9/11, 20 Years On: No Country in the World Changed More Than Pakistan

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Pakistani protesters expressing solidarity with families of the students killed in a Taliban attack on a military-run school in Peshawar, in 2014.
Pakistani protesters expressing solidarity with families of the students killed in a Taliban attack on a military-run school in Peshawar, in 2014.Credit: AP

Around 7 P.M., a little after sunset, I returned home from my daily basketball practice, still dribbling the ball I had received as a gift on my 13th birthday five days earlier. The TV in the living room was showing the World Trade Center collapsing, on repeat. At summer camp over the next month alongside players from American basketball franchises, I was taught exaltations for jihad against America.

Even in the small town of Sargodha, Pakistan, 9/11 polarized our high school discussions. There was still the discursive space, then, to express dissenting, even sacrilegious views.

This article is part of our special 9/11 project. Read it here

That was in stark contrast to the university I graduated from a decade later, where UN-designated terrorist Hafiz Saeed taught Islamic studies. Students and teachers have since been lynched and imprisoned over mere accusations of blasphemy.

No country was transformed more post 9/11 than Pakistan: Quashed between its military dictator selling “enlightened moderation” to the West, while actively pushing for Talibanization at home, the country was dragged into incoherence, toward polar opposite identities.

So much of the damage was self-inflicted, part of a deliberate policy. The Pakistan army was sticking fast to its half-a-century old plans for jihadist proliferation in South Asia, proxies to extend Pakistan’s interests. 9/11 wasn’t a wake-up call to the dangers of Islamic radicalization: for Pakistan, it was proof of its expedience and power.

The biggest jihadist terror headlines since 9/11, from the Mumbai attacks in 2008 to sheltering and hiding Osama bin Laden himself, have often been the progeny of Pakistan’s military intelligence. And not only have Pakistan’s actual (military) rulers been prepared to sacrifice over 80,000 Pakistanis, including schoolchildren, by channeling their jihadist assets to one-up India, they brazenly deem those lives lost to be merely “collateral damage.”

For the Pakistani establishment, 9/11 was another episode in a long-term co-option of terror to push its interests. The international community made a crucial mistake in letting them off the hook after 9/11 and ever since. Only now are voices being raised.

But Pakistan’s rulers, undeterred, are now triumphantly tub-thumping over the return to power of their creation, the Taliban, and a masochistic security strategy, conceived long before the U.S. arrived in Afghanistan after 9/11, and which will continue, barefaced, after its departure.

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