Casualties Of The War
- Benazir Bhutto: The ex-PM was killed on December 27, 2007, when leaving the Liaqat National Bagh, Rawalpindi, following a rally.
- Akbar Bugti: The head of the Bugti tribe in Balochistan, he was killed in a security operation on August 26, 2006.
- Salman Taseer: The governor of Punjab, he died on January 4, 2011, when a member of his own security detail pumped 26 bullets into him.
- Shahbaz Bhatti: Federal minister of minorities, he was assassinated on March 1, 2011. Like Taseer, had been critical of the blasphemy law.
- Daniel Pearl: The American journalist was kidnapped and beheaded in February 2002.
The horrific images of September 11, 2001, will always stay frozen in memory—planes ramming into the World Trade Center (WTC) towers, flaming columns leaping into the sky and a thick fog of smoke billowing across New York, and then the skyscrapers collapsing into heaps of rubble. We in Pakistan were as stunned as those watching in other countries. But we were unaware of the horror about to ambush Pakistan. It had the body, and voice, of then US President George W. Bush, who bristled in that apocalyptic moment, “You’re either with us or against us.” That one line was to forever alter the destiny of Pakistan.
True, an angry Bush was rallying global support for America and the War on Terror he was planning to launch in Afghanistan. To most Pakistanis, though, it seemed a thinly veiled threat to the country, which was perceived to be bolstering the Taliban in Kabul. Doubts were confirmed as then US deputy secretary of state, Richard Armitage, told the isi’s director-general that Pakistan either supported the US or prepared to get “bombed back to the Stone Age”. Gen Pervez Musharraf, still new to presidency, cast his lot—and that of his nation—with the Americans.
Days before the 10th anniversary of 9/11, most Pakistanis might be forgiven for believing that they are headed for the Stone Age anyway. The invasion of Afghanistan has sucked Pakistan into a vortex of bloodshed—more than 12,000 people have died in terror incidents beginning January 2007; another 24,000 have been injured. Add to these figures, those killed in terror incidents in the preceding five years as also those who died in Pakistani military operations, ordered at America’s behest, drone attacks, and countless border skirmishes and what you have is a tale of death and destruction many times more severe and traumatic than New York’s. Yet, you still won’t have people lighting candles for us.
These bloody 10 years, says former ambassador Khalid Mahmood, were a consequence of “America’s coercive diplomacy going amuck”. Bush’s haste to invade Afghanistan did not give Pakistan any opportunity to negotiate the “terms of engagement” or “framework of cooperation” before becoming his ally in the War on Terror. “A decade later,” Mahmood scoffs, “it is still being discussed between Islamabad and Washington.”
In the absence of such agreements, Pakistan was viewed as a weakling being pushed around. It hurt national sensibilities and fanned the latent anti-US sentiments. More significantly, Musharraf’s decision to ditch the Taliban was seen as a great betrayal. The Islamists called for retribution; they turned their guns on their countrymen; they emerged from their hideouts to wreak havoc on cities. “Pakistan had to fight not only in the mountains of its tribal areas, but also in its cities and ended up paying a heavy price and making huge sacrifices in this fight, with very adverse effects on Pakistan’s economy,” Mehmood articulates.
Simultaneously, afoot in the United Nations (UN) was a development with grave implications for Pakistan. Says international law expert Ahmer Bilal Soofi, “After 9/11, there has been extensive legislation by the UN Security Council against terrorism, particularly on the responsibility of the states to ensure that their territories are not used by terrorists. Pakistan became the most important state, where the application or lack thereof of these laws was viewed as crucial. This placed enormous pressure both internally and externally on Pakistan.” Under international scrutiny, particularly America’s, Pakistan had to take action against the same extremist groups it had patronised and which were publicly recruiting footsoldiers and collecting funds.
The ensuing crackdown on these groups turned them against the Pakistani state, and prompted them to launch attacks against the army, police and people. They also pooled their resources with the Taliban to rend asunder the detached peace of the cities of Pakistan. Now, fear is in the air we breathe. Urban Pakistan has retreated behind high boundary walls with barbed wires, security barricades are ubiquitous, and among the most common fare that TV news channels beam, almost daily, are gory images of mutilated bodies and maudlin scenes of wailing survivors and relatives of victims. Collective funerals are commonplace. Even our leaders aren’t insulated from the militant’s bullet, as the assassinations of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, governor of Punjab Salman Taseer and minister of minorities affairs Shahbaz Bhatti testify. Musharraf survived three attempts on his life.
It’s impossible for anyone to escape the terror stalking Pakistan. Staying a stone’s throw away from the General HQ in Rawalpindi, I have experienced bomb blasts rattle the windows of my house and the menacing sound of gunfire punctuate my daily routine. Security guards warn my gardener against burning dead autumn leaves; “It isn’t allowed in the high-security zone,” they say. After every blast in a public arena, you are besieged with calls asking, “Are you safe?” My foreign policy beat seems to have become unifocal, obsessed as we are about Pakistan-US relations and the ongoing war on terror in Afghanistan.
It is as if we’re destined to eternally live in a war zone—a damned destiny that even New Yorkers haven’t countenanced.
To blame only America for Pakistan’s woes would be wrong. Armed Islamists are not spawned overnight. They incubate in a particular socio-cultural context and come out of the test-tube in a laboratory conducive to them. Former foreign secretary Riaz Mohammed Khan, in his recent book, Pakistan and Afghanistan, Conflict, Extremism, and Resistance to Modernity, argues that it was President Zia-ul-Haq’s policy of Islamisation that “gave rise to a culture of religiosity and an environment of somewhat superficial and coercive self-righteousness that diminished the space for secular thinking and free discourse”. Not only did the Pakistani state fail to counter this tendency, but even seemed to condone the Talibanisation creeping from across the border in the days before 9/11.
Pakistan’s role in the war on terror incurred Islamabad the wrath of state-controlled extremists, who were livid at the sight of their patron meekly doing America’s bidding. As political commentator Kamran Shafi advances, “It was 9/11 that saw the rise of state-controlled extremists such as Maulvi Sufi Mohammed and parts of the country (Swat, Buner) were eventually taken over by an unchallenged Taliban with cruel and disastrous results for the local populace, specially women.” Pakistanis were shocked to see people fete and garland murderers and watch on Youtube streamed videos of the Taliban lashing women, their victims’ wails tickling them with delight.
The ascendancy of militants post-9/11, and particularly after the crackdown on the Lal Masjid in 2007, reduced further the already limited space available to liberal Pakistani women. The Punjab minister for social welfare Zil-e-Huma Usman was gunned down because her assassin, who was opposed to women participating in politics, was riled by her refusal to abide by the Islamic code of dress. Says Samina Ahmed of the International Crisis Group, “9/11 has certainly changed Pakistan forever. Using the US intervention in Afghanistan and the alliance, no matter how reluctant and half-hearted, between Islamabad and Washington as justification for acts of violence, radical home-grown extremists have claimed thousands of innocent Pakistani lives. America might stand to gain if Pakistan succeeds in eliminating violent extremism, but Pakistan’s very future depends on winning or losing this struggle.”
Samina Ahmed’s response begs the question: had 9/11 not happened, would Pakistan still have witnessed the 10 long years of bloodshed? Says former ISI chief Gen (retd) Asad Durrani, “I am not sure if 9/11 has changed anything forever, but of course there have been some major effects in many countries; in Pakistan too, but more so in Afghanistan, Iraq, and more profoundly in and for the US. My thesis is that most of that was, in any case, likely to happen: 9/11 either expedited it or brought it about more spectacularly.” Durrani says Pakistan committed harakiri in starting a military operation in the tribal areas and is now “desperately warding off the final rites by not doing more. Islamabad is thus the perfect scapegoat for Washington’s inability to finish the job in Afghanistan”.
Others, however, don’t agree with Durrani’s thesis. Senator M. Enver Baig, a close confidant of Benazir Bhutto, says the consequences of 9/11 have damaged Pakistan beyond repair. He cites a long list of Pakistan’s woes: “It has given birth to an internal war of terror waged by militant groups that are at odds with the government policy of alignment with the West. What had once been a secure and stable Pakistan is today overwhelmed by a deepening social crisis provoked by deteriorating law and order situation, divisiveness in society and a loss of national cohesion, a crumbling economy, evaporating internal legitimacy and a rapidly declining external credibility.”
Yet, it must be said that the militants have not shattered the spirit of Pakistanis—they still trudge to worship in bombed-out mosques and continue to rebuild schools from where, days before, they’d dragged out bodies of girls targeted by suicide bombers. Agrees Khan, “Pakistan has survived many experiences of deep national trauma and tragedy, sanctions and pressures, which have strengthened its inherent resilience. The pace of Pakistan’s progress will depend on clear thinking in public discourse about the demands of modernity and on the collective vision of its political and intellectual leaders.” That, perhaps, is asking too much from an overambitious military and a government on the take.