What 9/11 has meant to Pakistan

Published: September 11, 2011
The writer was foreign secretary from 1989-90 and is a former chairman of the Institute of Strategic Studies in Islamabad

The writer was foreign secretary from 1989-90 and is a former chairman of the Institute of Strategic Studies in Islamabad

It is difficult to attribute to the terrifying tragedy of 9/11; the historical inevitability that gets highlighted by the dissection of events like the two epoch-shattering world wars of the 20th century. Admittedly, much had happened in the Middle East in the preceding decades to foresee further regional conflict. But no crystal ball had shown the images that got seared into the collective memory of a huge global audience as the United States came under attack. It was inconceivable that the US would let this horrifying crime go unpunished; it had the sympathy and support of the entire world to pursue its perpetrators. And yet it was not inevitable that the US would turn this just retribution into a Global War on Terror (GWOT) that would forcibly change the direction of history.

Ten years on, in this season of remembrance and reappraisal, one has to be Dick Cheney to still insist that America took the right road. The more sober voices have an altogether different tenor. Paul Kennedy, who taught us how to plot the rise and fall of great powers, argues that the decisions made by George Bush distracted America from many other things going on in the world, from the erosion of its financial strength, its own domestic condition and from its need to have a wider view of global change. Several other commentators are even more specific in linking the decline of United States’ material and moral power to the choices made then, in Washington. Across the Atlantic, in the capital that blindly followed Washington, the former director-general of MI6, Baroness Manningham-Buller, has just told her worldwide Reith Lecture audience that 9/11 was “a crime, not an act of war” and that neither Saddam Hussein nor his regime had anything to do with 9/11.

This is what some of us in Pakistan tried to tell the Musharraf regime as Bush declared his global war and again, when God told him to invade Iraq. My personal memories are of infinite sadness. The neoconservative ideologues in Washington converted the tragedy into an opportunity for the ‘reconquest’ of the Greater Middle East. Pakistan was instantly chosen again as the frontline state for its first phase. Very early on, I questioned the GWOT concept and recommended a light engagement with this untenable construct. My fear was that General Musharraf would get blinded by his desperate need to use the invasion to gain international legitimacy. At home, he sold his decision by propagating that Pakistan would otherwise be bombed into Stone Age and that that the conflict would last only three weeks. My saddest memory is that our strategic community, especially my colleagues occupying senior positions in the Foreign Office, adopted the new vernacular of anti-terrorism uncritically to become cheerleaders of George Bush’s crusade.

America, says Kennedy, was distracted from many objectives; hapless Pakistan got completely driven off course from its own national interest. As the backlash gained intensity and terrorist cells multiplied all over the country, coalition forces skilfully shifted the conflicts centre of gravity to Pakistan, exposing its inherent limitations in fighting this new kind of war. Even the outcome of its democratic processes such as a general election was engineered to ensure continuation of Musharraf’s disastrous decisions. India and China harvested gains of their independent understanding of the GWOT and made unprecedented progress. Pakistan simply stopped planning anything for its own huddled masses and concentrated on winning approval for its performance in the GWOT. The 1990s were a lost decade because the internecine conflict of major parties prevented the country from taking advantage of the great opportunities available in the post-1989 world. The first decade of the 21st century was marked by Pakistan’s economic and social decline as infrastructure deteriorated and renewal in key sectors such as power got struck off the national agenda. Blown off course by 9/11, Pakistan is still adrift with its helmsmen remaining singularly incapable of a mid-course correction. It cannot even stanch the fearful haemorrhage of human lives and material resources. On that painful day in New York, a distant state called Pakistan lost its national narrative and now does not have the leadership to recover it.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 12th,  2011.

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Reader Comments (17)

  • Rock
    Sep 11, 2011 - 11:31PM

    One advice: leave your past and now try to build a tolerant progressive socitey rest will be magical.


  • Sep 12, 2011 - 4:55AM

    If Pakistan cracked down on terrorist outfits withing the country we wouldn’t be in this mess to begin with. But no, we are more obsessed with defying America, feeling snub about it even if it means that our fellow Pakistanis die.


  • N
    Sep 12, 2011 - 7:50AM

    What 9/11 has meant to Pakistan:

    Honors in lying, harboring and then getting caught with OBL on our soil
    Capturing the most medals in the league of communal violence
    Securing excellence in conspiratorial journalism
    Holding others accountable for all that is wrong with us
    Producing the most graduates with degrees in hate and mayhem.
    Believing that we are the center of the universe – all pure and great
    Denying we have any problems
    Introducing new words like Pakistaniazation to the lexicon of terror
    Pilfering foreign aid for weapons and personal use

  • Roamer
    Sep 12, 2011 - 10:31AM

    R.I.P. the 2,976 American people that lost their lives on 9/11 and R.I.P. the 48,644 Afghan, 60,000 pakistani and 1,690,903 Iraqi people that paid the ultimate price for a crime they did not commit…… Still everyone outside Pakistan believes that we haven’t done much, amazing?!?!?!


  • Feroz
    Sep 12, 2011 - 11:18AM

    The war on terror launched after 9/11 and the driving of Taliban from power was just but invasion of Iraq was a monumental folly based on fabricated lies. The US lost all focus because of overreach in Iraq and Pakistan gleefully was back to its double games. The conduct of both countries must be criticized soundly. Both have been sour losers and I feel pain that the citizens of Afghanistan have become victims and pawns in the cat and mouse game between US and Pakistan. Pakistan lost a great opportunity to turn a new chapter by trying to be over smart in protecting what it thought were its strategic assets, now realizing what it harbours are strategic liabilities. The Afghan people have grown to hate their neighbours and this is the collateral damage of misguided policies.


  • Khan
    Sep 12, 2011 - 11:34AM

    @Rock: That’s the best advice, honestly.


  • Abdul Rehman Gilani
    Sep 12, 2011 - 2:24PM

    Seriously, we should get out of this war and on with our lives. It was US’s war from day one.


  • khwaja,,,,
    Sep 12, 2011 - 3:51PM

    Pakistan is at the cross road of explosive issues…Kashmir ..Siachen and sir creek issues with India,Afghanistan is still a headache for Pakistan,,,internally leadership crises….????could Pakistan be able to reach up to a reciprocal solution????9/11 incident brought a big curse to Pakistan which was already in the iron jaws of regional issue….


  • Sep 12, 2011 - 4:58PM

    It means revival of Ghazwa-e-Hind under the leadership of Calipha Zaid Hamid


  • Ben
    Sep 12, 2011 - 5:07PM

    The attack on the icons of America’s economic and military powers, twin towers and Pentagon, changed the world instantly. The change did not take place due to the terrorist attacks; the world was changed by the massive reaction and fury of the sole super power. Within a period of one month, an attack was launched on Afghanistan which toppled the government of Taliban but which caused the terrorists to be grateful. By the hindsight, it has now been revealed that this was what al Qaeda was asking for. It had successfully provoked the US to enter the land where two earlier super powers, Britain and USSR, had lost their pride and glory. After ten years, one trillion dollar and thousands of lives, al Qaeda is many times stronger and formidable. The US has gained nothing except for taking OBL, who was only a figurehead. The COO of al Qaeda is alive and kicking and so is his ideology of conquering the world.


  • malik
    Sep 12, 2011 - 6:03PM

    9/11 is a great revenue opportunity for Pakistan. Those US billions have helped us run the economy for us till now.


  • Annie
    Sep 12, 2011 - 6:28PM

    I cannot quite understand Nader El Edroos’ line of thinking, it is somewhere between Uranus and Pluto – and tangentially leaving the solar system. Bit puerile and a bit skewed.



  • Anjaan99
    Sep 12, 2011 - 7:11PM

    Living in denial did not help Pakistan in the past, and will not in the future too. Pakistan did all it could in the last 60 years to wrest Kashmir from a seven times bigger and stronger India, with help from the Anglo-Americans and the Chinese. Now with the Anglo-American help all but gone and China adopting a cautious neutral position, it is time for the Pakistani to come out of denial and re-visit the ambitious policies of the past ……. !Recommend

  • Ali Tanoli
    Sep 12, 2011 - 7:37PM

    @ Nadir
    You dont like atomic pakistan
    you dont like isi and army
    you dont like any madrassa
    you dont like imran khan or mushraf or any other politician.
    you dont like monsoon in pakistan
    you dont like any trouble with india
    you dont like urdu
    please tell us what u like it and if you are pakistan president what would u do for country
    to get out of all these crises?


  • observer
    Sep 12, 2011 - 9:51PM

    @Ali Tanoli to Nadir

    Simple dear,this is what I would do.
    Denuclearise Pakistan.
    Dismantle ISI and place Army under civilian control.
    Shut all madrassas.
    Not vote for Imran or Musharaff or any politicians supporting them.
    Like summer in Pakistan, you get best mangoes in summer.
    Have no trouble with India.
    On Urdu you have me stumped.But then Sind has made Chinese compulsory in schools.


  • Ali Tanoli
    Sep 12, 2011 - 10:35PM

    @ Observer
    Observer Dear just observe please dont comment thank u man.


  • Tanvir Ahmad Khan
    Sep 13, 2011 - 12:21PM

    I am grateful for comments that have expanded the scope of my article constrained by the need to limit it to 700 words. I agree with the suggestion that Pakistan has to put its own house in order. Unfortunately there is a leadership deficit at present.


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