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‘Meteoric’ Rise of a Pakistani Agitator

Salman Masood, Foreign Correspondent

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RAWALPINDI // When Zaid Zaman Hamid, a television personality and defence analyst, is not saying something on television that can be viewed by some as controversial or conspiratorial, he is busy denying the controversies that surround him.

On a recent morning, Hamid was telling a caller at his office in Rawalpindi that he does not have a profile on Facebook, the internet social networking site, and that he is not looking for “dating” as had been described in the profile.

Hamid knew who was behind these fake profiles on Facebook and another networking site, Orkut. “The Indians!”, he said.

“I am probably the most hated man in India right now. So, it is quite understandable that they are doing a psychological warfare against me.”

Indians are incensed because in a recorded show last week, Hamid predicted a final confrontation with India that would result in conquering Delhi, the Indian capital. The television network refused to air the episode. It was, however, leaked on YouTube.

But Indians are not the only ones who Hamid regularly, and passionately, castigates in his television appearances.

He equally loathes Americans and Israelis. In fact, the list is quite long and includes Afghans, al Qa’eda, the Pakistani Taliban and the current Pakistani political government, said Hamid, who surprisingly for all his venom and bravado comes across as pleasant and good-humoured.

Just two years ago, Hamid, 44, was a relatively unknown self-styled threat and defence analyst who was running the think tank Brass Tacks in Rawalpindi, the garrison city that is the headquarters of the Pakistani military.

His rise to fame has been quick – “meteoric” in his own words.

Media in Pakistan has mushroomed in the past several years. Dozens of new television networks have sprung up and are battling for superiority. Political talkshows have become popular, even more than the soap operas, and talk show hosts are new sensations.

Hamid has a weekly television show, also called Brass Tacks, on a local television network, NewsOne. He also frequently appears on shows on other television networks and radio stations.

Hamid said in his programme, he analyses and points out the security threats that Pakistan is facing.

Critics say Hamid thrives on grand conspiracies and they find his staunchly nationalistic jingoism outlandish. Bloggers keep writing for and against him. Op-eds have appeared against his show and label him as a Pakistani neoconservative.

“Unlike liberal critics that have been pointing to deficiencies in the rule of law, the inadequacies of institutions, the lack of due process and the general devolution of Pakistani civic sensibilities, these Pakistani neoconservatives want to edify our violent capabilities into moral superiority,” wrote Rafia Zakaria, in a recent column in Daily Times, a newspaper based in Lahore.

What Hamid is doing, Ms Zakaria wrote without naming him in the article, is “ingenious in its repackaging of Islamism in a supposedly ‘scholarly’ form that can be digested by middle-class audiences fishing for pseudointellectual discourse”.

But Hamid said he is simply a man on a mission to save Pakistan.

Hamid claims the United States is out to denuclearise Pakistan. “It is applying what I call the Yugoslavia Solution,” he said.

“The ultimate game plan is to ultimately take out Pakistan’s nuclear and missile programme. To achieve that, the US needs to do certain steps. Everything is heading to that direction.

“But the Americans don’t want to make a false move. Because, that can backfire very severely. So, there are multiple ways by which they are trying to achieve this. Number one is by imposing a politically corrupt government, which will implode Pakistan from within. Create an environment of mismanagement and financial corruption to the extent Pakistan becomes a dysfunctional and failed state. That was the most fundamental component of the Yugoslavia strategy,” he said.

“Secondly, support insurgencies on the ground. Where they will further accelerate the dismemberment of the country.”

It is quite a turnaround for a man who fought against the Soviets in Afghanistan in a war that was mainly funded by the United States.

An engineer by qualification, Hamid fought for six years in Afghanistan but returned to Pakistan in 1992 when different mujahideen factions started fighting among themselves for the control of Kabul.

“The life that I have spent behind is full of experiences and adventures where I had practically dealt with every issue which this nation is facing today in terms of security, in terms of politics, in terms of religion. These are the main issues today. I have been thick into this.”

In 2000, Hamid opened his think tank. “I realised there was a vacuum of proper security consultants in Pakistan,” he said. And of course, it was absolutely niche concept. Practically people would laugh at me when I would go to the corporate environment that I am a security consultant. They would ask me what do I sell. I would say I sell nothing but ideas. They said we only need guards. I said no, I will develop your security policy. People didn’t know what a security policy is.”

He denies that he is forming a cult based on his own personality.

“Nothing can be further from truth than that,” he said.

“I am trying to bring people to an ideology. Ideology as Muslims and identity as Pakistanis.”

Hamid said he was not intimidated by the fact that he talks against almost everyone, and was not concerned about the threats or dangers to his personal security.

“When the nation is at stake and at risk, individuals don’t matter. I know if I become silent today because of my personal security, tomorrow the entire country’s security will be at stake.”