ISLAMABAD, Sept 10: It was September 11, 2001; a rainy evening in Pakistan’s capital. The civil secretariat was almost closed after business hours.
The then foreign secretary Inamul Haq was busy in his routine diplomatic tasks with officials from cipher wing to manage diplomatic operations from Europe, Middle East and the Americas.
All of this was happening in Foreign Office’s famous building.
With two passenger jets hitting the twin towers on Sept 9/11, Pakistan’s key strategists were watching the developments closely and started reacting in 30 minutes time.
Jitters were also felt at the secretary of the Foreign Affairs’ office.
“I was in my office at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and all my officials were in the building when the tragic incident occurred,” former foreign secretary Inamul Haq told Dawn in his communication on the matter.
Besides the selective information being provided by foreign secretary’s team, the Americas desk at the foreign office was the main centripetal information hub, as the desk officials (as called in the foreign office) were also in touch with US embassy officials in Pakistan.
Pakistan’s foreign office was also in communication through a hotline with the embassy staff in Washington, updating the officials back home on every development.
Mr Inam added that they were in touch with their ambassador (Maliha Lodhi) in Washington, despite the fact that several buildings were vacated by the American establishment because of terror threats.
“It was quite obvious that the situation was tense because it was a major terrorist attack on the US. Our first tasks was issuing a policy statement as done by many other countries across the globe and we also prepared one for Gen Pervez Musharraf,” remarked Inam, a key man in Pakistan’s diplomatic corps, who was on the job when things were unfolding on Sept 11 in Islamabad.
Pakistan was then ruled by Gen Pervez Musharraf, as his nine-year term came to a halt in 2008, when he stepped down from the presidency on a voluntary basis in 2008.
President Musharraf, on the evening of Sept 9, was on a routine visit to Karachi and was addressing a local Nazims’ meeting — a political model introduced by him for giving representation to the people at city level.
Asked whether Pakistan was facing any pressures from the US or the world immediately after the twin-tower terrorist attacks, the former foreign secretary remarked: “We were not facing any pressures at that time because Pakistan was already engaged with the Americans prior to 9/11 terrorist attack on a number of issues.”
A sitting Foreign Ministry official wishing not to be named said that they were not perceiving any threat towards Pakistan at the time, when the events of Sept 11 were aired on international television channels.
“All of the officials at the Foreign Ministry were mainly concerned for the embassy staff in Washington and elsewhere at our consulates like one in New York,” said the official.
“You (diplomats) obviously have ‘some pressures’ of dealing with such a critical situation taking place in minutes and specifically after the Sept 11 attacks, ambassador Lodhi managed it well,” claimed the official.
On the time of the attack, in the evening around 8:00pm on the country’s state television — Pakistan Television, which aired beams coming in live through western channels, especially CNN, the main American cable channel — millions of Pakistanis witnessed the changing of American history live from New York.
The state television was in full control of the army and partially managed by managing director Yousaf Baig Mirza.
“I was talking to Yousaf Baig Mirza, PTV’s managing director, while sitting in his office,” the official spokesman for the Pakistan government, chief executive (Gen Musharraf) and the army, Maj Gen (retired) Rashid Qureshi told Dawn.
“Both of us were busy discussing a few things.”
“While watching the television, I saw this WTC video and for a while I thought it’s a movie…… suddenly the horrible movie turns out to be reality and we stopped talking,” said Gen Rashid.
It is pertinent to mention that Pakistan Television at that time was the main source of information in this part of world.
“A current affairs programme ‘Face Off’ was set to begin and Barrister Shahida Jameel, the then federal minister for human rights, was waiting for the programme,” he informed.
“The programme could not be aired because we had one big news — WTC terrorist attack, on air and the transmission was hooked to CNN,” maintained another official of the PTV.
“Sine we have no other source of live transmission we stayed connected to CNN till almost the morning of Sept 12,” added the official.
However, Gen Rashid added that he immediately contacted the president’s military secretary Brig Nadeem in Karachi.
“Nadeem can I talk to the president,” he recalled, adding: “Brig Nadeem informed me that the president is addressing a meeting…I told him (Brig Nadeem) hook me to the president now, while giving him information over the WTC terrorists attack.
Then I briefed Gen Musharraf,” said the Gen Rashid.
Gen Musharraf, he said, had to cut short his visit to Karachi and landed back at Chaklala airport at night.
The Army’s top brass along with key political figures, who were close to Gen Musharraf were asked to be present at the Joint Services (JS) headquarters in Rawalpindi.
“It was 36-hour long meeting at the JS Headquarters, where political, military and senior leadership of caretaker government were present, including civil and military bureaucracy,” noted Gen Rashid.
The former army spokesman said micro and macro details were discussed at the JS headquarters in Rawalpindi.
At the JS headquarters, he said, that he had even over heard someone saying: “They (Americans) have gone crazy and would go to any extent for avenging the WTC attacks.”
“Gen Mehmood, the then director general of all powerful Inter-Services-Intelligence (ISI), was in Washington the day 9/11 happened and he told Gen Pervez Musharraf ‘are you ready to go back to the stone-age,’ was the message conveyed to him by a senior American government official,” said Gen Rashid.
According to Gen Rashid, the former agency head returned to Islamabad in two days time carrying series of messages from the American establishment.
Gen Rashid said that military and civil bureaucracy never perceived a threat to Pakistan for over a week from the Americans.
But the decision makers of the country were concerned specifically over the (intelligence) reports when “we were given information that India has offered free access to its bases to Americans for hitting Pakistan.”
“We (Pakistanis) were being declared by the Indians as the real problem behind every terror attack taking place across the globe” he continued.
“Later we had to put all our forces — Army, Navy and the Air Force, on high-alert after perceiving a threat from India,” Gen Rashid maintained.
The former presidential spokesman insisted that for some reasons: “We even discussed what if Pakistan failed to side with the Americans? The picture was grim — Al Qaeda getting a free hand in Pakistan, more militancy and trouble for Pakistan.”
“So the cost of siding with the Americans was quite less,” asserted Gen Qureshi.
The option, he said: “We are left with is to support Americans and Gen Musharraf decided to provide them (US) intelligence sharing support, air passage, logistical support and ensuring that no Pakistani soldier will be firing at Afghans and will stay away from any direct conflict with Taliban.”
He claimed that at the JS headquarters “we had an open discussion over the fate of millions of Pakistanis who were living and working across the globe especially in western countries after the Sept 11 attacks.”
Gen Rashid said that the whole world was with the Americans including the Chinese and the Russians.
“It was a brave decision taken by Gen Musharraf since he brushed away a definite attack on Pakistan’s soil.”
“Gen Musharraf saved Pakistan and this was conveyed with logical and solid arguments to political leaders like Maulana Fazlur Rehman and few others,” he noted.