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'It's a conspiracy!'

Shamil ShamsOctober 16, 2012

Although most Pakistanis have condemned the Taliban's shooting of 14-year-old activist Malala Yousafzai, a small section of society believes the incident was part of a 'US-Israeli conspiracy' against Islam and Pakistan.

Image: picture-alliance/dpa

"The CIA is behind the attack on Malala!" "Malala was a US agent!" "It is a conspiracy to defame the Taliban and Islam" - the social media websites Facebook and Twitter have been full of such posts and tweets this week. Most of the writers hail from a middle-class, educated background.

Many of Pakistan's liberal analysts have explained the phenomenon by saying that people love "conspiracy theories." They point out that in a country whose economy is in a shambles, where inflation and unemployment is higher than ever, which has a corrupt civilian government, where power shortages and suicide bombings are frequent, and which a lot of young people are desperate to leave in search of jobs and a better future, it is convenient for the people to blame the West for all their woes.

'Promoting secularism'

Malala Yousafzai was shot by armed men last week along with three other girls in the restive northwestern Pakistani city of Swat. Taliban militants claimed responsibility for the attack and said in a statement that the 14-year-old had been attacked because she was "promoting secularism" in Swat.

Pakistani child activist Malala Yousafzai is brought out of a hospital on a stretcher in Rawalpindi (Photo: REUTERS/ Inter Services Public Relations via Reuters TV)
Pakistani doctors successfully removed a bullet from Yousafzai's headImage: Reuters

Yousafzai had campaigned for the right to education for girls and was a vocal critic of the Taliban. She won international acclaim writing about the atrocities committed by Islamists in Swat in a blog for the BBC Urdu service. Last year, she received a national peace award from the Pakistani government and was nominated for the International Children's Peace Prize by the KidsRights Foundation.

"This definitely is a tactic to divert our attentions from drone strikes," read one comment to the article "We are not Malala, we may be the Taliban," published in the Express Tribune, a liberal Pakistani newspaper. The commentator went on to say that "some people are just slaves to the media and have no ideology of their own."

"The Pakistani army is preparing the ground to launch an attack on the Taliban in Waziristan," said another commentator. "Malala was shot by the CIA agents. Don't blame the Taliban."

A Facebook post suggested that Malala was attacked so that Pakistanis would stop protesting against the anti-Islam movie, "The Innocence of Muslims."

Some Internet users have posted photoshopped pictures of Malala and her father, who were shown with US government officials at a meeting. The pictures of the dead bodies of young girls, allegedly killed in US drone strikes, were posted with captions such as: "Do they not deserve our sympathy?" or "Are the victims of US drone strikes not humans?" In one Facebook post, US President Barack Obama is shown laughing with officials of his government. The caption reads: "Sir, they still believe that the Taliban attacked Malala!"

Spreading confusion

Mansoor Raza, a Karachi-based researcher, told DW that people who were sympathetic towards the Taliban and other religious groups were using "counter-tactics to spread confusion."

"It is an organized effort to belittle Malala's shooting because most Pakistanis were unanimous in their condemnation against the Taliban."

Raza added that many Muslims felt defeated in today's world and these posts reflected the mindset of those who could not face the challenges of modernity.

"In my opinion, it is an attempt to shift responsibility to others," Hameed Satti, a psychologist in Islamabad told DW. "Instead of facing up to the bitter realities and dealing with them, we continue to blame others. It is our defense."

"Pakistanis hate the US but at the same time they are in awe of it," a Pakistani student in Karachi told DW on condition of anonymity. "They think that the US has supernatural powers like god. They believe it can do anything it likes; can make people disappear, can create floods, send agents from space." He also pointed out that many of those posting hate material against the US on social media sites would do anything to get a US visa.

Unequivocal condemnation

There are also many people in Pakistan who have condemned the Malala shooting unequivocally. Members of civil society have organized several demonstrations in support of Malala and the education of girls.

Pakistani children pray for Malala Yousafzai, who was shot on Tuesday by the Taliban (Photo: Shakil Adil/ AP/ dapd)
Rights groups have condemned the attack on MalalaImage: AP

"Malala, you are like a light at the end of a dark tunnel," commented user Ankahi Baatein, in response to an article in Pakistan's English daily Dawn. "I pray that you come back more forcefully and keep raising your voice against illiteracy. May other Malalas join you in your struggle!"

Pakistani writer and activist Zahida Hina told DW that the Taliban militants were "barbarians" who did not believe in humanity.

"The 14-year-old Malala posed a threat to the Taliban in the sense that she was setting an example for other girls," she said. "The Taliban attacked her because they wanted to tell others that if they dared to stand against them, they would also meet the same fate."

Hina also criticized the governing Pakistan People's Party for failing to protect citizens but said that the main culprit was the state, which she said believes that Islamist extremists are "strategic assets" for maintaining influence in Afghanistan.

Malala is now in the UK where she was sent by the Pakistani authorities to receive further treatment and recuperate.