There is a curious phenomenon that has taken shape in sections of the Pakistani press in the past 3-4 days. At least two TV networks, Express TV and Aaj, reportedly went big with the news that the match-fixing scandal engulfing the Pakistani team was a conspiracy hatched by RAW, the Indian intelligence agency. According to this version, the bookie Mazhar Majeed was a paid RAW agent; RAW introduced him into cricket circles to humiliate Pakistan and that Indian officials went around convincing British journalists to do a “fake sting operation”.
It’s the kind of madcap theory that always does the rounds when disaster strikes a nation – remember the loony theories about how 9/11 was an Israeli operation and that all Jews in the World Trade Centre had advance warning to leave. The revealing thing about this Pakistani story though is how much traction it got in parts of the mainstream press.

The story first appeared in a local paper called the Daily Mail, described by one Pakistani blogger as a “rag”. It had no sources or proof but then acquired a life of its own. According to a good round-up by the Pakistani blogspot, Café Pyala, it then surfaced in The Nation; in the Urdu press; and on television.

At the risk of generalising too much, the willingness to give this kind of story any kind of play – without following any of the usual rules of attribution and proof – reveals a mindset that refuses to believe reality, falling back into the comfortable, knee-jerk reaction of blaming the Old Enemy.

Just look at how the Pakistani High Commissioner in London, Wajid Shamsul Hasan, has been all over radio and TV, blaming an “Indian hand”. Judging from reactions in the British press, the High Commissioner is in serious danger of becoming the laughing stock of London. Ironically, Mr Hasan has actually been far more circumspect than sections of his own media, blaming Sharad Pawar and Indian influence in the ICC. The larger mindset though is similar: when in doubt, blame India.

Of course, there are enough sane sections within the Pakistani press and larger civil society. Of course, not everyone is in denial mode – some media groups have ignored the RAW story altogether – and not everyone believes that even the floods were an Indian conspiracy.

Divergences of opinion exist in every society. The problem in Pakistan right now, as virtually every institution of the state crumbles, is that the space for reasoned and rational argumentation is continually shrinking. And it is being filled up by the loony brigade.

The story of the RAW hand would ordinarily have been a good laugh, if it did not reveal a deeper trend of denial. Over the weekend, Pakistani bloggers have been talking of how it seems to have originated from the Pakistani intelligence establishment, and then regurgitated verbatim. If this is true, then it would make some kind of intuitive sense in a macabre psycho-ops kind of way. Though heaven knows what good the spooks thought would come of it.

With the flood waters still swirling, Pakistan is now facing the most serious existential crisis in its history. Only the Army has conducted itself with dignity in the face of this disaster. Indeed it is the only functioning institution with the tools to deal with it. And the Army’s raison d’etre is India. With the Army regaining credibility as the only bulwark of the nation, and readying for a post-American world in Afghanistan, its hardline anti-India stance is back in vogue.

Sample the cussedness in accepting Indian money for flood relief and the increasing embrace of China in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir. Even before the Indus inundated Pakistan, the biggest new issue in Indo-Pak relations this year – keeping aside S M Krishna’s press conference disaster in Islamabad – was the growing Pakistani murmur of India allegedly creating new dams to breach the Indus Water Treaty, and to rob Pakistan of its waters.

The Pakistani press has been flush with dark whispers about the floods just being another example of Indian perfidy, with accusations of India deliberately diverting waters from Kashmir to the Pakistani heartland. With the Army in charge for all practical purposes, the Indian obsession is back as the default position.

Pakistani cricket has always been a central marker of Pakistani identity. Pakistan did not get automatic membership of the then Imperial Cricket Council after independence and its victory over the MCC in an unofficial Test in 1951 was regarded by many in the country as a coming of age for the new nation. As the Pakistani legend, Fazal Mahmood, who was the hero of that game, wrote later, “After this victory [the English], they learnt that Pakistan was an independent and sovereign state.” The question is what will Pakistan learn from its English test of 2010?