Tag Archives: terrorism

10 years after 9/11

11 Sep

Its been ten years since 9/11 happened. But its memory has yet to fade from my mind. The disbelief, the shock, the grief, the fear and above all else – the silence – that gripped America that day, is a memory that I will never forget.

I attended town hall meetings, and I stood in candlelight vigils and I sat on unusually quiet dining hall tables with my American friends as they tried to comprehend the tragedy they had just witnessed. I did not want to speak up and intrude on their grief because other than sympathizing with the human tragedy I could not experience it in the same way as they did – an attack against their home country. I was an outsider, granted the privilege of studying at one of their schools courtesy of their money.

So I remained silent. I did not quite comprehend then that even though this had not been an attack on my country – I would live to see its consequences far more vividly than any American.

Once the initial disbelief had died down, it gave way to rage. People were looking for someone to blame and Muslims that lived in America were the easiest target. There were ugly incidents of violence against Muslims and those perceived to be Muslims. Security at airports went up and if you had a Muslim sounding name, chances were that you would get treated like a potential criminal. Horror stories rolled in faster than I could keep track. And I wasnt interested in keeping track because none of it touched my life at college. My roommates and I – who were all American (except for Catherine – who was Canadian) continued to be worried about what college kids worry about – the Freshman fifteen, what to wear to the eighties dance and boys.

For four years at college – and then for a year afterwards – we lived together and loved each other without prejudice or consideration for color or nationality. Being a girl, and one who does not wear any overt symbols of religion, I never faced any prejudice on the streets either. There were no rude comments, no mean glares at airports or snide comments in stores or at the work place. I loved America and my life and friends there with all my heart. While 9/11 changed the world for many – it had no impact on mine – till I moved back to Pakistan.

I moved back in 2006 to a Pakistan very different from the one I had left behind. While the older pakistan had economic woes and political warts, it didn’t have suicide bombers. It wasnt a country held hostage by militants.

Common wisdom in Pakistan suggests that while 9/11 brought the twin towers crumbling in the US it brought the state and the entire state of affairs crumbling in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq. The United States war on Terror unleashed a chain of events that have brought instability and insecurity to pakistan. It is undoubtedly true that the War on Terror has had a debilitating effect on Pakistan – but it’s really how we chose to deal with Pakistan in the wake of this War on Terror is what has brought Pakistan to its knees.

Its been ten years since 9/11 but we still can’t seem to get our own act together. We continue to fund and support known terrorists. Men like Hafiz Saeed roam free and no law in the land dare find them guilty. Mumtaz Qadri, a cold-blooded murder is a hero and the Punjab government through its budget provides support to the charity wings of banned terrorist outfits. This is either the worst case of complicity, duplicity or incompetence or all three. Have we not had ten years too much of the destruction that these men and their organizations have brought upon us and our country? We continue to quibble about Apples and bananas and one upping each other at press conferences but we can’t seem to get our act together to stop the bloodshed in this country. Corruption and mismanagement remain rampant and each day thousands sleep hungry and are denied justice. Yet we continue to blame America and its war on terror for all our ills. 

The suicide bombers and the militants that roam freely in our streets and detonate in our mosques are not a creation of the United States or the by-product of 9/11 – they are the creations of our own incompetence and failures.

For America, 9/11 is a painful memory. For us it’s a daily reality. And even though we experience that pain every day – we have not done anything about putting an end to it and moving on. Having lived through 9/11 in the US and through many such days in Pakistan – I can only hope and pray that we too will learn to band together the way America did after 9/11 to rebuild. In Pakistan, we only saw images of the American jets that bombed Afghanistan, we never saw the thousands of firefighters and citizens that came together to lift the debris of the two towers that were razed to the ground on that day. They were no different from the thousands that came together to offer Pakistanis shelter from the floods or opened their homes to them during the IDP crisis of 2009 or risked their lived after the earthquake of 2005. Such spirit and resilience is no stranger to us Pakistanis.

Ten years after the day that changed the world and my country more so than others, I can only hope and pray that we will have honest and sincere leadership that can channel this energy and resilience into rebuilding Pakistan. And one day I’d really like some Pakistani leader to say and more than say to mean what Rudy Giuliani Mayor of New York City said after 9/11.

Replace New York with Pakistan in the paragraph below and see if  you don’t agree:

“Tomorrow New York is going to be here. And we’re going to rebuild, and we’re going to be stronger than we were before… I want the people of New York to be an example to the rest of the country, and the rest of the world, that terrorism can’t stop us.”

 

 

Weapons of Mass Display

7 Jul

Protesters at a rally to condemn the recent attacks on Data Darbar in Lahore

It seems only two kinds of people in Pakistan have protection, VIPs and the terrorists. The common people are left to fend for themselves as the bulk of our security forces are deployed in front of political and bureaucratic palaces. Given the state’s failure to provide security to common citizen, we’ve seen an increasing privatisation of this critical government function. Private security companies are flourishing in Pakistan. Homes and businesses in upscale localities have contracted private actors to provide security. Unfortunately, most Pakistanis cannot afford private security and remain without adequate safety.

This was painfully obvious during the attack on Data Darbar. As terrorists massacred innocents, security arrangements seemed particularly inadequate. Interestingly, at the rally held the next day to condemn these attacks, there seemed to be no shortage of protection. This was not provided by the state but by people in civilian clothes carrying guns of all shapes and sizes. As clerics, vowed to seek revenge and urged others to do the same, it was frighteningly disconcerting to see the gunmen that surrounded them and to think of what havoc they were capable of wreaking with that fire power.

Interestingly, the police personnel present did not seem to think this was a problem. They stood by watching silently as weapons were openly brandished and fired into the air. Over the years, given the lack of security, we have become used to seeing citizens brandishing heavy firearms. But surely, in this new atmosphere of increasing terror, volatile sentiments and brutal killings, there should be an embargo on weapon ownership and their display in public.

I remember a rally led by Maulana Masood Azhar after his release from an Indian prison as a result of the hijacking of an Indian Airlines plane. This confirmed terrorist paraded around in an open jeep with an extremely heavily armed escort, to a public rally where he incited further violence and hatred. The display of arms was symbolic of his power and was used as a tool to awe and intimidate spectators.

But why blame just the bearded gent, when all and sundry in power in Pakistan are responsible for the same? Having a heavily armed entourage is symbolic of power and prestige for our politicians as well. There seems to be an arms race brewing in the circles of power which leads people to hire bigger and better guns than those around them. The only casualty is the common citizen who suffers at the hands of an increasingly armed society.

Easy access to weapons and their unchecked use in public is a major contributor in increasing levels of violence and killing. Revamping laws to suit present times is essential. There is an urgent need to de-weaponise Pakistani society. And we should begin by enacting laws that prevent the public use and display of firearms by everyone. And then we can go on to tackling the knottier issue of the sale of these arms.

In the past, de-weaponisation drives have targeted particular groups for political reasons. But for national security reasons, this drive must target all offenders equally. People should be asked to register firearms per existing laws and ownership of certain firearms should be banned. And our political leadership should lead the charge in this change by demilitarising their mustachioed entourages. Given the havoc that these politicians have wreaked on Pakistani society, I’m not sure how worthy or deserving they are of such security. The state needs to do a better job at providing security to citizens and in demonising guns as weapons of terror and ruthless killing rather than weapons of power and prestige.

So if our exalted political leadership could stop toting guns and free up some state security resources from policing and protecting their social activities, maybe we could reduce the loss of life to the common citizen.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 8th, 2010.

Terrorist Group Frees Accomplices After Violent Attack

19 Jun

A group of five terrorists, attacked the district south court in Karachi as four of their accomplices were being brought their for trial. They opened fire and killed one policeman and injured three others. They succeeded in freeing their accomplices. Two of the attackers have been caught by the police. But some events in the lead up to this incident should give the security authorities serious cause for concern and should help Pakistan rethink its trial proceeding for people accused of terrorism.

1. Dawn news reported that prior to the attack, the prisoners who were later freed were communicating on their cell phones. How did these people get access to cell phones? Clearly there are powers within the establishment that were aiding these terrorists and efforts should be made to bring such persons to justice.

2. This daring attack will give our already overactive and creative terrorist groups ideas for furtehr attacks. So far terrorist groups have limited themselves to kidnappings and hostage holding to bargain for the lives and freedom of their colleagues. Surely this will leash a more violent strategy of  rescuing “righteous brethren”.

Therefore, police and judicial forces should rethink the proces of holding trials for dangerous terrorists in open courts where they cannot only escape but pose grave danger to the lives and security of common citizens.

Getting justice in Pakistan is hard enough. The government shouldnt make it any harder or riskier than it already is.

A Ray of Hope in the Jaded Landscape of Pakistaniat

27 May

Times in Pakistan are tough. They’ve been tough for so long that we’ve forgotten what it was like before things got so bad. Things were never great but they were never this bad either. There weren’t as many incidents of violence, so many hours of load shedding or such high prices of food and electricity. And in our fast paced downward spiral, we have lost our sense of being one nation. Its each man and woman for himself or herself. Its the only way to survive. And in the pursuit of survival we will lie, cheat, steal, trample on others, cut corners and take the low road as often as possible to get to destination mere survival. Its not pleasant but we’ve become conditioned to be this way through years of hardship and inept political leadership that cant be relied on.

And in this Darwinian quest for survival we have become jaded and sarcastic and conditioned to believe the worst about those around us. Idealism, morality, humanity – seem like hollow buzzwords – such noble sentiments having been beaten out of us by circumstance.  On those rare occasions, when we are confronted with selfless displays of courage and nationalism; we tend to scoff at them and dismiss them as either political rhetoric or utterly naive insanity.

But this story made me stop in my jaded mental tracks and led me to believe that maybe there is hope for the future.

In May 2009, Captain Najam Riaz, was captured and martyred by the Taliban. He was part of the elite SSG commandos – the best of the best who are trained by the Pakistani army to be even better (yes, i know this is a quote from Top Gun). He was only 24 years old when he died fighting against the Taliban in Swat.

Captain Najam was captured along with three other colleagues by the Taliban. For many days he and the others were kept captive while the Taliban tried to use them to buy freedom for their captured commrades. When it seemed like such a deal could not be struck, the Taliban murdered Captain Najam Shaheed and the three other soldiers. All four brave men, died fighting valiantly. Surrounded by the brutal enemy, they were unfazed at the prospect of death and killed 8 Talibans with their bare hands before they were gunned down and later beheaded.

While the courage and valour of these young men in the face of such grave adversity is truly inspirational, what was even more heartbreakingly inspirational was the courage and selflessness of his family in the face of this grave loss. He came from a small village near Kahuta. His father had retired as a hawaldar from the army and Najam was his youngest son. His family is one of modest means. They dont have any of the fancy upper class trappings that one associates with the rich, liberal, elite, who are anti Taliban. But their understanding of the true nature of the Taliban is far more astute than some of our leading media commentators. But this is not why they are inspirational.

They are inspirational because they raised a son, who was brilliant and brave enough to be admitted to the most elite faction within the Pakistan army. And they are inspirational because they taught him to put his country before even himself a lesson that most of us merely laugh at. And they are inspirational because even when they lost their son to the cause that they had raised him to believe in, they did not put themselves before the need of their community.

After the martyrdom of their son, the government followed up with the usual official visits for condolences. And asked what they could do to help them. When the government asked what could be done for the family,  they could havked for anything for themselves. Money, job or promotion to name a few. They asked for none of these things.

Instead, they asked for a school, a dispensary and a road to be built for theircommunity. Even in the face of this great loss, they remained true selfless Pakistanis. And here I was thinking that none existed!

I am honored to be from the same country as them. And I hope that someone in the government has shown their appreciation for your devotion to the country, by honoring your community with a school named after your brave son. I pray that through this school, your community will raise many other brilliant sons and daughters who will not only serve the country but will be an inspiration for us all.

I hope the government is listening or reading if they arent already busy in building that school and road and dispensary.

A letter from Pakistan / Princeton to President Obama

6 Apr

I came to America at age 17 as a college freshman three weeks before 9/11. And when the world changed forever on that fateful day, I never realised the extent of it because I was sheltered by the loving arms of Mother Yale. She provided guarantees that no harm would come to my person despite the threats being issued nationwide to people of my religion and nationality. University President Richard Levin wrote a beautiful letter to parents assuring them of the efforts Yale would take to guarantee my safety and well-being. My parents tear up, even to this day, when they read this letter from a stranger promising to protect their only child. It was this selfless compassion of Americans that won my heart. In the four years that I was a student at Yale, I benefited from a generous scholarship that probably came from donations made by American families and corporations. It was this unprecedented generosity that made me love America and its people. I write to you in the hope that you will enable more Pakistanis to see this side of America. I write to you in the hope that you will show us how to achieve the American dream of justice and liberty for all and spare us the terror of the American bomb. I write to you in the hope of inspiring change within your government regarding its policies towards my country and its honest and hardworking people who fight your war and constantly live in the hope of change. Your Af-Pak policy is no different from your predecessor’s. It’s dressed in more dollar bills and in the words of hope and change but we, the politically astute people of Pakistan, recognise that there really is no change. What your administration does not recognise is that we, the people, are inherently political. There is a reason why we have more news channels than entertainment channels. We might not have a 100 per cent literacy rate but we have a keen sense of history and we have not forgotten how your country has used us and then forsaken us in our times of greatest need. We are resilient and patriotic and love our country despite its warts. I hope you will change your policies towards Pakistan keeping in mind our propensity for politics and our patriotism. We are a proud nation. Do not scold us. We are not errant children. We are a nation of 170 million people. Your rhetoric towards Pakistan must change. Rebukes from Senator Clinton will not win our hearts and minds. They will not urge us into further action on your behalf. The might of our mountains has sheltered your strategic interests for years. The muscle of our military has flexed on your behalf. The blood of our boys has fuelled your war. Give us the respect that you would a soldier in battle that shields your body with his own. You continue to view this conflict through the lens of a military offensive. You see us as the enemy and not the ally. You send drones to bomb us. You kill one terrorist. You give birth to 20. You anger a hundred and seventy million. You have effectively alienated all those sections of the Pakistani population that would have given you support. How long will you stay to fight the terror and anger you constantly create? The constant din of ‘do-more’ drowns out our strategic concerns. You strike controversial deals with India on sharing nuclear technology but will not give us favourable trade agreements to boost our industries. You exacerbate the regional power imbalance. Ignoring border dispute issues such as Kashmir and the Durand Line leaves fault lines in the region that will periodically lead to violence and instability. Use your regional power to resolve these disputes. Get the India-Pakistan peace process back on track. Regional stability is the key to global security. You cannot keep ‘India Shinning’ at the expense of Pakistan burning. Ignoring regional security concerns and power imbalances in the short term will exacerbate the potential for violent conflict in the long term. You surround yourself with ‘experts’ on Pakistan but with no people who live amidst and understand this great mass of humanity. You talk to those who walk the corridors of influence in Washington but not those who form the real epicentres of power in Pakistan – its streets, its valleys and mountains. You continue to engage with the political and military leadership but ignore those who are the real forces of change – representatives of civil society, journalists, lawyers, Islamic scholars and students. The politicised epicentres of power are throbbing with people ready to resist the forces of extremism. Historically, resistance to all kinds of injustice has come from these folk. It was the brave women of the Women’s Action Forum that first stood up to the barbaric rule of General Zia and its treatment of women to win women much needed rights. It was the lawyers who stood up to the injustice of the Musharraf regime for the rule of law. Our media is a force that can mobilise millions and mould the views of even more. Engage with our media. Train them and equip them. They will launch a media offensive against perpetrators of terror. Give our activists platforms to voice their concerns. They will rally the masses against the extremists. Give our young people scholarships and economic opportunities. They will be the force that drives away obscurantism and ushers in innovation, peace and prosperity. But aid is not a long-term solution. Give us trade with dignity. Help us fuel the furnaces of our factories and revive our economy. Open your markets to our textiles. Give us trade agreements through which our businesses can generate jobs, increase our imports and strengthen our economy. European countries made such agreements with us post-9/11 but not the US. If we can be an ally in war then why can we not be a partner in business? As long as your political engagement in Pakistan remains invested in individuals you will not succeed. Changing from Zardari to Nawaz is not a change of strategy. It’s a change of face. For far too long you have supported the politics of individuals at the cost of our institutions. Invest in our institutions. Invest in our businesses. Strong institutions will give the people the justice and liberty they seek. They will give you the security you need. Today the Taliban sit 65 miles outside my home city of Islamabad. The people of Pakistan are ready to lock arms and battle this beast. The question is whether you will stand by the people of Pakistan in this battle on their terms or choose the Af-Pak policy of no hope and no change. You are either with us or against us – us the people – in whose veins the blood runs green not red! Pakistan Paindabad!

The writer is pursuing a master’s at Princeton University. Earlier, she attended Yale University. Email: stariq@princeton.edu

Published in The News Thursday, May 07, 2009 

http://www.thenews.com.pk/daily_detail.asp?id=176169

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