Washington: In order to prevent journalists from unveiling the terror roots in the country, Pakistan has virtually locked up journalists, who made their way to Multan in order to probe the radicalization of the San Bernardino terrorists even as it emerged that the Pakistani wife of the Chicago-born Pakistani-American Syed Rizwan Farooq may have “honey-trapped” him into entering the United States.
Correspondents who made their way to the city of Multan in Pakistan’s Punjab province, considered the hotbed of sunni extremism where Farooq’s jihadi wife Tashfeen Malik studied pharmacy, reported they had been corralled in a local hotel and are not being permitted to go out to investigate.
“Pakistani ‘officials’ not letting some journalists out of our hotel in Multan this morning to do reporting. I am still barred from leaving hotel in Multan and Pakistani ‘officials’ strongly suggest I, as foreign journalist, ‘go back to Islamabad”‘ tweeted Washington Post’s Tim Craig, who has been reporting from Pakistan.
“On one hand officials say Tashfeen Malik wasn’t radicalized here in Multan, yet on other hand they say ‘it’s too dangerous’ for foreigners,” Craig tweeted, adding, “I’ve lost track of how many different security/intel officials I’ve had to talk to, copy my passport, etc in past 17 hours – think 12 to 16.”
By putting “officials” in quotes, the correspondent seemed to indicate they are ISI roughnecks who are frequently tasked with tailing foreign reporters to make sure they do not get too close to the truth, in this case the fact that Multan and surrounding areas in Pakistan’s Punjab is the hotbed of state sponsored Sunni sectarianism and extremism.
The country’s security apparatus uses rough methods, including beating up foreign journalists as it happened with New York Times’ Carlotta Gall, to protect its interests. It also uses the grisly example of Daniel Pearl’s murder to advise foreign reporters that they are treading in dangerous territory, which in this case appears to be the state-protected Southern Punjab region.
Many Pakistani politicians draw support and sustenance from Southern Punjab’s toxic swamp teeming with ISI-nurtured extremists, who prior to the San Bernardino incursion usually directed their terrorism at India. The region’s radicalization, reported even by sections of the Pakistani media before it was silenced, is backed by Saudi Wahhabi ideology and resources.
Tashfeen Malik’s politically influential family is from this area, and like many feudal Punjabi politicians, they are reported to have ties with sectarian and extremist elements. Although her father left his home town of Karor Lal Esan for Saudi Arabia when she was four, they maintained contact with the region, visiting frequently.
Tashfeen returned to Multan in 2007 to study pharmacy, just about the time there was a brutal crackdown by the Musharraf government on the Lal Masjid in Islamabad, resulting in nearly 200 deaths according to official figures, and more than 1000 according to extremist groups. Militant burka clad female jihadis had threatened suicide attacks to avenge the crackdown. It is not clear if that incident had a role in Tashfeen’s radicalization.
US investigators meanwhile are examining if Tashfeen actually entrapped Farook, who it appears was devout but moderate, after seeing from his matrimonial profile that he was fond of guns and shooting. There are now reports that she was the one who initiated the shooting at the San Bernardino regional center, while he hesitated before following. One of Farook’s co-workers told the media that “he married a terrorist.”
Pakistan meanwhile is already in a denial mode, attributing everything from Saudi indoctrination to American laxity for the San Bernardino carnage, while absolving its own responsibility for creating a toxic state where extremism thrives and everyone but Sunni Muslims are targeted. The country’s sectarian constitution disenfranchises Ahmedis and other minorities, and its school syllabus teaches officially sponsored bigotry and prejudice against other religions.
(with inputs from TOI)