Shock Doctrine and Pakistan : Part I of II

I was at a dinner on Friday night. Multiple bomb blasts in Lahore had taken place the same day. A guest at the dinner asked me that if I had read about ‘shock doctrine’ as someone told him that new Lahore blasts appear part of some shock doctrine.

I told him that though I did not finish ‘Shock Doctrine’ by Naomi Klein (I have a tendency to leave a book in the middle if it cannot keep my interest), but no for a fact that there is a disconnect between her understanding of the doctrine and what he (guest) is implying. The main thrust of the book is on ‘disaster capitalism’. The author, however, touches upon what he is referring to. I might take up the case of ‘disaster capitalism’ in Part II whenever I get around to writing it.

In referring to what the guest was implying, the author says that governments use moments of shock to push through laws, reforms and actions that would have otherwise been unpalatable or unacceptable to general public.

The US was known for its relatively better justice system (there were exceptions but people accepted it more or less to be relatively fair compared to rest of the world) with prisoners having rights such that they can’t be imprisoned without bringing charges against them. Then 9/11 happened. This was followed by limits imposed on personal freedom and rights. Wire tapping became common. Prisoners can be held without trial for ages. Guantanamo Bay facility which might have been unforeseeable before the 9/11 with its human rights abuses, is perfectly normal and nobody raises an eye brow on the injustices carried out there. The implication here is not that US caused 9/11 rather that they have used the shock of 9/11 to usher in laws and restrict rights that people would have (before the event )vehemently protested against. Now the people accept everything meekly under the pretext of greater good / security.

A recent example is the Underwear bomber case. Enough questions have been raised in the media about whether the whole thing was a preplanned charade by US security forces: how could the guy even get pass the vigilant Israeli trained Schipol airport security. Prior to this incident, there were discussions in the media whether the new body scanning machines at the airport are an invasion of privacy and paranoia carried to the extremes. After the event, the body scanners are a permanent feature for foreseeable future and no discussion or even alternate suggestions or put forth in the media. Everyone has accepted it. No questions asked. Period.

Coming back to the dinner. My contention with the guest was that unlike the US society which is generally united against the Talibans and any external threat, Pakistan is a bipolar or multipolar society. Whereas such blasts in US might have brought people together and might helped push in laws or whatever the government might throw at people, however, Pakistanis are still not convinced that its the job of Talibans. If its the Talibans, then these must Punjabi Talibans and not the Haqqani network. If not them, then may be its bad Talibans and not the good Talibans. I have even heard that the bomb blasts may have been instituted by agencies or the Presidency to create panic and chaos in Punjab and bring down the Shahbaz Sharif  government.

From a ‘shock doctrine’ perspective, the bomb blasts need to achieve an objective i.e., make it easier to bring in some change which would otherwise not been palatable. So far I haven’t seen any such move.

The guest who proposed the ‘shock doctrine’ conspiracy theory was no right wing sympathiser. I was actually surprised that such a liberal and anti-taliban and non-right-wing person would forward a theory which is normally associated with right wing nut jobs.
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