The real cost of 9/11

September 15, 2011


THE 10th anniversary of 9/11 was a sombre occasion for reflection on the meaningless suffering and violence caused by Al Qaeda and its franchises as well as the subsequent military reaction by states across the globe.

This decade will be remembered for its long periods of unnecessary war, violence, torture and death. If all the tears caused by such abundant sorrow could be collected in one place, they would constitute a tragic river of regret, broken hopes and hearts.

Having worked for more than 18 months in Swat with trauma patients who were victims of personal tragedies during the Taliban rule and the military response thereafter, one has witnessed the heartrending effect on ordinary people.

The worst sufferers have been women and children, and there are many households in Swat today with widows as head of the family. They have not only to cope with the strain of living but also of having to raise families without breadwinners. One cannot allow this catastrophe to pass without reflection; one must answer why this has happened.

I am reminded of the lines by poet Joan Anglund who wrote, “Like a great dark bird, winging home, tragedy drops into the waiting nest, woven by our weaknesses”. One notes the many opportunities that arose. If these had been grasped at the right moment tragedies could have been prevented.

It is true that neither the US nor Pakistan were wise enough to deal with what Osama bin Laden had in mind. It was a systematic failure across the board in not knowing how to counter him. In the case of Pakistan we were complacent about not having rooted out the radicals after their dispersal from Tora Bora.

The 9/11 Commission Report said that it was clear to the US intelligence community that “Although Bin Laden was determined to strike in the US … [n]umerous precautions were taken overseas. Domestic agents were not effectively mobilised”. Even more telling was the commission’s finding that “None of measures adopted by the US government from 1998-2001 disturbed or even delayed the progress of the Al Qaeda plot … Across the government there were failures of imagination, policy, capabilities and management”.

In the case of Pakistan, had Gen Musharraf been vigilant and honest, many lives across the world including in Pakistan could have been saved and we would have also avoided the embarrassment of the discovery of Bin Laden in Abbottabad. A preventive policy would have stopped or reduced the subsequent eruption of extremism within Pakistani society that is today devouring it.

Anthony Cordesman is not wrong in saying that, “Pakistan is passing through one of the most dangerous periods of instability in its history … [It] is approaching a perfect storm of threats, including rising extremism, a failing economy, chronic underdevelopment and an intensifying war, resulting in unprecedented political, economic and social turmoil”.

In order to gain American sympathies, the Pakistan government issued a sponsored advertisement in the Wall Street Journal on 9/11 claiming that Pakistan was the worst sufferer during the last decade in terms of losses and the number of persons, both civilian and military, killed in the war. However, to ask in the advertisement ‘Which country can do more for your peace?’ and then continue blatantly, ‘Can any other country do so? Only Pakistan’ is in bad taste. Nations make policies and sacrifices for their own strategic interests. This is no way to go about getting mileage by selling the shrouds of one’s citizens.

On another level, this statement clearly indicates Islamabad’s view that Pakistan is fighting America’s war, something that the majority of Pakistanis have been saying ever since Gen Musharraf tied Pakistan’s fate to the US.

Despite having more than 150,000 soldiers defending the country’s sovereignty against non-state threats in Fata and Malakand, we witness daily the shenanigans of mad men and psychopaths on the national media about other less important matters; it appears we have become deranged as a people.

In the absence of any sincere effort to curb the destruction of Karachi, as Pakistan’s principal city, we hear meaningless homilies by everyone. Everyday our level of governance drops many notches. It is as if we want the tragedy (of Karachi) to drop into the waiting nest as described by Anglund.

With the December 2014 deadline for the withdrawal of the US from Afghanistan drawing near, we should be working hard to ensure that we are not caught again in the cross-hairs of another civil war that would do permanent harm to Pakistan. This is a moment for political parties and institutions to gather and craft a unified Pakistani policy that provides a workable regional solution based on peace.

If our national leadership fails to find time to lead the fight against extremism then we will have only ourselves to blame if we are ensnared again in the Afghan quagmire.

The Pakistan government has proudly proclaimed the figures of sacrifices made for the US since Sept 11, 2001. There are 21,672 Pakistani civilians dead or injured. The army lost 2,795 soldiers while 8,671 were wounded. There were 3,486 bomb blasts and 283 suicide attacks. More than 3.5 million persons became internally displaced. The losses to assets are worth more than $68bn. However, it is doubtful whether such statements will shift US policy favourably towards Pakistan.

On the other hand, these losses, though substantial, pale in comparison to our failure of governance as seen in Karachi. If the pressure on Pakistan’s dwindling capacity increases then our institutions may soon become dysfunctional and that to my mind will be the ultimate price we may pay for the 9/11 decade.

The writer is chairman of the Regional Institute of Policy Research in Peshawar.