After losing in the doubles’ final at last year’s US Open, Pakistani tennis player Aisamul Haq Qureshi gave one of the most sincere and eloquent speeches you’ll ever hear, especially considering it came from a sportsman. In front of a packed stadium at Flushing Meadows, New York, close to the site of the destroyed World Trade Centre, Aisam said, “Since September 11, every time I come to the States or western countries, I feel people have the wrong impression about Pakistan as a terrorist nation. There are extremists I think in every religion but, just because of them, you can’t judge the whole country as a terrorist nation.”
It’s a great shame that Aisam fell one match short from making a repeat appearance in the final, this time to be played on the eve of the tenth anniversary of 9/11. Amid the thousands of words written about Pakistan and 9/11, cumulatively providing enough paper to burn for fuel that our energy problems can be solved in a stroke, Aisam’s sanity would have been much-appreciated.
Analysis of how 9/11 made Pakistan important again and how it forced us to strike a devil’s bargain with the US and fight the Taliban is necessary and useful. But our constant need to dice and dissect should not distract us from that fact that the 9/11 effect was thrust on us, usually in an extremely violent manner.
People like Aisam — a journeyman sportsman who specialises in doubles’ tennis, a form of the game that does not garner any attention even among tennis fanatics — suddenly become the country’s spokesmen. If you were Pakistani and had an international profile, it suddenly became your duty to humbly explain that we are people too.
It is not easy carrying the scarlet letter that is our green passport, given suspicious glances wherever you travel. Most of us would retreat and try and blend in with the anonymous masses. A few resisted the temptation of staying silent. None did it better than Aisam.
At least people like Aisam got a chance to explain that they cannot be blamed for the actions of a few, non-Pakistani terrorists. Spare a thought, though, for those Pakistanis for whom the aftermath of 9/11 meant a forgotten death.
The civilians caught in a flurry of terrorist and drone attacks may not be counted among the nearly 3,000 who died on September 11, but they are as much victims of that ignoble day as those who were trapped in the Twin Towers, the Pentagon and United 93. Criticising the military leadership for its sins is fair game but that should never extend to the soldiers who undertook the toughest job any army man could ever face: fighting his own countrymen. Those who lost their lives to save this country from itself are also victims of 9/11.
In the last 10 years, dozens of Pakistani journalists, some high-profile like Saleem Shahzad, others sadly anonymous, have given up their lives to report on the terrorists in our midst. For the sake of their memories, we need to keep reminding ourselves and reminding the world that while we may have terrorists among us, it does not mean that we can all be tarred by the same accusation. We have lost too many heroes since 9/11 for that to be true.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 11th, 2011.