The curious case of Faisal Shahzad

Published: May 6, 2010
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Why is it that when it comes to terrorism, all roads – or most of them anyway – lead to Pakistan? As long as the link to the bombing attempt at New York’s Times Square had come through vitriolic messages conveyed by the Taliban over YouTube it had been possible to convince ourselves that these were fabricated.

The dramatic arrest on May 3 of Faisal Shahzad from an Emirates flight bound for Dubai from New York, however, makes such denial impossible. Of course, we still will have the naysayers who will say that Shahzad is an American (he only recently became one) and not a Pakistani (he certainly lived much of his life in Pakistan) and that how could someone from such an educated and ‘good’ family be involved in something like this (Osama bin Laden’s family in Saudi Arabia is among the wealthiest in the world while Ayman Al Zawahiri’s father was a professor and he is a trilingual qualified surgeon).

The investigation that will follow the arrest of a 30-year-old naturalised US national, from an affluent Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa family, may throw some light on his links and how he was lured into leaving a truck, loaded with enough material to make a crude but large bomb, in the middle of New York’s Times Square. So far Shahzad has said that he was acting alone but investigators are likely to discount that theory.

According to one report that quotes details of the charges filed against him in a US federal court, he has admitted to receiving training in Waziristan, and if true, it would corroborate a claim by the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) that it was behind the failed bombing attempt. The fact that the material in the truck failed to explode is perhaps the only silver lining of this whole episode. However, it does not bode well for the large Pakistani community in North America.

While New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s warning that any attacks against Pakistani-Americans or Muslims will not be tolerated is welcome and timely, it is unlikely to deter those Americans who will want revenge and see Faisal Shahzad as another Mohammad Ata in the making. Shahzad obviously did not realise that his own actions will create immense problems for a community that is known more for its excellent doctors and philanthropists than for breeding terorrists.

But terrorists is how Pakistani-Americans may be seen by many Americans now. The Foreign Office has said that Pakistan will cooperate fully in the investigation with the Americans. This is good because nitpicking whether the man is a Pakistani or not will not achieve anything and is a reflection of the isolationist mindset that many in this country have when it comes to relations between the west and Muslims. The chief military spokesman has already said on record that it is unclear whether the TTP even has the “reach” to carry out an attack inside the US.

What is the reason for making such a statement when the TTP chief himself made this statement just a couple of days ago? Even if, for the sake of argument, Shahzad was acting on his own, he has admitted to receiving training in Waziristan, where he reportedly met Qari Hussain Mehsud. The world is a small place and people know the history of the Taliban and how they were created. If it is proven — or even perceived by the US — that the TTP is involved in this failed bombing attempt, then the case for a military operation in North Waziristan becomes all the more stronger.

So by disputing the TTP link, is ISPR trying to ward off such an eventuality? Right now, the best strategy for the government of Pakistan — and the institutions that come under it — would be to aid the investigation and help find any accomplices so that the rest of the world does not see even an iota of prevarication. The much-hyped but muchneglected registration of madrassahs should be revisited as should be a previous failed attempt to monitor sermons given by prayer leaders in our mosques. And as a society, we all need to ask ourselves what it is that makes us get involved in such things.

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Reader Comments (2)

  • Meekal Ahmed
    May 6, 2010 - 5:40PM

    This is a very balanced and well-written Editorial.

    As a harbinger of things to come, the influential Washington Post this morning in a hard-hitting Editorial is asking that the US re-visit the issue of special screening of Pakistani’s. So I suppose all of us, including those of us who live here, are in for a rough ride. Recommend

  • Mekayl Mashhadi Ahmed
    May 7, 2010 - 9:04PM

    Incidents like these cause so much trouble for Pakistani people as peoples perceptions towards them change and become so strong that they can not be changed. I hate the fact that he (Faisal Shahzad) has a Karachi ID Card; enabling the United States and the rest of the world to have a negative perspective towards our couty now (if they did not already).Recommend

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