By Air Commodore ® KhaIid Iqbal                   

When Pakistan foreign office spokesperson was asked during his weekly briefing on 29 March that ‘according to some international media reports, there are 150-200 French who are getting training in North Waziristan’, he replied: “Please don’t pay attention to such far-fetched media reports.”

Unfortunately some elements of our national media promptly pick up such leads from their foreign counterparts and set out to make a mount out of the mole. Contrary to the negative reports appearing in foreign media, a large number of fighters, including those from western counties, have either been killed or have surrendered. Finding the noose tightening, most of the surviving ones have gone back to their countries of origin.

Western media’s campaign has dubious objectives to malign Pakistan for providing sanctuaries to foreign fighters. It is a typical example of self denial regarding homegrown problems of radicalization confronted by the European countries. Mohammed Merah's case is typical example, where French domestic security organizations failed to identify the symptoms and institute effective surveillance means. During the last month, on three different occasions, Merah killed seven persons at Toulouse, France. Had the French domestic security forces acted professionally, at least the later two incidents could have been avoided. Moreover, no one has posed a question about societal inadequacies that compelled a naturalized French citizen, of Algerian origin, to turn its gun on his mentor society. Instead of exposing its own government’s negligence in warding off the carnage, the French media started accusing Pakistan as being responsible for the killings.

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While Pakistan is in the process of reviewing its terms of engagements with the US, a systematic campaign is underway to malign Pakistan’s security institutions. To achieve this objective, a perception is being evolved in the western countries that there is a nexus between terrorist outfits and the intelligence agencies of Pakistan. During his recent statement before the ‘Senate Armed Services Committee’, General James Mattis Commander CENTCOM said: “In Pakistan, the threats we face come together in a potentially dangerous nexus”. Speaking at the think tank “Brookings Institution,’ General Allen ISAF/NATO commander in Afghanistan said that “the relationships between the Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI), the Haqqani Network and other groups go back a long time… I don’t think we should be surprised that they have a relationship, that relationship with the ISI and a number of these organisations goes back a very long time.” According to a report published on The Times of India website, Michael Sheehan, assistant secretary of Defence for Special Operations/Low-Intensity Conflict, told United States (US) lawmakers that ‘the country had been discussing these issues with Pakistan, but there had been no success. I don’t see any set of talking points that’s going to be delivered by some new diplomat that’s going to change their mind’.

Under this environment of oversimplified generalizations, it has become very easy by the security outfits of western countries to shift the blame of any kind of embarrassing law and order activities in their countries to Pakistan and cover-up their inefficiency. Most likely, this is what has happened in the case of activities of  serial killer Merah. The episode was promptly linked to Pakistan.

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 Familiar narrative focuses on Merah's association with Taliban, his militant training in Tribal areas and hence the rhetoric about Taliban/ Pakistan sponsored attacks in France. This 24 years old person is a hardened criminal, he was Jailed on several occasions because of his criminal activities. Merah has been visiting a number of European and Arab countries; he also travelled to Pakistan on legal documents during 2011. Presumably, his travel to Pakistan and other countries was fully covered by the French authorities. There is no credible information about his training in Tribal areas. TTP has also disowned any role behind Merah’s recent act.

Security analysts are pointing towards lapses by the French intelligence, which missed vital clues about Merah that might have prevented his attacks or stopped him earlier. It is noteworthy that Washington considered him dangerous, and had placed him on its no-fly list and French domestic intelligence was also aware that he was a risk. Yet he was able to make a trip to Pakistan unimpeded despite being effectively escorted out of Afghanistan on his first visit to the region. It is surprising that he managed to build up an arsenal of guns in Toulouse, which were used in the gruesome massacre executed by him.

Scrutiny of France’s surveillance of Merah and other suspects of his kind points towards serious structural and organizational weaknesses of the domestic intelligence service, the Central Directorate of Interior Intelligence (DCRI). French Intelligence community ignored glaring indicators and failed to take timely preventive measures. What is more pathetic is the fact that the French government has sought to portray the handling of the Merah case as a success.

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Extremism does not exclusively reside in any particular region, religion, culture or civilization. No mainstream religion professes extremism. Yet, each of these could temporarily become a breeding ground for extremism due to multiple contributory factors. Western countries are certainly not free of such factors. These countries need to come out of a state of self denial and initiate preventive measures to put their societies in order. Pakistan bashing is certainly not a panacea for the social degeneration of western societies.