The tragic massacre of 45 Ismailis in Karachi on the 13th of May is the latest in a long list of atrocities that has claimed the lives of thousands of innocent Pakistani men, women, and children. Over the past decade, a variety of different sectarian and militant groups have made no secret of their desire to sow chaos and instability in this country, with their capacity to wreak havoc being at least partially rooted in the way they have benefitted from state indifference and/or patronage in the past. Yet, despite the manifest evidence suggesting these groups are responsible for perpetrating terrorism on Pakistani soil, and often in the face of brazen acknowledgments of responsibility by these outfits, the government continues to insist that the problem lies elsewhere. Indeed, even though militants aligned with the Islamic State declared that they had carried out the attack on Wednesday, the authorities wasted no time in asserting that it was too early to verify these claims. At the same time, the same lack of evidence that militated against blaming IS did not prevent elements within the media, as well as the state, from reaching the definitive conclusion that the attack was part of RAW’s systematic attempts to undermine Pakistan.

Attributing Pakistan’s woes to hidden ‘foreign hands’ in not a new phenomenon. However, in the context of how both the civilian government and the military establishment have, in recent weeks, directly accused RAW of fomenting terrorism in Pakistan, particularly in Balochistan and Karachi, it is necessary to evaluate the implications of these statements. After all, while the extent of RAW’s activities in Pakistan may ultimately remain unknowable and indeterminate, there are two broader issues that deserve careful consideration. Firstly, does the knee-jerk blaming of RAW, rightly or wrongly, shift attention away from more pressing, domestic questions that might have a bearing on Pakistan’s fight against terrorism? Secondly, is there something to be learnt from the willingness with which broad swathes of the populace accept claims of foreign interference while simultaneously ignoring or ridiculing explanations that focus on the indigenous roots of terror in Pakistan?

On the first point, it is not difficult to discern a pattern that has characterized the official discourse throughout Pakistan’s history. More often than not, the machinations of powerful foreign aggressors have been invoked by the state in order to garner legitimacy and popular support, and to deflect attention away from its own shortcomings and incompetence. While hostile foreign entities may or may not be operating in Pakistan, it is necessary to take stock of, and address, the ways in which the state itself has fostered instability in this country. In 1971, the government attempted to discredit the Bengali independence movement by claiming its rise was entirely due to Indian interference; what this narrative conveniently ignored was the way in which a West Pakistani elite had presided over the marginalization and exploitation of Bengal for two decades. Similarly terrorism, whether it takes place in FATA, Balochistan, or Karachi, is attributed to foreign intelligence agencies. Again, what this ignores is the way in which misguided policies on the use of militant proxies in Kashmir and Afghanistan, coupled with a narrow and parochial religion-based nationalism, have combined to create an atmosphere in which violent, extremist creeds and organizations can flourish. In this context, assuming that Pakistan’s travails can be pinned entirely on India, or any other external entity, impedes the kind of exercise in introspection that is urgently required for this country to put its house in order.

When it comes to widespread agreement with state-led narratives on the role of foreign actors, there are a number of factors that can potentially explain the grip conspiracy theories hold on the popular imagination. For one, it is clear that decades of state-led indoctrination and propaganda, revolving around the cultivation of a siege mentality that depicts Pakistan (and Islam) as being under siege from a variety of different global forces, cultivates a willingness to believe explanations that blame violence on nefarious foreign plans. This is tied to a related belief, namely that the citizens of the Land of the Pure, and their custodians in the government, could not possibly subject each other to the barbarism and savagery that has become an unfortunate fact of life in Pakistan.

This denial is also understandable when considering the broader powerlessness that defines the body politic in this country; amidst widespread poverty, corruption, and oppression, in a context where the legitimacy of the powerful is secured through the use of religion and nationalism, and where escalating violence and instability, as well as rampant economic and social change, contribute to a general feeling of helplessness, simple explanations featuring easily identifiable heroes and villains can provide a sense of control and, indeed, comfort. Blaming India for everything is easier than reflecting on the myriad ways in which Pakistan is itself responsible for the mess it finds itself in.

Amidst all the carnage, violence, and tragedy, it is often easy to forget that Pakistan is broken in a variety of different ways. This past month alone, serious questions have been raised about the curtailment of civil liberties, the privatization of state-owned entities, electoral rigging, the links between politics and criminality, and the future of local governance in this country. These issues are a clear and present indication of institutional failures that are entirely of our own making, and which can only be addressed through focused political action and mobilization aimed at holding those in power (and those who aspire to power) accountable. Similarly, while India may or may not be involved in the violence that has wracked the nation these past few weeks, it is not difficult to see how groups like IS might have found Pakistan to be a country conducive to their particular brand of millinerian politics. To unquestioningly and uncritically swallow claims that ‘foreign hands’ are behind Pakistan’s problems is to let the powers-that-be continue to benefit from a status quo in which they are free to pursue their interests without accountability. It is critical that steps be taken to sort out Pakistan’s internal affairs, and to address the damage done by years of poor decision-making on the part of the state. To ignore this and fixate on India is to do a great disservice to Pakistan.