Moreover, when you consider the dizzying violence and abject poverty and mayhem that most Pakistanis now face on a daily basis — well, if the situation’s so irrational, how can you look for a rational answer? It’s easier to think about one entity — the Indian government! — rather than a wide, systemic failure with many malfunctioning circuits.