Witnessing the 9/11 tragedy

Published: September 13, 2014
The writer is a former foreign secretary

The writer is a former foreign secretary

As Pakistan’s ambassador to the United Nations, I happened to be in New York on that fateful day 13 years ago. I remember witnessing the ghastly disappearance of the Twin Towers from Manhattan’s skyline that was to change not only the world history, but also the global geopolitical landscape. We were in the middle of a prayer breakfast meeting at the UN Headquarters hosted by UN Secretary General Kofi Anan for the heads of diplomatic corps in New York as well as all UN agencies when all of a sudden the news of a plane crashing into the World Trade Center reached us. We were asked to evacuate calmly.

As we were going down, we saw on television monitors in the lower lobby another plane crashing into the second tower, putting it ablaze in an instant. It then became clear that it was not an ordinary plane crash. It was an act of a cold-blooded atrocity. No one knew what had happened, and why. All that one could see was an inferno of fire and smoke. “Bloody Tuesday,” “Act of war,” “Carnage,” “Catastrophe,” “Heinous Crime,” and “Unprecedented Tragedy in American history” were some of the headlines used the next day in the American print media to describe the terrorist attacks against the United States.

The ‘belligerent’ mood of the administration was evident in its first call to the world. “You’re either with us or against us,” was the message, loud and clear. Foreign nations were given an immediate ‘black-and-white’ choice in their relationship with the United States. No doubt, the sudden disappearance of the Twin Towers from Manhattan’s skyline was to change the global geopolitical landscape altogether. The world’s sole superpower was overwhelmed by anger and lost no time in determining the nature and scale of its response. At the diplomatic front, the US was quick to mobilise international support for building an ‘international coalition’ to combat terrorism.

Besides enlisting Nato’s participation in this campaign, it got strong resolutions adopted overwhelmingly the very next day, i.e., September 12, in the UN Security Council and the General Assembly thereby paving the ground for the legitimisation of US military action against terrorists and their hideouts. Two weeks later, Washington was able to have a more specific and action-oriented resolution (UNSC 1373 of Sept 28, 2001) adopted in the UN Security Council on specific global measures to suppress terrorism through a UN Counterterrorism Committee. Since then, the world never recovered from the aftermath of the 9/11 tragedy.

For Pakistan, the 9/11 was a moment of reckoning. On that fateful day, it faced the worst dilemma of its life. Its options were limited and bleak. General Musharraf was among the very first foreign leaders to have received a clarion call from Washington. The US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, telephoned him late in the evening on September 12, asking for Pakistan’s full support and cooperation in fighting terrorism. In a sombre message “from one general to another,” Colin Powell made it clear that mere condolences and boilerplate offers of help from Pakistan will not do. It had to play a key role in the war on terror that was about to begin.

Facing domestic problems and regional challenges, General Musharraf took no time in pledging even more than the requested support and cooperation. On September 13, the US Secretary of State said that the United States was now prepared to go after terrorist networks and “those who have harboured, supported and aided that network,” wherever they were found. The same day, President George W Bush expressed appreciation for Pakistan’s readiness to cooperate and spoke of the chance that it now had to participate in “hunting down the people who committed the acts of terrorism.” The rest that followed is history. One doesn’t have to go into its details.

Thirteen years down the line, the Afghan war has yet to come to a formal closure. The world itself has yet to breathe peace. Throughout this period, the world media has had the challenging task of helping people understand the events, and in the ensuing war on terror played an important role to help provide wider perspectives of the aftermath of those attacks. The consensus has been that from being a ‘righteous war’ when it started, the US war on terror is no longer righteous as it still lingers on. Even the American media in due course of time felt that the Bush-Cheney decision to wage war was a big mistake.

The Washington Post once said: “In the name of the war on terror, we have invaded and occupied a country that had nothing to do with the attacks of 9/11, we have emboldened our enemies, we have lost and taken many lives, we have spent trillions of dollars, we have sacrificed civil liberties, and we have jettisoned our commitment to human dignity.”

But was it an honest mistake? Did President Bush and Vice-President Cheney declare war because they genuinely believed it was the best way to guarantee the safety of the American people? Or did they do it in a premeditated attempt to seize greater political and economic power globally?

These are questions that history alone will answer. For now, at least one thing is clear. The US invaded Afghanistan on the pretext of 9/11 by waging an unrelated ‘war on terror’ which is now seen as a “semantic, strategic and legal perversion”. It forced the Taliban out of power but never defeated them. Ironically, looking back in retrospect, one is intrigued by the thought, however unbelievable it may be, that the emergence of the Taliban in mid-1990s and the post-9/11 Afghan stalemate might both be linked to the same ‘great game’ in this region which is known for its huge hidden oil and gas reserves. The real stakes in this war can be summed up just in one word: Oil.

As secretary general of the 10-member regional cooperation organisation called the Economic Cooperation Organisation which encompasses besides Iran, Pakistan and Turkey, six former Soviet republics of Central Asia and Afghanistan, I am familiar with blueprints of plans conceptualised during my period in early 1990s for an elaborate network of oil and gas pipelines within the region and beyond. Those regional plans remain unimplemented because of the ensuing war-led turmoil in Afghanistan. It is clear now that the Afghan war was never an end in itself. It was only part of a Central Asia-focused ‘Great Game’ that will perhaps go on with far-reaching implications for this vast region as a global hotspot.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 13th, 2014.

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Reader Comments (30)

  • Raj - USA
    Sep 13, 2014 - 3:01AM

    No one in US or Europe thinks that US war on terror was a mistake. What most think is that the decision to divert to Iraq, without finishing the job in Afghanistan and Pakistan, was a mistake. We have 9/11 museum that has already attracted over 15 million visitors. As far as US is concerned, Al Quaida and Talibans have been defeated. It is only countries like Pakistan who have harbored them that are suffering now. Al Quaida does not talk about US or Europe now. They are talking of only Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Burma. They do not have the courage to talk about US or Europe. For any country to assume that US will forget 9/11, or that Osama was found in Pakistan, nothing can be more suicidal. Important to remember that there was only one 9/11 in US and it never repeated here again, nor will it ever. Countries that were mistakenly playing double game and clandestinely protecting the terrorists are the only ones that are having repeated 9/11’s in their own country. Regarding oil, one has to remember that US is the largest exporter for food items and feeds and oil producing counties are the largest importers of food items. They also depend on US for all their pharmaceutical needs. If US, with or without support from Europe places an embargo on export of food items and pharmaceutical items, those countries will starve death in months if not in years. Anyone who has lived in the Gulf would have seen that even most of their drinking water that is sold in bottles is imported from Europe and it costs nearly 5 times the cost of gasoline.


  • Najeebullah
    Sep 13, 2014 - 3:35AM

    Dear Sir! You beautifully summarized the 9/11 history and its consequences but you forgot to mention the Kunduz Airlift and Bin Laden residence at Abbotabad plus the Quetta Shura. Next time do mention who played double game how and why?


  • SJ
    Sep 13, 2014 - 4:36AM

    Shamshad Sahab, it took you so long to get to this conclusion. I’m surprised. Most likely you didn’t want to rock the boat earlier. You are a lot smarter than most of us to have figured this out from day one.


  • Great Thinker
    Sep 13, 2014 - 5:39AM

    US should have destroyed the terror infrastructure in Pakistan, that would have been the right strategy of winning the war.


  • csmann
    Sep 13, 2014 - 6:56AM

    All Afghanistan was to do was hand over Obama and company,or ask them to leave their country.But they didn’t,and so the war.Taliban was an evil regime anyway,and had to go in the end.Anyway if a former ambassador can spin conspiracy theories,an average Pakistani has no choice.


  • Naeem Khan
    Sep 13, 2014 - 7:04AM

    People in the US observed this somber occasion by observing silence for one minute on 9/11 and some of them wore blue crosses on their shirts to remind others not to ever forget 9/11. Sure, it was an atrocity rather massacre of more than 3000 innocent people. I myself witnessed people jumping from burning twin towers live on TV and it was heart wrenching, no body deserve that. VP Cheney is a devious man and it was him who orchestrated the war on Terror, it was him who advocated day in and day out to eradicate WMD from Iraq. Bush, Cheney and Rice talked about mushroom clouds daily and scared the dickens out of the Americans. Iraq was not involved in 9/11 but they saw an opportunity to control their oil and then in the process killed more then 100,000 Iraqis and that’s where the problem to sympathize with the Americans comes in, in regard to 9/11. They went on with vengeance and made Afghanistan and Iraq their killing fields. The same war on terror is being waged now in Somalia and Yemen with the cooperation of local governments or satraps, what the current administration fail to understand that by killing more people specially civilian population by drones in Yemen has contributed 4 fold increase in the recruitment to Al-Quida. Some how it is so hard to convince the Americans to figure out the root causes of all this upheaval in the Islamic world, they have destabilized the far and near eastern countries to such an extent that new groups like ISIS are cropping up in Iraq and Syria, instead of asking why these extremists keep on forming new organizations and alliances with similar ideological groups, their answer is to bomb the heck out of them. The administration and the State Department in Washington DC fail to understand that bombing will not dislodge ISIS on the ground and in the process more innocent civilians will be killed because ISIS is already intermingled with local population specially in Syria, which in turn will give boost to ISIS by recruiting those who are very angry at the US. Somehow I can’t visualize that some US government In the future will let the middle and far-eastern countries to become democratic and prosperous and control their own destinies but this darned OIL always comes into the picture.


  • Nikki
    Sep 13, 2014 - 8:40AM

    Good memory about sad and bitter relaity of World Politics and History.


  • Dubya
    Sep 13, 2014 - 9:47AM

    Selective amnesia ????


  • ajeet
    Sep 13, 2014 - 9:55AM

    The only part that was wrong in the war on terror was the invasion of Iraq. The right course of action would have been to invade the incubator of terror, the country that sits between Afghanistan and India.


  • ahmed41
    Sep 13, 2014 - 10:10AM


    Correct you are !!!! : ” All Afghanistan was to do was hand over Obama and company,or ask them to leave their country.But they didn’t,–”

    There are many ” Ifs ” in world history.


  • abhi
    Sep 13, 2014 - 11:06AM

    I don’t know how any sensible publication can publish an article which is clear misrepresentaion of quotes and trying to mislead peopls.

    The Washington Post quoted by author is in context of Iraq war, it has nothing to do with the operation in Afghanistan. Nobody has any sympathy for Talibans except few Pakistani backers. Whatever twist you put it is not going to work. There is no oil in Afhganistan and it is strategic located only for Pakistan. There are many other central aisan countries which have proven oil reservs why don’t we see such situation there?


  • Evan
    Sep 13, 2014 - 1:49PM

    The invasion of Iraq was a monumental mistake. Despite that, why call on the US for aid and arms, when it is so bad?! Even today, all Muslim countries in the region are asking the US to fight ISIS. ISIS is in a region full of oil. Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey have legitimate defense forces and stock piles of weapons to fight – but they won’t. However, if the US gets involved, they might. Why don’t they just go forward on their own? Why doesn’t Pakistan decline all aid and arms from the USA? It could send a division or two to support its Muslim brothers in Iraq and Syria.


  • Naeem Khan
    Sep 13, 2014 - 7:19PM

    May I remind the India’s role in destabilizing Sri-Lanka. You people could never see your own terrorism. Bunch of hate mongers and hypocrites.


  • Jibran
    Sep 13, 2014 - 7:55PM

    Any doubts why Pakistan is suffering do badly. It is because of the bureaucrats like him. If they were of any value, Pakistan would not have been isolated in the world community.


  • SS
    Sep 13, 2014 - 9:46PM

    @Naeem Khan: Nice way to deflect from the issue being discussed. Mods – I am surprised you didn’t cull this comment which is completely out of context.

    Author’s view that everything was done for Oil is a very lazy analysis bordering on conspiracy theory. Afghanistan and Pakistan do not have oil reserves to an extent that would interest US. Neither do pipeline from Turkministan would make a super power spend billions on a war. I think plain common sense is missing here.


  • Its (still) Economy Stupid
    Sep 13, 2014 - 10:18PM

    It was an act of a cold-blooded atrocity.

    All acts committed by non state actors are cold-blooded atrocities.


  • Ch. Allah Daad
    Sep 13, 2014 - 10:24PM

    Oil is a source of wealth for West and symbol of progress but for Muslims its a curse. If there was no Oil in middle east, there would have been no Wahabi and Takfeeri Power. Majority of mosques, madrassas and Islamic centers in East and West would be preaching peace and love instead of becoming recruiting centres of Jihadists.


  • S Hashmi
    Sep 14, 2014 - 8:18AM

    I know my following comment will brand me as a conspiracy theorist:
    In all those past 13 years, the credible evidence that has come to light about the 9/11 event points towards an inside job – beyond reasonable doubt – at least for me. I am not going to waste my time listing all the facts that support my viewpoint. There are several websites out there for that.


  • Genius
    Sep 14, 2014 - 1:47PM

    The wise always try to learn from past history and experiences of the people. So here is a hint to all the wise. Take time and read through as to who could be behind the 9/11.
    Here it is:


  • Rao Amjad Ali
    Sep 14, 2014 - 2:04PM

    And just where are the hidden oil reserves and the evidence for them? Remember that advances in new reflection seismic technologies have made detection of oil and gas deposits relatively easy and cost effective. This technology is not only available to the US Department of Energy but many private sector oil and gas exploration organizations globally.

    As for the reductionist worldview that you have advanced in explaining the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan is far too simplistic! The Neo-conservatives see the “New World Order” through a more complex prism which includes, but is not limited to, combating the emergence of Islamic fundamentalism, proliferation of nuclear technology, especially among “rogue states” and non-state actors, and protection and preservation of the state of Israel at all costs.


  • unbelievable
    Sep 14, 2014 - 3:53PM

    Hard to believe that anyone is still spouting “oil” as the reason for War on Terror. Afghanistan doesn’t have any oil and those who believe the USA attacked Iraq for oil somehow forget that the USA won that war and never took a drop.


  • Sexton Blake
    Sep 14, 2014 - 4:51PM

    With one exception the above entries indicate that everybody has an Alice-in-Wonderland mentality. To anybody with half a brain .it is obvious that 9/11 was an inside job. The evidence for this, such as thermite residue in the World Trade center wreckage, is beyond dispute. There are many other factors which indicate that 9/11 requires another investigation, but unfortunately the powers that be do not want one. However, the bottom line is that the World Trade Center came down as a result of a planned demolition, and the aircraft used were merely a distraction.


  • bahaha
    Sep 14, 2014 - 6:37PM

    It cost $6 per barrel to take Iraqi crude out of the ground. It costs $20 for the Saudi crude and $40 for Athabasca tar sands. Even that BOBO BUSH say the logic in that. There was definitely some level of complacency of the US military in the 9/11 events.


  • cmann
    Sep 14, 2014 - 8:09PM

    @Sexton Blake:
    Oh! really;And Mr. Blake is expert in everything,and is the only one with a full brain-brain full of conspiracy theories,and other such garbage.USA will kill 3000 of its own people,?USA that will go to any length to protect even one of its citizens!You are welcome to your opinion,but truth remains as the history records it,and rational people believe.


  • Gp65
    Sep 14, 2014 - 10:32PM

    ET mods – false facts should not be allowed o go without rebuttal.

    @Naeem Khan:
    India supported LTTE in early 1980s because there were legitimate Tamil grievances. In 2 or 3 years it became clear that LTTE was a terrorist group and India withdrew support. Not just that in 1987, India sent IPKF (Indian peace keeping force) to Sri Lanka at the request of sri Lankan government due to which an angry LTTE assassinated Rajiv Gandhi.

    So ghe impression you are trying to create that India backed LTTE all through is clealy false and history has evidence.


  • G. Din
    Sep 15, 2014 - 12:53AM

    At one time it was believed by some like Sexton Blake that Man landing on the Moon was a huge hoax perpetrated by NASA and US. People like him need to be ignored!


  • Sexton Blake
    Sep 15, 2014 - 4:42AM

    Dear cmann,
    Your latest unthinking outburst, (politeness prevents me from using the correct adjective) justifies my point exactly.


  • Sexton Blake
    Sep 15, 2014 - 4:55AM

    @unbelievable; cmann:
    Dear unbelievable,
    It is difficult for someone who does not understand oil economics, world hegemony, and who is really controlling the world, but just try to accept that the US is almost certainly not working in the best interests of most people. In a limited space this is not a complete answer to your undoubted comprehension problems, but it may help.


  • numbersnumbers
    Sep 15, 2014 - 6:49AM

    @Sexton Blake:
    Ah, but of course only @Sexton Blake knows the TRUTH about 9/11, and everyone else lives
    In fantasy land with Alice!!!
    BTW, all can Google “September 11 attacks” to see in Wikipedia a very detailed description of events, with over three hundred supporting references along with an extensive bibliography and external links!
    All can also Google “9/11 conspiracy theories” to see the Wikipedia listing of almost all the 9/11 conspiracy theories (including the Thermite issue) along with hundreds of supporting references and an extensive bibliography!


  • Sexton Blake
    Sep 15, 2014 - 12:40PM

    Dear numbers, numbers,
    It is good to meet up with you again. In response to your missive I have to confess that I am not overly intelligent. However, in comparison to you, unbelievable and cmann it may seem that way. Of course I am still waiting to see some believable explanation and evidence in regard to the official US version of 9/11, OBL’s involvement and of course his so called demise at Abbottabad. You know, little things such as post-mortems and DNA testing. I have noticed of course that you and the others blindly believe the official version, and that is the problem thinking people have to tolerate.


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