Good advice by Irfan Hussain on the conspiracy theories circulating in Pakistan:
Recently, I met somebody, who has worked abroad for much of his life, who flies to London to listen to classical music concerts, and is otherwise a very urbane man. On our first meeting he seriously asked me for my views on 9/11: who dunnit, in brief? I said I thought the American authorities had documented the case against the 19 suicide bombers pretty thoroughly.
“Irfan Bhai,” he replied, his voice dropping to a conspiratorial whisper. “Sooner or later we will discover the Japanese were behind the attacks.” “The Japanese?” I asked, startled. This was a new one for me. His theory was that a group of Japanese patriots had planned the whole thing to avenge the American nuclear attacks on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Dream on, I said to myself.
[…] I recently met a gentleman who will go nameless here (suffice it to say he is widely respected for his integrity) who accused me of not paying enough attention to what he termed ‘the real conspiracies’ against Pakistan and the Muslim world. “Why else have democracy and education not taken root?” he demanded. I answered that western governments and institutions had been trying for years to persuade our leaders to educate our children and introduce democracy.
Surely nobody was stopping us from spending more on education, I suggested, just as nobody except authoritarian leaders were blocking democratic reforms.But I’m afraid I failed to convince him, and left after recounting my favourite conspiracy theory told to me in all seriousness by a serving general a few years ago. It seems that when the British colonialists were dishing out canal-irrigated land in Punjab and Sindh to their favourite toadies in the 19th century, they were deliberately building up a feudal class that would hinder Pakistan’s progress after it was created a century later.
I asked him if he was seriously suggesting that the Brits had foreseen the emergence of a separate Muslim state on the subcontinent decades before it was even dreamed of by its founding fathers. Absolutely, he replied: “Irfan Sahib, you don’t realize how far ahead the British and Americans plan”.
[…] Whenever I have argued that unless we educate our people, we will remain powerless and unable to compete economically and politically on the global stage, I have been shouted down. Readers have accused me of being ‘an agent of the West’ for suggesting that our weakness is our own fault and it is a waste of time and energy to blame others. The truth is that to escape from the poverty trap requires sustained hard work and sacrifice. It also needs long-term investment in human resource. These efforts are not as much fun as demonstrating outside the American embassy or sitting in drawing rooms and fulminating against the Zionist-imperialist plots against us.
Indeed, conspiracy theories help keep old enmities alive: if ordinary Indians and Pakistanis are convinced that everything that goes wrong in their countries is the other’s fault, then there will be popular support for the official antagonism that exists and is fostered by the two governments. This suits New Delhi and Islamabad just fine as there is no popular pressure on our rulers to resolve their differences and let us get on with life.
More often than not, conspiracy theories are positively harmful to the societies in which they breed. For example, many religious leaders in Pakistan denounce family planning as a western plot to keep the Muslim population low. In Pakistan, at least, this is one plot that has been thwarted with great success.