In a cleft stick

Published : Oct 07, 2011 00:00 IST

The cost of the war on terror' is being primarily borne by the people of Pakistan, who still do not see through politicians' doublespeak.

in Islamabad

FOR the Pakistani-American attorney Rafia Zakaria, the 9/11 weekend has been a time of competing tragedies, where the epitaphs of those killed on that September morning a decade ago must rival the body count of those slain to avenge them.

Writing in The Dawn a couple of days after the 10th anniversary of the attacks, Rafia Zakaria described what had happened in the United States since September 11, 2001, as just one half of the conjoined tragedy of 9/11. The tragedy of the other half Pakistan is seldom recognised and, even when acknowledged, seen as a payback for its own actions. Scant consideration is given to the fact that the cost is being borne primarily by the people of this blighted country who had little say in the decisions that have led the world and the Pakistani nation to this point.

This was evident in the reactions to the advertisement placed by Pakistan on the 10th anniversary of the attacks in The Wall Street Journal in a bid to reach out to the American people. The response reflected the credibility crisis facing Pakistan, with most critics thinking it was audacious for Islamabad to even suggest that no country has done as much as it has to weed out terrorism.

The advertisement detailed the cost paid by Pakistan for the war on terror in terms of human life and the economy. It said: Since 2001, a nation of 180 million has been fighting for the future of the world's 7 billion. Can any other country do so? Only Pakistan. It added that the Pakistani nation was making sacrifices that statistics could not reflect. According to the official estimate, 21,672 Pakistani civilians have lost their lives or have been seriously injured since September 11, 2001, in 3,486 bomb blasts, including 283 suicide attacks. Besides, 2,795 soldiers of the Pakistan Army have been killed and 8,671 wounded. Add to this the internal displacement of 3.5 million people and the economic loss of $68 billion.

These cut no ice with anyone because it is not as if the world is unaware of what the past 10 years have done to Pakistan at the macro-level. What is etched more sharply in collective memory is that Al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden was living in the heart of the country in a garrison area, the majority of the terrorist attacks the world over have some links to Pakistan and, most importantly, the security establishment in Rawalpindi still regards some of the terrorists as strategic assets.

Though Pakistan aligned with the U.S.-led action in Afghanistan post-9/11, the Janus-faced attitude of the security establishment towards terrorists has rendered whatever support Islamabad gave to the war on terror an exercise in futility. In fact, some would say it is akin to a death wish because the neither-here-nor-there attitude has exasperated the world and turned some of the terrorist groups into sworn enemies of the Pakistani state, thereby making terror attacks on a daily basis the new normal here.

It has been a pretty thankless situation for people in Pak. Lost the most and got contempt in return. This is how one member of Pakistan's tweeting community put it. From the standpoint of the average Pakistani, his angst is only natural, reeling as his country is under a lethal combination of multiple crises, be it terrorism, growing unemployment, sectarianism and religious intolerance. As he sees it, Pakistan was a very different country 10 years ago, and now survival has become a daily struggle.

Economic woes

The economy is in the doldrums it grew at the rate of 2.4 per cent in the last fiscal that closed in June and as if there is not enough man-made misery in this country, nature has also been playing havoc almost regularly. There was the Kashmir earthquake in 2005, then the floods of 2010 which inundated a third of the country, and again this year Sindh is facing a crisis situation owing to flooding.

According to the latest available government data, the cost of war to Pakistan in the first half of the last fiscal was around Rs.1,500 billion, up 31 per cent since 2001 when the figure was around Rs.163 billion. The investment-to-gross domestic product (GDP) ratio went down from 22.5 per cent in 2006-07 to 13.4 per cent in 2010-11, severely impacting job creation.

Summing up the state of Pakistan's economy, the Economic Survey of 2010-11 said: The events that transpired after 9/11 worsened the security environment. This has affected Pakistan's exports, prevented the inflows of foreign investment, affected the pace of privatisation programme, slowed the overall economic activity, reduced import demand, reduced tax collection, [caused] expenditure overrun on additional security spending, and domestic tourism industry suffered.

This was not always so. Initially, Pakistan's decision to align with the U.S.-led coalition effort in Afghanistan helped it break out of the economic isolation with the lifting of sanctions imposed on it and on India after the two countries tested nuclear weapons in 1998. Loans were rescheduled and donors softened, but gross mismanagement of the economy over the year sent Pakistan back to the International Monetary Fund, which is pressing for structural reforms that are being resisted by the political class for fear of a backlash from a populace already under test on various fronts day in and day out.

In the absence of a democratic culture, violence and the threat of it has become a regular arbiter. This has been further made easy by the proliferation of small arms in the country, a direct fallout of the covert U.S. arming of the mujahideens whom the Central Intelligence Agency helped Abpara (the Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, headquarters) create to fight the Soviet occupation in Afghanistan. While it is essentially a turf war between different political parties, the near perennial bloodletting in Karachi is attributed to the weaponisation of Pakistan's commercial capital, which can be traced back to the U.S. transit of arms to the mujahideens from the port city to the porous Durand Line.

Rise of fundamentalism

But what is most damaging is the growing religious fundamentalism and resultant intolerance towards not just other religions but also the numerically weaker sects of Islam in Pakistan such as the Shias, who are regular victims of target killings. In fact, now Sufi shrines are also increasingly becoming a target of bombings in a country which has had a strong tradition of Sufism.

Even the Barelvis among the Sunnis have been feeling the heat with the petro-dollar inspired rise of the Wahabi and Deobandi schools. According to Arif Jamal author of Shadow War: The Untold Story of Jihad in Kashmir this has resulted in the Barelvis forming the avowedly violent Sunni Tehreek to assert themselves. Attacking the other and declaring the non-conformists apostates are an increasing occurrence, tearing the society further asunder along sectarian lines.

What this growing religious fundamentalism has done is to eat into the already limited space for liberal discourse; more so after the two assassinations, earlier this year, of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer and federal Minority Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti.

While liberal Pakistanis concede that fundamentalism pre-dates 9/11 in fact, to the Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto era when he sought to use Islam as a unifying factor after the loss of East Pakistan it has accelerated manifold since the attacks on the U.S., courtesy ill-informed discourse that projected the war on terror as somebody else's war and a systematic effort to capitalise on the anger felt towards the U.S. for the situation within the country.

The duality in the discourse was most evident in Pakistan's opposition to the American drone attacks, which Islamabad describes as a core irritant in bilateral relations with the U.S. as they are counterproductive. However, Farhat Taj, an Oslo-based researcher who comes from the tribal areas, maintains that the people of North Waziristan pounded frequently by the CIA-operated Predators see the U.S. drone attacks as being carried out to liberate them from the clutches of the terrorists into which, they say, their state has wilfully thrown them.

While her claim is hotly contested, this summer saw a senior commander of the Army say that while there was some collateral damage, most of those killed were terrorists. Ironically, though Pakistan is opposed to the U.S. sending drones, Islamabad has repeatedly sought the technology without explaining how something that is counterproductive could become effective if conducted under the Pakistani flag. Also, WikiLeaks has shown both the Army chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani being privately supportive of drones while taking a contrary position in public. Curiously enough, after keeping the rhetoric shrill for months, there has been silence on the issue in recent weeks though Predator drones regularly visit the tribal areas, lending credence to the general perception that the show of protest including demonstrations were orchestrated by the powers that be.


People in the thick of it all claim that this doublespeak is dictated by necessity not just to pander to the rampant anti-Americanism for fear of a political backlash but also to maintain a studied distance at the governmental level from the U.S. to counter the anti-state terrorists' narrative of Pakistan being a stooge of Washington.

This is the kind of duplicity that has become the bane of the Pakistani nation. Brought up on a doctored curriculum where Pakistan has always been portrayed as an aggrieved party, many a Pakistani still does not see through the doublespeak on terrorism. This runs through every class of people in the country, beginning with the politicians. As consulting editor of The Friday Times, Raza Rumi, put it: Politicians in Pakistan are still divided on fighting militants and militancy. They think it is someone else's war and a reaction to the U.S. occupation.

But, then, on matters of security and strategic affairs relating to the U.S., Afghanistan and India, the political class has ceded turf to the security establishment and even the events of May 2011 which exposed the military and the ISI have made little difference to the power equation. Those who had hoped that the triple embarrassments of May the presence of bin Laden in Abbottabad, the siege of a naval airbase and the killing of a journalist allegedly by the intelligence agencies would serve as a wake-up call have been sorely disappointed and let down by the political class.

According to the analyst Harris Khalique, the change that the liberals and democrats seek will not and cannot come overnight in a country where the so-called national discourse has been dictated by the security establishment. For that to happen, democratic culture has to be internalised and the current political process with all its warts must go on uninterrupted.

That may well be the case, but the question that remains is what it will take to force a course correction by the security establishment and induce a zero tolerance towards terrorism.

How much more blood has to flow and how many more minds have to be poisoned before the powers that be decide enough is enough.

They missed the 9/11 wake-up call and every single alarm bell that has been pealing since.

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