One Year Later --- The Morbid Calculus Of 9/11

A View From Islamabad

by Pervez Hoodbhoy

Fanatics with murder in their hearts and minds flew airliners packed with people into two of America's tallest buildings. The dust of the collapsing towers quickly enveloped the globe, bringing disaster for some but a windfall of opportunity to others. Who gained and by how much? A year later, it is time for accounts and audits.

I shall start from what lies closest to me. Two miles to the west, as the crow flies, stands a giant cake-shaped building with side-frills much like frosting on the sides. Ensconced in this presidential cake is General Pervez Musharraf, a man who President Clinton reluctantly visited two years ago but had refused to shake hands with in public. His successor, George W. Bush, could not recall the name of this Pakistani leader at the time of the US presidential elections, although he had some vague, uncomfortable notions of the leader having seized power in a military coup.

But September 11 was to transform General Musharraf and the Pakistan Army into valuable American allies. It restored Pakistan's strategic significance to the US, seriously depleted after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan. The transition was a dramatic, instantaneous one but far from painless.

For two decades, Pakistan had been at the hub of a thriving global jihad industry. Driven by the messianic zeal of General Zia ul Haq in the 1980's, and financed for a decade by the US and Saudi Arabia, American strategy to drive the Evil Empire out of Afghanistan required marshalling the forces of Islam from every part of the world. The Pakistan Army participated enthusiastically ---"Islam, Pakistan, Jihad" were soon emblazoned on banners at recruitment centers, beards proliferated, promotions went with piety, and few could be seen to miss Friday prayers. A new ethos was in creation; this was to be an army not just for Pakistan, but to fight the enemies of Islam everywhere.

After the Soviet Union withdrew, and then self-destructed, jihad went into temporary limbo. But, like any military-industrial complex, it too found excellent reasons for not doing away with itself. Fortunately for those initially recruited by the CIA and Pakistan's secret agencies, the Pakistan Army still had plenty of use for jihad. It wanted "strategic depth" (a friendly backyard) for itself in Afghanistan, and sought to wrest Kashmir from Indian occupation without all-out war. Both required setting up a complex infrastructure of Islamic militant groups which freely roamed the country, but whose existence could be officially denied. Some were closely connected with Al-Qaida and the Taliban.

Then came 9/11. Faced by a United States bent upon bloody vengeance, Pakistan's military establishment scurried to join the US-led coalition and take up arms against its former creation, the Taliban and their Amir -ul-Momineen (leader of the pious, Mullah Omar). Osama T-shirts disappeared from bazaars in Peshawar. This straightforward betrayal was resisted only by a few senior officers with an Islamic bent. They were quickly rendered irrelevant. General Musharraf knew the alternative. In all likelihood the Americans would "have done an Iraq on Pakistan", as one highly placed member of the foreign ministry conceded to me in the week after September 11. He was probably right.

The Pakistan Army soon began its new role, and bloody encounters with Al-Qaida began after Tora Bora. Pakistan was declared a US ally, all earlier sanctions were lifted, money poured in from international financial institutions, and foreign exchange reserves went up a spectacular 700%. General Musharraf, buoyed by success, declared himself president and army chief for the next five years. His amendments to Pakistan's constitution do not, he said, need approval by any future parliament.

A dictatorship, yes. But Washington is not about to talk of a "regime change" in Pakistan. As Deng Xiaoping once famously declared "it doesn't matter whether the cat is black or white so long as it catches mice".

A mere missile-throw away from Islamabad, sits a man that Musharraf cordially despises. He too is a winner. Atal Behari Vajpayee, prime minister of India, and his right-wing Hindu fundamentalist political party the BJP, owe much to Mohammed Atta and his murderous crew.

Pleading that India too was a victim of Islamic militancy, Vajpayee garnered international support for a bloody military campaign in Kashmir against a dissident Muslim populace that sees itself under occupation. Under unrelenting pressure, Musharraf had to reluctantly agree that Pakistan would no longer aid militants fighting against Indian forces in Kashmir. Simultaneously, Indian militarism received a sharp boost with Israeli and US supplies of advanced weaponry.

In the shadow of 9/11, other crimes were sure to be overlooked --- especially when the victims were Muslim. Indeed, Vajpayee's government escaped serious international condemnation in spite of having overseen a state-organized pogrom against Muslims in the Indian state of Gujrat. A week of unchecked rioting and arson --- with the police looking the other way or actively participating --- left over 2000 Muslims dead and a hundred thousand homeless. The rest of the world responded but feebly.

A still greater windfall of 9/11 went to Ariel Sharon, who successfully drafted George W. Bush and members of the US Congress to the cause of eliminating the Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation. Capitalizing upon the mindless stupidity of those Palestinians who danced as the Twin Towers fell, and the atrocities of suicide bombers, he has effectively silenced many who would otherwise feel uncomfortable at seeing Palestinian apartment buildings bombed from the sky. Israeli tanks and bulldozers can now smash through houses, tear up sidewalks, and leave behind a wake of corpses, with only a bare murmur of protest from Americans.

To be sure Palestinians have been crushed and humiliated, the worst among losers. But what of Al-Qaida which claims --- falsely --- to speak for them? The judgment on this is not yet in. Bombed, hounded, and harassed, they have undoubtedly been weakened. Bin Laden is, in all probability, dead. But Al Qaida's greatest strength is patience, a belief in the eternal and the rewards of paradise. So they are grimly content to wait in the shadows, to gain in death what could never be achieved in life. Al-Qaida and their likes are happiest with men like George W. Bush --- he speaks their simple language of good versus evil, and force as the weapon of choice. They will surely gain if the US unleashes carnage upon Iraq, a country with no plausible link to Al-Qaida, because it will eventually bring to them a flood of recruits.

Unquestionably, the Grand Winner of 9/11 is the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld-Wolfowitz team. For them it was a transformative moment, a chance to fundamentally change American doctrine. The tectonic shift in global politics is now evident --- the US shall brook no rival, and will obey no international laws unless they specifically promote American interests. The Pentagon, which hit a 48 billion dollar jackpot, would ensure that now Imperial America does not need allies to win. The deliberately leaked Nuclear Posture Review made clear that the US could attack any nation at will, even with nuclear weapons, if it so chose.

Much suffering lies ahead as American imperial arrogance battles Islamic religious fanaticism. We must not forget that September 11 was but one snapshot of history, and history is an infinite gallery of crimes committed by the human race against itself. A global, democratic, secular, humanistic identity must soon replace the twin evils of nationalism and religion. Else we perish.

Pervez Hoodbhoy is professor of physics at Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad.

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