- Associated Press - Sunday, May 29, 2011

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Facing a surge in violence after the killing of Osama bin Laden, Pakistanis are taking comfort in conspiracy theories that allege Indian or American agents — not fellow Muslim countrymen — are behind the attacks, especially last week’s brazen assault on a naval base.

Lawmakers, media pundits, retired generals and even government officials often hint at suspicions of a “foreign hand” in the violence, despite there being no evidence and often explicit claims of responsibility by terrorist groups such as the Pakistani Taliban.

Covered on television talk shows and in newspapers, conspiracy theories are everywhere, underscoring the challenges facing the United States as it seeks to convince Pakistan’s overwhelmingly anti-American population that it faces a shared enemy in the Taliban.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton fought back Friday against the stories flying around.

“America cannot and should not solve Pakistan’s problems. That is up to Pakistan,” she told reporters. “But in solving its problems, Pakistan should understand that anti-Americanism and conspiracy theories will not make problems disappear.”

Shifting the blame away from Islamist militants and onto foreigners helps protect the powerful Pakistani army from an uncomfortable truth about its long association with terrorists that are now turning against the state.

Right-wing Islamists who support the Afghan Taliban and share the Pakistan Taliban’s hatred of America are also put in a difficult position by the terror being unleashed on the country. For them, it is easier to blame foreigners out to destabilize the country than acknowledge the slaughter carried out in the name of Islam.

Ironically, the Pakistani Taliban shares Mrs. Clinton’s dislike of the conspiracy theories but for different reasons.

“Those who are accusing us of working for anyone else’s agenda should ask themselves what they are doing,” Waliur Rehman, the Taliban’s No. 2 commander, told the Associated Press.

“We are neither working for CIA, Mossad, RAW nor any other organization,” he said, referring to the U.S., Israeli and Indian spy agencies. “We work to get the blessing of God.”

The attack on the naval base in Karachi was one of the most brazen in more than four years of terrorist violence. A team of gunmen infiltrated the base, destroying two U.S.-made surveillance planes and killing at least 10 people during a 16-hour standoff.

The fact that the attackers destroyed planes that are believed to be used mostly to guard against India and do not appear directly related to the war on terrorism has given grist to the conspiracy theorists.

India and Pakistan have waged three wars since 1947 and exist in a state of semi-hostility. Left-wing critics accuse the Pakistani army, which ruled the country for much of its existence, of indoctrinating the country with mistrust of India to ensure that it keeps getting a large share of the country’s budget.

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