What is the Pakistani press saying about the U.S. attacks?
By GEOFFREY YORK
Saturday, September 22, 2001
PESHAWAR, PAKISTAN -- The freewheeling Pakistani press has been willing to entertain almost any theory to explain the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington last week -- except the theory that Osama bin Laden was involved.
With great passion, Pakistan's daily newspapers have sketched out a series of extravagant theories to explain how the terrorist attacks could have been organized by Colombian drug lords, Serbian militants or Israeli spies.
The feverish speculation in the Pakistani media is a key reason for the cynicism of most ordinary Pakistanis, who refuse to accept the American justification for the expected military attacks on the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.
A Gallup poll of 500 Pakistanis this week found that the vast majority -- more than 60 per cent -- were opposed to their government's decision to support the United States in the terrorism crisis. The same percentage would support Afghanistan if it becomes the target of U.S.-led attacks.
The most popular theory, repeated endlessly in the local press, is the notion that the Israeli secret service plotted the terrorist attacks to discredit Islam.
One of the country's biggest Urdu-language newspapers has claimed that the terrorist attacks must have been an Israeli conspiracy because 4,000 Jews were absent from their jobs at the World Trade Center on the morning of Sept. 11. Similar reports, echoed in other newspapers, are widely believed by Muslims in the streets.
Some newspapers have mapped out elaborate theories of how the American television networks must have known of the terrorist attacks in advance, since their cameras were able to capture graphic images of the jets slamming into the skyscrapers. The newspapers also suggested that the TV networks had staged some of the human drama with actors who recurred in scene after scene.
The conspiracy theories are just part of a series of bizarre stories in the Pakistani press, where gossip is often presented as certain fact.
One report, for example, claimed that Mr. bin Laden had travelled to Kabul to say goodbye to the Afghan capital, and then galloped out of town on a horse.
Another report confidently declared that the Taliban had taken Mr. bin Laden and "rushed him towards the Chinese border" after a meeting of Islamic clerics in Kabul on Thursday, although it admitted it didn't know his current location.
A third report suggested that an elite unit of American "Green Seals" had secretly landed at a Pakistani airport last week. The subject of the article was apparently a muddled mixture of the Green Berets and the Navy Seals.