If you are, or ever were, a Pakistani and are in the United States right now; good luck to you. The firestorm is coming right at you. You may thank Faisal Shahzad and his choice of Nissan Pathfinder as the smoking gun. Believe me I know.
I was in New York on September 11, 2001. I lived through the nightmare and its aftermath and saw America’s transformation all around me as the nation reeled from the towering body blow. I remember watching the TV screen in the university lounge with a number of American students when the first tower collapsed. There was a loud gasp in the room and then silence for what seemed like eternity. They were horror struck and in a state of complete shock. The shock, as I later realised, was two-pronged: how could someone commit such a horrible act; and why against them? The majority had no context, no background and literally no understanding of the forces at work beyond their borders. The US had fought the Soviet Union in Afghanistan for a decade but in September 2001 many Americans actually couldn’t even locate Afghanistan on the world map. Then there was middle America and the ‘Joe six-pack’ breed with his truck, his dog and the stars and stripes on his front porch. This was Bush country — the Republican base — which Karl Rove worshipped. The shockwaves from Manhattan rippled across the nation leaving in their wake smouldering debris of anger, hatred and revenge.
Nine years later it’s the same city but a changed country. Times Square is a few kilometres away from the World Trade Centre site but for America 9/11 and 5/1 are a zillion miles away. Or not. Faisal Shahzad didn’t kill anyone. No one was even admitted to the hospital. But the American psyche is in intensive care. Ghosts of September past are once again lurking over the Manhattan skyline and every Pakistani will now be seen with suspicion and mistrust. Islamic and Pakistani organisations have started issuing statements just like the ones they did after 9/11. They just need to change the dates. They’ve been wizened enough to ‘CTRL-S’ (as in, save) their statements for future. You never know when another Faisal Shahzad decides to find his true path with a Pathfinder. But if the Americans are struggling with their demons, we too have got plenty in our neck of the woods. It’s time we face up to them. There’s a reason Pakistan is called jihad central: because it is.
The graduates of our terror academy are a who’s who of global hate-mongers. Faisal Shahzad now joins the likes of Ajmal Kasab, Khalid Shaikh Mohammad, Ramzi bin alShibh, Ramzi Yousaf. And of course there’s a long line of wannabes shoe bombers, dirty bombers, underwear bombers etc. Somehow all terror roads lead to Waziristan, North and South. Now, we can either conjure conspiracy theories which fit neatly in the worldview of assorted nut jobs or we can look at the kohl-eyed reality in the eyes and do something about it. But do what?
America has a list of ‘to do’ things which are being communicated. US ambassador Anne W Patterson spent a busy day on Wednesday meeting top Pakistani officials including the president. Meanwhile, leading US newspapers have started reporting that American investigators are now shifting focus to the Tehrik-i-Taliban and other Pakistani militant outfits. Remember the infamous “bomb you back to the stone age” phone call from Richard Armitage to the Pakistani leadership after the 9/11 attacks. Well, what’s happening now sounds disturbingly similar, if not in tone, then at least in intent. Then it was Afghanistan which was in the crosshairs. Now it’s North Waziristan.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.