By Raja G Mujtaba

New York Times is no different than Fox TV or CNN. These are basically mouth pieces of Zionists hence miss no opportunity to malign Pakistan in any or every issue weather related or not or has any relevance to truth or not.

Gilgit, tourists destination

The recent floods in Pakistan are known to the whole world, its magnitude and devastation that it has caused and still no end is in sight. In this hour of need, every country and individuals around the world have moblised their resources to help the people of Pakistan in any way that they can.

In a similar gesture, China a great neighbor of Pakistan who has always stood to the test of time has never lagged behind in helping Pakistan and its people to the extent that she possibly can. Likewise this time also China has sent huge quantities of aid and relief goods to Pakistan to help in overcoming this catastrophe that has made millions homeless and rendered their lands, crops, livestock and houses useless.

Besides this China has also helped Pakistan in constructing the Karakoram Highway that links China and Pakistan. These unprecedented rains have washed away many bridges on this road that need to be reconstructed or repaired before they take on the traffic load. Since this portion was constructed by China therefore it was logical for the Chinese to come forward and help in rebuilding of the roads and bridges. This does involve movement of the Chinese workers in the area that Selig Harrison has dubbed as stationing of 10,000 troops in Gilgit-Baltistan that has been played up by India and some other from their camp.

In this context, a column in the New York Times newspaper by American commentator Selig Harrison has raised quite a bit of media attention around a conspiracy theory that the government is giving Gilgit Baltistan to China, a claim publicly denied by the Foreign Office. As with most conspiracy theories of this magnitude, a little basic research demonstrates that Mr Harrison and his claim of Pakistan ceding territory to China are unfounded and totally baseless.

What Harrison has said is understandable but what is more bothersome is the attitude of our own media that without going into any details or trying to ascertain the facts they just rush to reproduce the stories to create sensations. Such irresponsible behavior of the media must not go unchecked. One of the leading channels is airing daily programmes of the American channel, then the same channel is busy in selling out the National Interests and trying to work on themes like ‘Aman Ki Asha’ (quest for peace).

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These very media houses are more than willing to repeat the wildest conspiracies without the least efforts in fact-checking. More troubling is that the Mr Harrison’s conspiracy seems to have been fed to him in part by Pakistani media. Certainly it must be serving their interests that needs to be investigated.

The first suspicion about Mr Harrison’s claim was that it was simply too outrageous to be believed without any authentic proof. Of course, Mr Harrison provides none in his column because none exists on ground.

Most troubling, as I said, is that Mr Harrison’s claim appears to be based at least in part on rumours by unnamed journalists. He says that his sources for this conspiracy theory are: …reports from a variety of foreign intelligence sources, Pakistani journalists and Pakistani human rights workers…

  • What foreign intelligence sources is he talking about? While it would certainly be in keeping with journalistic practice to hold confidential the name of an informant, it is not unusual to at least report what agency the informant is associated with.
  • Without playing into alternate conspiracy theories, it is well documented that intelligence agencies partake in disinformation campaigns designed to sow discord in targeted nations. Considering the location in question, is it not important to know which foreign intelligence agency is making these claims?
  • It is quite troubling that some representatives of Pakistani media have been feeding such stories to foreign reporters.
  • Considering Mr Harrison’s background (as will be explained below), it is worrisome that these Pakistani journalists went to Mr Harrison to promote their story.
  • Certainly Mr Harrison will refuse to expose who these Pakistani journalists are, but at least he could name the papers or the agencies for which they work.
  • There is reason to protect the identities of “whistle blowers” against official corruption for fear of their safety, there is little public good gained by allowing journalists to spread unsubstantiated rumours.

Now let’s look at Mr Harrison’s claims directly. Many of Mr Harrison’s claims are nothing more than hysterical conjecture.

See how Harrison builds sensation in his story, “Mystery surrounds the construction of 22 tunnels in secret locations where Pakistanis are barred. Tunnels would be necessary for a projected gas pipeline from Iran to China that would cross the Himalayas through Gilgit. But they could also be used for missile storage sites.” Here his mention that these could also be used for storage of missiles is simply a fiction writer’s dream. Also it would be appropriate to mention here that Gilgit-Baltistan is a tourist area of Pakistan where lots of both domestic and foreign tourists flock.

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I could not help but think of the famous American claims about Iraq’s “aluminum tubes and mobile laboratories for weapons of mass destruction.” The idea that China, which shares a border with Pakistan, would need to store missiles under Gilgit-Baltistan makes no sense. Unfortunately for Mr Harrison’s conspiracy theory, though, building tunnels for a gas pipeline would be a perfectly reasonable explanation for an increased presence of Chinese workers in the region. It’s just not quite as scary.

Of course, this is not the first claim that Mr Harrison has made about the break up of Pakistan. The Pakistan Policy Blog noticed this trend of Mr Harrison’s back in 2008, noting that “Selig Harrison has made a career of predicting the imminent break-up of South Asian states”. In 2006, Mr Harrison reported for the French newspaper Le Monde Diplomatique that Baluchistan and Sindh were preparing to quit the nation.

While there is no denying that we have seen groups of separatists and ethnic strife in the country (what country has not experienced such moves in its history?), Mr Harrison’s reports consistently take on a tone of imminent national dissolution that is simply not supported by the facts. Four years after Mr Harrison’s prediction in the French media and no such calamity has occurred, of course. Yet Mr Harrison continues to predict the breakup of Pakistan. Perhaps he believes that if he simply wishes hard enough, it will come true?

Joshua Foust, a respected American journalist and intelligence consultant on South Asia, wrote a scathing profile of Mr Selig Harrison in 2008 in which he calls Mr Harrison’s writings on Pashtunistan, “silly, over-hyped nonsense” and says, “As it is, Harrison casts a very unconvincing shadow on the discourse over the Pashtunistan issue. It merits serious discussion—separatist movements always do. But placing them in their proper context, both historically and socially, is just as important as making a case you’ve been trying to make for years. As it is, Harrison seems to rely on mischaracterization, hyperbole, and “the soft bigotry of low expectations” (to borrow a phrase and avoid slinging charges of Orientalism)—hardly the stuff of a world-renowned regional expert. I hesitate to accuse Harrison of wearing ideological blinders, as I can’t really figure out what his ideology is, simultaneously blaming the West for subjugating the Pashtuns while granting them unlimited power to unite, declare independence, and bring down that very same West.

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But that’s par for the course for most writing these days on Pashtuns, and even on Afghanistan. It just doesn’t add up. My question here, though, is the same as it was for Ann Marlowe: who the hell keeps paying him to write? I have to assume it is simply the ignorant, those more aware of his reputation than his recent scholarship, without the means to fact-check what he writes so long as it confirms their biases. That is a major loss to the field, that rigor. But, as with the curious longevity of Thomas Johnson (whom, ironically enough, Marlowe has called “brilliant”), it doesn’t seem to be that unoriginal, either.

Today, of course, Mr Harrison is not talking only about a separatist rebellion, but he has added a twist by claiming the government is “handing over de facto control of the strategic Gilgit-Baltistan region in the northwest corner of disputed Kashmir to China”. His evidence? Chinese PLA workers building roads and bridges.

Mr Harrison’s column, it is important to note, appears on the Opinion page of the New York Times. It does not even pretend to be an objective or investigative report, nor should it.

Mr Harrison makes clear his position when he writes, what is happening in the region matters to Washington for two reasons.

  • Pakistan’s support for the Taliban,
  • Islamabad’s collusion in facilitating China’s access to the Gulf makes clear that Pakistan is not a U.S. “ally.”

This is a position in direct conflict with the official positions of the US and Pakistan. It is not only Harrison’s opinion, but an attempt to change the direction of Pakistan-US relations. Something, it seems, he has been trying to do for years.

An opinion column with no evidence, a discredited author, and sources from unnamed foreign intelligence agencies. One has to ask why the Pakistani media has been so ready to republish such rubbish. In fact, The News republished the piece in full today. The Nation makes note of the author’s “obsessive anti-Pakistan posture”, but then reproduces most of the author’s claims.