Posts Tagged ‘ September 11 ’

Why They Get Pakistan Wrong

By Mohsin Hamid for The New York Review of Books

Nearly ten years after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and the commencement of the US-led war in Afghanistan, the alliance between the US and Pakistan is on shaky ground. The killing of Osama bin Laden by US special forces this May in Abbottabad, Pakistan, has incensed officials on both sides: on the American side because bin Laden’s hiding place appears to suggest Pakistani perfidy; and on the Pakistani side because the US raid humiliatingly violated Pakistan’s sovereignty.

As Ted Poe, a Republican congressman on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, puts it: “Unless the State Department can certify to Congress that Pakistan was not harboring America’s number one enemy, Pakistan should not receive one more cent of American funding.” Dramatic words,1 for Pakistan has been allocated quite a few cents of American funding. Yet this money has bought little love. According to the Pew Global Attitudes Project, only 12 percent of Pakistanis have a favorable opinion of the United States, and only 8 percent would like to see US troops “stay in Afghanistan until the situation has stabilized.” Why might this be the case?

The past decade has been devastating for Pakistan. The country’s annual death toll from terrorist attacks rose from 164 in 2003 to 3,318 in 2009, a level exceeding the number of Americans killed on September 11. Some 35,000 Pakistanis, including 3,500 members of security forces, have died in terror and counterterror violence. Millions more have been displaced by fighting. It is difficult to convey how profoundly the country has been wounded. In 1989, my Lahore American School classmates and I (including children from Pakistan, America, Canada, Sweden, Germany, and Korea) were able to go to the beautiful valley of Swat by bus for a weeklong field trip with no security arrangements whatsoever. In 2009, the battle to retake Swat from Taliban militants involved two full divisions of the Pakistani army and hundreds of casualties among Pakistani soldiers. (Similarly, until a few years ago, there had never been a suicide bombing in Lahore. Now one occurs every three or four months.) The Pakistani government puts direct and indirect economic losses from terrorism over the last ten years at $68 billion.

Of the $20.7 billion in US funding allocated to Pakistan from 2002 to 2010, $14.2 billion was for the Pakistani military. On paper, economic assistance came to $6.5 billion, less than a third of the total. In reality the civilian share was even smaller, probably less than a quarter, for the $6.5 billion figure reflects “commitments” (amounts budgeted by the US), not “disbursements” (amounts actually given to Pakistan). The United States Government Accountability Office reports that only 12 percent of the $1.5 billion in economic assistance to Pakistan authorized for 2010 was actually disbursed that year. Independent calculations by the Center for Global Development suggest that $2.2 billion of civilian aid budgeted for Pakistan is currently undisbursed, meaning that total economic assistance actually received from the US over the past nine years is in the vicinity of $4.3 billion, or $480 million per year. (By comparison, Pakistanis abroad remit $11 billion to their families in Pakistan annually, over twenty times the flow of US economic aid.)

Pakistan is a large country, with a population of 180 million and a GDP of $175 billion. Average annual US economic assistance comes to less than 0.3 percent of Pakistan’s current GDP, or $2.67 per Pakistani citizen. Here in Lahore, that’s the price of a six-inch personal-size pizza with no extra toppings from Pizza Hut.

The alliance between the US and Pakistan is thus predominantly between the US and the Pakistani military. To enter the US as a Pakistani civilian “ally” now (a Herculean task, given ever-tighter visa restrictions) is to be subjected to hours of inane secondary screening upon arrival. (“Have you ever had combat training, sir?”) For a decade, meanwhile, successive civilian Pakistani finance ministers have gone to Washington reciting a mantra of “trade not aid.” They have been rebuffed, despite a WikiLeaked 2010 cable from the US embassy in Islamabad strongly supporting a free trade agreement with Pakistan and citing research showing that such an arrangement would likely create 1.4 million new jobs in Pakistan, increase Pakistani GDP growth by 1.5 percent per year, double inflows of foreign direct investment to Pakistan, and (because Pakistani exports would come largely from textile industries that US-based manufacturers are already exiting) have “no discernible impact” on future US employment.

Perhaps the vast majority of Pakistanis with an unfavorable view of the United States simply believe their annual free pizza is not worth the price of a conflict that claims the lives of thousands of their fellow citizens each year.

Pakistani journalist Zahid Hussain, in The Scorpion’s Tail, his examination of the rise of militants in Pakistan, makes clear that both sides of the alliance between the US and the Pakistani military share blame for the violence currently afflicting Pakistan. A long series of mutual policy missteps led to the present bloodshed.

As Hussain reminds us, the US and the Pakistani military together backed the Afghanistan guerrilla campaign against the Soviet invasion in the 1980s, thereby bequeathing to the world unprecedented international networks of well-trained jihadist militants. For the US, as in its previous alliance with the Pakistani military in the 1950s and 1960s, the primary objective was to counter the Soviets. For the Pakistani military, as ever, the primary objective of the alliance was to lessen India’s superiority in conventional arms. The US gained a proxy fighting force in the form of the Afghan Mujahideen (literally: “people who do jihad”). The Pakistani military gained access to advanced US-made weapons, the most important of which were forty F-16 fighter aircraft: too few, obviously, to resist any full-blown Soviet air assault, but enough to strengthen meaningfully the Pakistan air force against its Indian rival.

With the Soviet withdrawal, America turned abruptly away from the region and washed its hands of its militant cocreations; in the ensuing power vacuum Afghanistan descended into a bloody civil war among former Mujahideen. The US also severed its alliance with the Pakistani military, cutting off supplies of spare parts for Pakistan’s American weapons and withholding delivery of further F-16s that Pakistan had paid for but not yet received.

The outraged Pakistani military was seriously weakened as a conventional fighting force vis-à-vis India. But it now, as Hussain shows, had enormous experience of projecting power through jihadist militants and two opportunities to continue doing so. One was in the Indian-controlled part of Kashmir (the divided Muslim-majority territory at the center of the Indian–Pakistani conflict, claimed in its entirety by both Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan), where an insurgency against Indian troops had broken out in 1989 following a disputed election.

The other was in Afghanistan, where the largely ethnic-Pashtun, Pakistan-backed Taliban were battling the largely non-Pashtun, India-backed Northern Alliance, consisting of Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras, and others. During the 1990s, Hussain writes,

the jihadist movement in Pakistan was focused entirely on supporting the regional strategy of the Pakistani military establishment: to liberate Kashmir from India and install a Pashtun government in Afghanistan.
But following the terrorist attacks of September 11, linked to members of al-Qaeda living under Taliban protection in Afghanistan, the US returned to the region in force and demanded that Pakistan choose sides. President Pervez Musharraf’s subsequent decision to align Pakistan with the US was perceived by many militants as a “betrayal.” Still, Musharraf hoped the Pakistani military’s conflict with its infuriated, jihadist offspring could be circumscribed, that it might be possible “to drive a wedge between the Pakistani militants and the al-Qaeda foreigners.”

This plan, besides denying the extent of the militant threat to Pakistan, was also undermined by US strategy, a strategy that suffered from the outset from what Hussein identifies as two “fundamental flaws.” The first of these was a failure to understand that unless Pashtun grievances were addressed—particularly their demand for a fair share of power—the war in Afghanistan would become “a Pashtun war, and that the Pashtuns in Pakistan would become…strongly allied with both al Qaeda and the Taliban.”

As the US campaign in Afghanistan began, Hussain writes, Musharraf “warned the United States not to allow the [Northern] Alliance forces to enter Kabul before a broad-based Afghan national government was put in place.” But the US ignored this advice, and later, at the Bonn conference of December 2001, Hamid Karzai was installed as chairman (and subsequently president) as Pashtun “window dressing, while the Northern Alliance took over the most powerful sections of the government.”

By backing the Northern Alliance against the Taliban and then failing to include a meaningful representation of Pashtuns in a power-sharing deal in Kabul, the US not only sided with India in the Indian–Pakistani proxy war in Afghanistan, it also elevated a coalition of Afghanistan’s smaller ethnicities above its largest ethnic group, the Pashtuns. Conflict was inevitable, and since twice as many Pashtuns live in Pakistan as in Afghanistan, it was also inevitable that this conflict would spill over the border.

The results for Pakistan were catastrophic. Over the following decade, as Hussain describes in detail, the Pakistani military’s attempts to separate “good” militants from “bad” foundered. Instead, strong networks developed between radical groups in Pakistan’s Punjabi east and those in its Pashtun west. With each move of the Pakistani military against them, the frequency and lethality of counterattacks by terrorists inside Pakistan, on both military and civilian targets, intensified. Pakistani casualties soared.

The only way out of this trap, in which an unwinnable “Pashtun war” threatens to swamp an essential Pakistani program to neutralize militants, Hussain suggests, is to address the second “fundamental flaw” in US strategy: the “failure to appreciate that combating the militant threat required something far more than a military campaign,” namely a “political settlement with the insurgents, requiring direct talks with the Taliban.”

Equally vital, it must be added, is a push toward political settlement between India and Pakistan over Kashmir. This simmering conflict fuels the Indian–Pakistani proxy war between the Northern Alliance and the Taliban in Afghanistan, encourages the Pakistani military’s embrace of militants, and helps subordinate Pakistani civilian governments to the Pakistani military (by allowing a near-perpetual state of security crisis to be maintained in Pakistan). The outlines of a deal on Kashmir were reportedly secretly agreed upon in 2007, but progress has been frozen since Musharraf’s fall from power in 2008 and the terrorist attacks on Mumbai that same year.

As a presidential candidate, Barack Obama acknowledged Kashmir’s central role. “The most important thing we’re going to have to do with respect to Afghanistan is actually deal with Pakistan,” he said in October 2008.

We should probably try to facilitate a better understanding between Pakistan and India, and try to resolve the Kashmir crisis so that they can stay focused not on India but on the situation with those militants.
Once he was elected, however, talk of Kashmir and peace between India and Pakistan receded from President Obama’s official pronouncements, and he embarked upon an Afghanistan policy that might be described as “shoot first, talk later.” US drone strikes in Pakistan’s Pashtun belt intensified, with more—53—in 2009, Obama’s first year in office, than during the entire Bush administration—42—followed by a further sharp increase in 2010, to 118. This unmanned assault was accompanied by a tripling of US military manpower in Afghanistan, which in turn resulted in a fourfold increase in the American fatality rate, with more deaths there of US soldiers in twenty-nine months under Obama (974) than in eighty-seven months under Bush (630).

Obama has now begun to reverse his Afghanistan escalation. His June 22 speech announced that 33,000 US forces (described as those of his “surge,” but more accurately representing the second of his two roughly equal-sized surges) would begin withdrawing this summer and be gone by the end of the next. There will then, he said, be a “steady pace” of further reductions until by 2014 the change of mission “from combat to support…will be complete.” He also stated that “America will join initiatives that reconcile the Afghan people, including the Taliban.”

The following day, in an interview with the Voice of America, Obama acknowledged a US “focus shifted to Pakistan” and declared:

I think what’s happened is that the [US–Pakistan] relationship has become more honest over time and that raises some differences that are real. And obviously the operation to take out Osama bin Laden created additional tensions, but I had always been very clear with Pakistan that if we ever found him and had a shot, that we would take it. We think that if Pakistan recognizes the threat to its sovereignty that comes out of the extremists in its midst, that there’s no reason why we can’t work cooperatively….
The tone of Obama’s underlying message to Pakistan is certainly much improved from that of the US in September 2001, when Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage reportedly told Pakistan to cooperate with the imminent US campaign in Afghanistan or be prepared to be bombed “back to the stone age.” But implicit in Obama’s words, and explicit in his actions, is a continued willingness to escalate US armed intervention in Pakistan should Pakistani cooperation prove insufficient. The alliance between the US and the Pakistani military remains, therefore, a relationship between parties viewing one another through gunsights. Each side blames the other for putting its citizens in grave danger, and each is correct to do so.

A gunsight is not, however, the primary lens through which King’s College professor and former London Times journalist Anatol Lieven sees Pakistan. Quite the opposite: his Pakistan: A Hard Country, by far the most insightful survey of Pakistan I have read in recent years, reflects sensitivity and considerable, if clear-eyed, affection. Lieven has traveled extensively through Pakistan (dismayingly atypical for a contemporary foreign commentator), exploring all of its provinces and speaking with Pakistanis from a very broad range of backgrounds. He has also immersed himself in written sources, including pertinent anthropological research produced over a period of some two hundred years.

Pakistan’s is a diverse society, so diverse, in fact, that observers who deal best in generalizations are bound to get the country horribly wrong. Lieven recognizes this diversity and makes it central to his analysis. For him, Pakistan is a place of competing and overlapping clans, sects, tribes, beliefs, and practices. Its society, in order to function, has evolved powerful mechanisms to deal with rivalries inside shared localities. As a result, Lieven argues, Pakistan is characterized by structures—military, bureaucratic, social, political, spiritual, judicial—that are profoundly “Janus-faced,” in the manner of the two-faced Roman deity who gazes and speaks in opposite, contradictory directions. These structures, at once predatory and protective, operate to make the country both (frustratingly for reformers) very difficult to change and (bafflingly for forecasters of its demise) remarkably resilient.2

At the heart of Lieven’s account of Pakistan is kinship, pervasive networks of clans and biradiris (groups of extended kin) that he identifies as “the most important force in society,” usually far stronger than any competing religious, ethnic, or political cause. Several millennia of invasions, occupations, colonizations, and rule by self-interested states resulted in a “collective solidarity for interest and defense” based on kinship becoming paramount in the area that is Pakistan. It now, as Lieven points out, “is a cultural system so strong that it can persuade a father to kill a much-loved daughter, not even for having an affair or becoming pregnant, but for marrying outside her kinship group without permission.” Moreover it is enduring, having survived, for example, “more than half a century of transplantation of Pakistani immigrants to the very different climes of Britain.” It has done much the same in the far less dislocating shift to Pakistan’s cities, sustained, as in Britain, through constant replenishment by newly migrating kin from the countryside.

The effects of kinship on Pakistani politics are profound. Most of Pakistan’s leading political parties are dynastic, including the Bhutto family’s PPP and the Sharif family’s PML-N; even individual members of parliament are often elected on the basis of clan alliances and support. Politics is therefore about patronage far more than ideology. Furthermore, the Pakistani state is relatively weak, collecting taxes that amount to less than 10 percent of GDP.

As a consequence, Lieven notes, Pakistani governments follow a predictable pattern. They are elected (usually as coalitions, Pakistan’s many divisions making absolute majorities exceedingly rare) on general promises of higher living standards for the population and individual promises to particular politicians, families, and districts. The governments lack the resources to keep many of these promises (which are, in any case, often conflicting); their majorities ebb away; they lose power and await another turn.

Yet because of patronage, much of what politicians extract financially from official positions circulates among their kinship groups, which cut across class. Lieven believes this system, while hugely ineffective at driving real change, helps explain “Pakistan’s remarkably low inequality rating according to the Gini Co-efficient, measuring the ratio of the income of the poorest group in society relative to the richest.” By that measure in 2002 “the figure for Pakistan was 30.6, compared with 36.8 for India, 40.8 for the US, and 43.7 for Nigeria.”

The role of religion in Pakistan, a source of much hand-wringing in policy think tanks, is similarly complex. As Lieven points out: “the Islam of the Pakistani masses contains very different traditions.” Moreover, unlike in Saudi Arabia or Iran, where an oil-bankrolled state has tried to impose one monolithic version of Islam, “the Pakistani state is too weak to achieve this even if it wanted to.” Lieven describes the theological divisions among Sunnis sustained by Pakistan’s clan and kinship diversity. The Ahl-e-Hadith, heavily influenced by Wahabism, loathe saintly traditions. The Deobandis may praise saints but object to worshiping them. The Barelvis, Pakistan’s most numerous (and “fissiparous”) school, tend to embrace the intercession of saints with God. Veneration of saints is also central to Pakistan’s Shias. Because saintliness can be inherited, the heads of Pakistan’s powerful landowning “pir families remain of immense political importance.” They can actively create bridges among religious groups and they serve as major bosses in several mainstream political parties, especially the “secular” PPP.

Religiosity thus fuses with kinship networks and politics to reinforce Pakistan’s existing elite. But it also helps marginalize Pakistan’s Islamist parties, drawn primarily from the Ahl-e-Hadith and Deobandi schools, which struggle to capture more than a few percent of the country’s vote. (Away from politics and “hardly noticed outside the country,” Lieven believes Pakistan’s religiosity also softens “the misery of Pakistan’s poor” by contributing to an astounding level of charitable donation, which, “at almost 5 percent of GDP, is one of the highest rates in the world.”)

Throughout his analysis, Lieven rejects the notion that Pakistan fits somehow in a category apart from the rest of the South Asian subcontinent, a sui generis nuclear-armed “failed state” on the verge of collapse. Rather, he writes,

Pakistan is in fact a great deal more like India—or India like Pakistan—than either country would wish to admit. If Pakistan were an Indian state, then in terms of development, order and per capita income it would find itself somewhere in the middle, considerably below Karnataka but considerably above Bihar.

Indeed, even in the violent challenges confronting its state authority, Pakistan is like its subcontinental neighbors: “All of the states of this region have faced insurgencies over the past generation,” Lieven notes, and by comparison to the Taliban conflict in Pakistan, Sri Lanka’s Tamil rebellion “caused proportionally far more casualties” and India’s Naxalite Maoist insurgency controls “a far greater proportion of India.”

Lieven has evident sympathy for the Pakistani military (indeed there are points when, in referring to a uniformed ancestor who served during British rule in what is now Pakistan, one suspects Lieven may have his own feelings of kinship with the Pakistan army). But he is clear about the role the army has played in fomenting militancy, and about the deadly threat militants now pose to Pakistan, especially the potential for far worse bloodshed if the remaining militant groups that have not yet turned on the military and are therefore being kept “in existence ‘on the shelf ‘”—including Pashtun militants focused on Afghanistan and Punjabi militants focused on India—were to do so.

Still, despite the ineffectiveness of much of the Pakistani state, he believes Pakistan’s kinship groups and its stabilizing and antireformist social structures give the country a combination of diversity and toughness that makes successful revolution highly unlikely. He also writes that the Pakistani army, as it demonstrated in the “brutal but in the end brutally effective” operation to liberate Swat from militant control in 2009, is fully capable of routing guerrillas who seize territory when it sets its mind to doing so.

A key question, therefore, is whether the army itself could split. Lieven thinks not (and we must fervently hope that he is right). The army, he explains, is an all-volunteer institution with a strong shared ethos, nationalistic rather than pan-Islamic in outlook, and increasingly vigilant against Taliban sympathizers within—”after all, we are not suicidal idiots,” an officer tells him. The real risk, which Lieven argues must be avoided at all costs, is of “open intervention of US ground forces” in Pakistan. For if ordered by their commanders not to resist, “parts of the Pakistani army would mutiny in order to fight the invaders,” and in such an eventuality “Islamist upheaval and the collapse of the state would indeed be all too likely.”

In passages such as this, Lieven comes close to describing Pakistan as if through a gunsight; but the gunsight belongs to an American decision-maker on the hunt, with Lieven playing the role of preservationist guide. The best Western strategy, he counsels, would “stem from a recognition that Pakistan’s goals in Afghanistan are in part legitimate—even if the means with which they have been sought have not been”—and would “seek a peaceful solution to the Kashmir dispute, despite all the immense obstacles in both India and Pakistan.” For in the end, “not even the greatest imaginable benefits of US–Indian friendship could compensate for the actual collapse of Pakistan, with all the frightful dangers this would create not just for the West but for India too.”

Lieven’s is a vital book, with much wisdom in its advice for the West. But equally importantly, this detailed and nuanced survey offers Pakistanis a mirror in which to look hard at their country and themselves. Pakistan’s resilience is bound up with its resistance to reform, yet reform will be essential for facing the great challenges ahead, including the potentially devastating impacts of climate change on a dry and overpopulated land that is dependent on a single river and its tributaries. Pakistanis, and above all members of Pakistan’s military, would do well finally to reject their country’s disastrous embrace of militants. Pakistan must urgently mend its relationships in its own neighborhood and refocus on taking care of itself. Time is not on its side.

1
Indeed, perhaps more than just words: on July 9 the US announced it was holding back $800 million of military aid for Pakistan. ↩

2
Lieven is careful to point out that his analysis refers only to Pakistan as it has been configured for the past forty years, a territory with “more of a natural unity…[and] a degree of common history and ethnic intertwining stretching back long before British rule,” and not to what he terms 1947–1971’s “freak of history…[with] its two ethnically and culturally very different wings separated by 1,000 miles of hostile India,” a situation from which Bangladesh should have been given a “civilized divorce” but which instead “ended in horrible bloodshed.”

-Mohsin Hamid is the author of the novels Moth Smoke and The Reluctant Fundamentalist. He lives in Lahore, London, and New York. (Article originally appeared late September 2011)

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note– The views expressed in this article are the solely the opinions of the writer and although interesting, do not necessarily reflect nor represent the views of Pakistanis for Peace and or Manzer Munir. 

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Ten Years After 9/11, We’re Still in the Dark

By Omar S. Ashmawy for The Washington Post

I joined the U.S. military after law school to help my country defend itself against the threat of Islamic extremism. My final assignment in my eight years in the Air Forcewas as a war crimes prosecutor in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. With access to our nation’s most intimate secrets, I shuttled between Guantanamo and the Pentagon from the summer of 2007 to the winter of 2009. I learned many lessons, but on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, the most important lesson I can share is the most alarming: After so many years and so much sacrifice, nothing has changed.

Our greatest weakness remains today what it was 10 years ago, and what it was eight years before that, when the World Trade Center was bombed in 1993. We don’t understand Islam or Arab culture, and that ignorance prevents us from accurately predicting our relationship with Arab and Muslim countries and identifying our enemies.

From our government to the front lines, individuals are making decisions based on inaccurate, biased information. The White House’s August announcement on combating radical Islam acknowledged this reality. Our soldiers, agents and analysts don’t have the facts they need to make informed decisions about whom to trust, what to believe and how to keep the threat at bay.

Whether it’s the FBI recommending its agents read books by a known anti-Muslim author, misplaced anxiety over “sharia law,” the near absence of linguistic and cultural training in the military, or our government’s collective surprise at the Arab Spring, the effect of what we don’t know reverberates through U.S. policy. But the result is the same: We are caught off guard by events we should have anticipated or, worse, we confuse our enemy’s propaganda with knowledge.

As an American Muslim born and raised in New Jersey, I am frustrated that America still struggles with the basics: We don’t understand the difference between Islam and Islamic extremism, or that Arab culture is not the same as the religion. We divide Muslims into secularists and extremists and can’t tell the devout from the radical, the sympathizer from the opportunist.

Two of the most enduring examples are the military commissions and Guantanamo Bay — intractable problems that will never be resolved to anyone’s satisfaction. They’re once and future disasters built by people who should have known better — people America trusted to know more. Both were operated and sustained by individuals so uninformed of our enemy’s religion, language and culture that they could not accurately process the information available to them. Attorneys couldn’t tell good cases from bad ones, and the agents assigned to the commissions didn’t know what questions to ask detainees.

I saw it firsthand. From lawyers to interrogators, the vacuum was enormous. It filled Guantanamo Bay with men who did not need to be there and barred their release. It was fuel on a fire set by a legal process that initially conflated the mutually exclusive missions of intelligence-gathering and the rendering of justice. The absence of knowledge and leadership permitted the worst of what happened — reports of the abuse of prisoners, the desecration of holy books, the legal pantomimes — and continues to prevent a resolution to the human drama playing out on that island.

We cannot close Guantanamo because the trials of the detainees who remain would be tainted by evidence from botched interrogations and because the men there are now radicalized — the result of decisions based in an ignorance tantamount to racism.

This ignorance is a degenerative disease that debilitates our efforts to protect our nation. It was tempting to think that with Osama bin Laden’s death we could end this conflict, if only we could end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. While those wars must be concluded, neither their end nor the death of any individual terrorist will secure us against another attack by Islamic extremists. We’re not fighting a single enemy but a decentralized patchwork of groups that adhere to the same twisted, bankrupt ideology. Whether it is Jemaah Islamiah in Southeast Asia or al-Shabab in Somalia, our enemies are motivated and wait — patiently — until we forget.

As we honor the past, we must also commit to the future. This commitment must include an expectation that all Americans responsible for protecting us possess the education and knowledge to do so and be committed to accuracy and learning. A good place to start would be language and culture training for our soldiers, and training in Islam and Arab culture and history for policymakers. Similar education should be made available to local law enforcement and community leaders. At the height of the Cold War, we encouraged our best and brightest to study Russian language and history. Ten years after Sept. 11, this is a basic but necessary step. Ignorance is our vulnerability, and we must begin somewhere. Those individuals we remember Sunday deserve better. We all do.

The writer is a former Air Force officer and war crimes prosecutor. He prosecuted U.S. v. Hamdan and U.S. v. Al Bahlul, the first two litigated cases to be brought before a military tribunal since the Nuremberg trials after World War II.

Decade After 9/11, Afghans Languish in Pakistan

By Qasim Nauman and Rebecca Conway for Reuters

When Ghulum Nabi’s father heard U.S.-backed troops toppled Afghanistan’s Taliban after the September 11, 2001, attacks, he rushed to their family home in an Afghan refugee camp in Pakistan to spread the news.

Perhaps, one day they could all return to a peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan supported by a Western superpower.

After 10 years of U.S.-led efforts to pacify one of the world’s most turbulent countries, Afghan refugees in Pakistan have little hope for stability in their homeland.

“I grew up here and Pakistan is my country. When my father pushes me to go back to visit, I end up having a fight with him. I’m never going to live there. I want to get Pakistani nationality. This is my home,” said Nabi, 22, who runs a crockery shop.

“It doesn’t matter if it is America or anyone else trying to watch over Afghanistan. I will still be looking around to see if anyone is pointing a gun at me.”

Afghan President Hamid Karzai would welcome a return of the millions of Afghans living in Pakistan.

It would be a vote of confidence in his administration, which faces many problems, from widespread allegations of state corruption, to a resilient Taliban.

SOVIET INVASION TRIGGERED LIFE OF UNCERTAINTY

Many of the refugees are skilled labourers who could boost reconstruction and help revive a weak economy if they return. But it’s unlikely to happen.

Most of the refugees in Pakistan arrived after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. The conflict that followed consumed their homeland. After the mujahideen warriors defeated the Russians, warlords turned on each other and tore Afghanistan apart.

Many refugees fear a repeat of that chaos as a U.S. troop withdrawal looms.

Some would like to go home but feel they can’t. Others regard Pakistan as home despite its many disadvantages. Without proper Pakistani identification cards, Afghans can’t open bank accounts or buy or lease property.

Many are openly mistreated by Pakistanis who have little fear of being held to account.

On August 14, the anniversary of Pakistan’s independence, Saeed Anwar’s landlord showed up with three men armed with AK-47 assault rifles at his clothing shop at a busy bazaar in the city of Haripur, home to 80,000 Afghan refugees who live in camps.

“They threw around my merchandise and said I need to pay them a 300,000 Pakistani rupees ($3,450) advance on the rent. I had already paid the rent,” said Anwar, wearing traditional, loose Pakistani trousers.

“I went to the police to register a case. But when they see a dispute between a Pakistani and an Afghan, they automatically assume the Afghan has done something wrong.”

Still, many Afghans believe its wiser, and safer, to just accept the frequent humiliation than return to a homeland still shattered, despite a long U.S.-led military campaign against militancy and billions of dollars in Western aid.

Afghans — from elders who vividly remember the first Soviet gunship helicopters in Afghanistan, to teenagers who have only visited a few times — work for Pakistanis as welders or carpenters and tailors in Haripur and other cities.

Most of them prefer to run their own small businesses, from food carts to car dealerships. It’s the only sense of independence they have in the camps which consist of small cement and mud housing units near a reservoir.

The elders have set up a jirga, or tribal gathering, to settle internal disputes, as is done in much of Afghanistan. Cricket games are the only form of entertainment and leisure activity for most youths.

Two years ago Pakistan agreed to let displaced Afghans stay until the end of 2012, after a resurgence of militant violence along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border hindered repatriation.

Still, people like Sherullah, whose nine children were born in Pakistan, feel vulnerable. What if Pakistan asks them to leave one day?

“There is a lot of confusion. If there’s one thing I want, it’s for this confusion to go away, for us to know if we will be staying or not,” said Sherullah, who was cutting women’s clothing in his tailor shop.

“There are many people living here that can afford to build a proper house but don’t want to. They think ‘what if next year we are told to leave?’. So they continue to live in mud houses.”

Aside from 1.7 million officially registered Afghans in Pakistan, there are an additional 800,000 with no documentation.

According to the United Nations, Pakistan is home to the world’s largest refugee population, mostly Afghans, who strain the country’s troubled economy.

Pakistan would like to repatriate them.

There are, however, few incentives for refugees to head back to Afghanistan. So life in camps may drag on for many years.

Even though the U.S. disengagement is gradual, it brings back painful memories of what was widely seen as American abandonment of Afghanistan after the Soviet exit in 1989. Warlords soon took over and bloodshed returned.

Haji Aslam, 65, an elder in one of the camps, has seen conflict in Afghanistan over the last 30 years — from the battlefields where he fought the Soviets to what he sees today on his television screen. He is betting on the Taliban to prevail once the Americans leave.

“Even if just 10 Taliban show up, the Afghan government will flee Kabul,” said Aslam, a man with a white beard wearing a traditional flat Afghan cap. “In Pakistan, I am at peace. I know my children are safe.”

Osama Bin Laden Hunted Down And Killed By US

By Brad Norington for The Australian

Bin Laden was killed in Pakistan and his body retrieved by a US strike team nearly 10 years after the September 11 terror attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York and the Pentagon killed more than 3000 people.

Announcing “justice has been done”, Mr Obama said bin Laden had been found hiding in Pakistan and a targeted operation launched today by a small US team.

“After a firefight they killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body,” Mr Obama said, adding that no Americans were harmed in the assault.

“The death of bin Laden marks the most significant achievement to date in our nation’s efforts to defeat al-Qa’ida,” the President said. “His demise should be welcomed by all that believe in peace and human dignity.

“It’s important to note our counter terrorism cooperation with Pakistan helped lead us to bin Laden and the compound where he had been hiding.” “Yet his death does not mark the end of our effort.

“There is no doubt that al-Qa’ida will continue to pursue attacks against us. “We must and will remain vigilant at home and abroad.”

Despite the decade that has elapsed since the September 11 attacks, the event, one of the most traumatic in US history, still stirs raw emotions, and his demise will be celebrated across the United States.

Chants of “USA, USA” rang out from tourists outside the White House as the news of bin Laden’s death sent an electric charge through Washington.

Hundreds of people gathered outside the fence of the presidential mansion and sang the US national anthem and started shouting and cheering. Mr Obama said the United States people understood the cost of war, but would not stand by if threatened.

“As a country we will never tolerate our security being threatened nor stand idly by when our people have been killed,” he said. “We will be relentless in defence of our citizens and our friends and allies.

“We will be true to the values that make us who we are. “And on nights like this one we can say to those families who have lost loved ones to al-Qa’ida terror, justice has been done.”

The location of bin Laden and his family confirms recent speculation that he was hiding in comfortable surroundings and close to civilisation, not in the remote mountains dividing Pakistan and Afghanistan.

US armed forces have been hunting the Saudi terror kingpin for years, an effort that was redoubled following the 2001 terror attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York and the Pentagon which killed 3000 people. But bin Laden always managed to evade US armed forces and a massive manhunt.

The death of bin Laden will raise huge questions about the future shape of al-Qa’ida and also have steep implications for US security and foreign policy 10 years into a global anti-terror campaign. It will also raise fears that the United States and its allies will face retaliation from supporters of bin Laden and other Islamic extremist groups.

Osama bin Mohammed bin Awad bin Laden was a member of the wealthy Saudi bin Laden family and the founder of the jihadist organisation al-Qa’ida, most widely recognised for the September 11 attacks on the US and numerous other mass-casualty attacks against civilian and military targets.

As a result of his dealings in and advocacy of violent extremist jihad, bin Laden lost his Saudi citizenship and was disowned by his billionaire family.

Bin Laden evaded US capture in Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks and since then he and his organisation have been major targets of the US war on terror.

Bin Laden and fellow al-Qa’ida leaders are believed to have been hiding near the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan, in tribal areas that lie outside government control.

God Bless Islam with Courageous Leadership

By Ebrahim Moosa for Religion Dispatches

As Muslim Americans and millions around the world celebrate the end of Ramadan 2010 what will they pray for? What was the spiritual harvest of the month of fasting, prayer, deep reflection, and discipline? Given the growing hostility directed towards Muslims in the United States and the horrible deeds perpetrated by persons aligned to Islam on 9/11 and elsewhere in the world, I for my part, will be making two prayers.

The first is to urge Muslims to affirm their solidarity with all of humanity. The words of this prayer come from a tradition of the Prophet Muhammad. It reads:

Oh Allah, Lord (Rabb) of all things. I testify that You alone are the Lord of the world, Lord of all things… I testify that all servants of God are one family… Make me and my family truthful to you in every moment of life in this world and the next. Oh powerful and generous one, hear and respond to my prayers…

My second prayer is that God bless Islam with a religious leadership that has a modicum of Solomonic wisdom and tons of moral courage.

Why these two prayers? I think many Muslims have forgotten the message of humanism and solidarity with all creation that are the cornerstones of Islam. All servants of God are part of a single family, the Prophet Muhammad taught. So how can faiths be at war, if only to serve earthly gods? Many of our religious leaders have forgotten that our theologies, teachings, and practices were means to serve a transcendent Creator; not for idolatrous ends. Many of the most prominent Muslim religious and moral authorities the world over—clergy, intellectuals, scholars, politicians—have, through silence and inaction, invited a plague of craven violence on a number of Muslim societies. In a manner of speaking, in many places, the asylum is in charge of the mosque. Religious leaders are more interested in cowing to public adulation through demagoguery than in showing courage and exhorting people to piety and sanity.

Check if the sermon in the`Id al-Fitr (End of Fasting) sermon at your mosque hinted at the cowardly acts of al-Qaeda who killed thousands on September 11 and elsewhere. Or if deeds of the Somalian Shabab who killed dozens of Ugandans watching a soccer World Cup match in the suburbs of Kampala caused outrage. Has anyone been able to keep track of the death toll inflicted in Pakistan by Taliban suicide bombers, who most recently killed more than 60 people in Quetta because they were Shi’a? Did anyone even notice that a radical Muslim group in India chopped off the hand of a Catholic professor in the state of Kerala in July for apparently offending the image of the Prophet Muhammad in an exam questionnaire?

`Id is a day of celebration with family and friends. But it is unconscionable if Muslims do not think seriously and act in unison about the deep moral crises afflicting our communities here and abroad. To think critically is not to bow to the hate of the Islamophobes, it is a sign of strength and faith. Those who claim that there are no “moderate” Muslim voices denouncing acts of violence committed by Muslims are wrong, and yes, there are many good things happening in Muslim societies that do not make the headlines. Yet it is delusional to think that the evil masquerading as faith does not erode the belief and values each Muslim.

To Muslim Americans I say, next time you wonder why young men like the Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad become entangled in conspiracies to commit acts of violence in this country and abroad please ask the following questions: What is the qualification of the imam at your mosque? Is he enriched by the best of American and Islamic culture, in tune with his environment, or is he preaching a theology no longer even appropriate for people in Iran, Egypt, or Pakistan? Does he teach the tradition creatively and help people think imaginatively? Or does he focus on impieties and promote the virtues of paraphernalia like the dress code and the mandatory length of facial hairs? If the imam is as wise as the religious leader in the Canadian sitcom Little Mosque on the Prairie, it will be a huge step up.

Mosque committees share their burden of responsibility too. Often they appoint preachers by applying the lowest and cheapest standard; theological diversity is frequently absent and enlightened thinking is considered too challenging and burdensome for them to contemplate. Will the smart Muslims in America and around the world stand up and be counted?

-Originally printed on Sep 9, 2010 for Religion Dispatches. Ebrahim Moosa is a professor of Islamic Studies at Duke University and an author of several books on Islam.

For Imam in Muslim Center Furor, a Hard Balancing Act

By Anne Barnard for The New York Times

Not everyone in the Cairo lecture hall last February was buying the imam Feisal Abdul Rauf’s message. As he talked of reconciliation between America and Middle Eastern Muslims — his voice soft, almost New Agey — some questioners were so suspicious that he felt the need to declare that he was not an American agent.

Muslims need to understand and soothe Americans who fear them, the imam said; they should be conciliatory, not judgmental, toward the West and Israel.

But one young Egyptian asked: Wasn’t the United States financing the speaking tour that had brought the imam to Cairo because his message conveniently echoed United States interests?

“I’m not an agent from any government, even if some of you may not believe it,” the imam replied. “I’m not. I’m a peacemaker.”

That talk, recorded on video six months ago, was part of what now might be called Mr. Abdul Rauf’s prior life, before he became the center of an uproar over his proposal for a Muslim community center two blocks from the World Trade Center. He watched his father, an Egyptian Muslim scholar, pioneer interfaith dialogue in 1960s New York; led a mystical Sufi mosque in Lower Manhattan; and, after the Sept. 11 attacks, became a spokesman for the notion that being American and Muslim is no contradiction — and that a truly American brand of Islam could modernize and moderate the faith worldwide.

In recent weeks, Mr. Abdul Rauf has barely been heard from as a national political debate explodes over his dream project, including, somewhere in its planned 15 stories, a mosque. Opponents have called his project an act of insensitivity, even a monument to terrorism.

In his absence — he is now on another Middle East speaking tour sponsored by the State Department — a host of allegations have been floated: that he supports terrorism; that his father, who worked at the behest of the Egyptian government, was a militant; that his publicly expressed views mask stealth extremism. Some charges, the available record suggests, are unsupported. Some are simplifications of his ideas. In any case, calling him a jihadist appears even less credible than calling him a United States agent.

Growing Up in America

Mr. Abdul Rauf, 61, grew up in multiple worlds. He was raised in a conservative religious home but arrived in America as a teenager in the turbulent 1960s; his father came to New York and later Washington to run growing Islamic centers. His parents were taken hostage not once, but twice, by American Muslim splinter groups. He attended Columbia University, where, during the Six-Day War in 1967 between Israel and Arab states like Egypt, he talked daily with a Jewish classmate, each seeking to understand the other’s perspective.

He consistently denounces violence. Some of his views on the interplay between terrorism and American foreign policy — or his search for commonalities between Islamic law and this country’s Constitution — have proved jarring to some American ears, but still place him as pro-American within the Muslim world. He devotes himself to befriending Christians and Jews — so much, some Muslim Americans say, that he has lost touch with their own concerns.

“To stereotype him as an extremist is just nuts,” said the Very Rev. James P. Morton, of the Church of St. John the Divine, in Manhattan, who has known the family for decades.

Since 9/11, Mr. Abdul Rauf, like almost any Muslim leader with a public profile, has had to navigate the fraught path between those suspicious of Muslims and eager to brand them as violent or disloyal and a Muslim constituency that believes itself more than ever in need of forceful leaders.

One critique of the imam, said Omid Safi, a professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina, was that he had not been outspoken enough on issues “near and dear to many Muslims,” like United States policy on Israel and treatment of Muslims after 9/11, “because of the need that he has had — whether taken upon himself or thrust upon him — to be the ‘American imam,’ to be the ‘New York imam,’ to be the ‘accommodationist imam.’ ”

Akbar Ahmed, chairman of Islamic studies at American University, said Mr. Abdul Rauf’s holistic Sufi practices could make more orthodox Muslims uncomfortable, and his focus on like-minded interfaith leaders made him underestimate the uproar over his plans.

“He hurtles in, to the dead-center eye of the storm simmering around Muslims in America, expecting it to be like at his mosque — we all love each other, we all think happy thoughts,” Mr. Ahmed said.

“Now he has set up, unwittingly, a symbol of this growing tension between America and Muslims: this mosque that Muslims see as a symbol of Islam under attack and the opponents as an insult to America,” he added. “So this mild-mannered guy is in the eye of a storm for which he’s not suited at all. He’s not a political leader of Muslims, yet he now somehow represents the Muslim community.”

Andrew Sinanoglou, who was married by Mr. Abdul Rauf last fall, said he was surprised that the imam had become a contentious figure. His greatest knack, Mr. Sinanoglou said, was making disparate groups comfortable. At the wedding, he brought together Mr. Sinanoglou’s family, descended from Greek Christians thrown out of Asia Minor by Muslims, and his wife’s conservative Muslim father.

“He’s an excellent schmoozer,” Mr. Sinanoglou said of the imam.

Mr. Abdul Rauf was born in Kuwait. His father, Muhammad Abdul Rauf, graduated from Cairo’s Al-Azhar University, the foremost center of mainstream Sunni Muslim learning. He was one of many scholars Egypt sent abroad to staff universities and mosques, a government-approved effort unlikely to have tolerated a militant. He moved his family to England, studying at Cambridge and the University of London; then to Malaysia, where he eventually became the first rector of the International Islamic University of Malaysia.

As a boy, Feisal absorbed his father’s talks with religious scholars from around the world, learning to respect theological debate, said his wife, Daisy Khan. He is also steeped in Malaysian culture, whose ethnic diversity has influenced an Islam different than that of his parents’ homeland.

In 1965, he came to New York. His father ran the Islamic Center of New York; the family lived over its small mosque in a brownstone on West 72nd Street, which served mainly Arabs and African-American converts. Like his son, the older imam announced plans for a community center for a growing Muslim population — the mosque eventually built on East 96th Street. It was financed by Muslim countries and controlled by Muslim diplomats at the United Nations — at the time a fairly noncontroversial proposition. Like his son, he joined interfaith groups, invited by Mr. Morton of St. John the Divine.

Hostage Crisis

Unlike his son, he was conservative in gender relations; he asked his wife, Buthayna, to not drive. But in 1977, he was heading the Islamic Center in Washington when he and Buthayna were taken hostage by a Muslim faction; it was his wife who challenged the gunmen on their lack of knowledge of Islam.

“My husband didn’t open his mouth, but I really gave it to them,” she told The New York Times then.

Meanwhile, the younger Mr. Abdul Rauf studied physics at Columbia. At first, he recalled in interviews last year, it was hard to adjust to American social mores. By 1967, he and a Yale student, Kurt Tolksdorf, had bonded at summer school over their shared taste in women and fast cars. But Mr. Tolksdorf said his friend never subscribed to the “free love” of the era.

When the 1967 war broke out in the Middle East, Mr. Tolksdorf said, Mr. Abdul Rauf reacted calmly when Israeli students tried to pick a fight. A classmate, Alan M. Silberstein, remembers debating each day’s news over lunch.

“He was genuinely trying to understand the interests of American Jews — what Israel’s importance was to me,” he said. “There was a genuine openness.”

In his 20s, Mr. Abdul Rauf dabbled in teaching and real estate, married an American-born woman and had three children. Studying Islam and searching for his place in it, he was asked to lead a Sufi mosque, Masjid al-Farah. It was one of few with a female prayer leader, where women and men sat together at some rituals and some women do not cover their hair. And it was 12 blocks from the World Trade Center.

Divorced, he met his second wife, Ms. Khan, when she came to the mosque looking for a gentler Islam than the politicized version she rejected after Iran’s revolution. Theirs is an equal partnership, whether Mr. Abdul Rauf is shopping and cooking a hearty soup, she said, or running organizations that promote an American-influenced Islam.

A similar idea comes up in the video of his visit to Cairo this year. Mr. Abdul Rauf, with Ms. Khan, unveiled as usual, beside him, tells a questioner not to worry so much about one issue of the moment — Switzerland’s ban on minarets — saying Islam has always adapted to and been influenced by places it spreads to. “Why not have a mosque that looks Swiss?” he joked. “Make a mosque that looks like Swiss cheese. Make a mosque that looks like a Rolex.”

In the 1990s, the couple became fixtures of the interfaith scene, even taking a cruise to Spain and Morocco with prominent rabbis and pastors.

Mr. Abdul Rauf also founded the Shariah Index Project — an effort to formally rate which governments best follow Islamic law. Critics see in it support for Taliban-style Shariah or imposing Islamic law in America.

Shariah, though, like Halakha, or Jewish law, has a spectrum of interpretations. The ratings, Ms. Kahn said, measure how well states uphold Shariah’s core principles like rights to life, dignity and education, not Taliban strong points. The imam has written that some Western states unwittingly apply Shariah better than self-styled Islamic states that kill wantonly, stone women and deny education — to him, violations of Shariah.

After 9/11, Mr. Abdul Rauf was all over the airwaves denouncing terrorism, urging Muslims to confront its presence among them, and saying that killing civilians violated Islam. He wrote a book, “What’s Right With Islam Is What’s Right With America,” asserting the congruence of American democracy and Islam.

That ample public record — interviews, writings, sermons — is now being examined by opponents of the downtown center.

Those opponents repeat often that Mr. Abdul Rauf, in one radio interview, refused to describe the Palestinian group that pioneered suicide bombings against Israel, Hamas, as a terrorist organization. In the lengthy interview, Mr. Abdul Rauf clumsily tries to say that people around the globe define terrorism differently and labeling any group would sap his ability to build bridges. He also says: “Targeting civilians is wrong. It is a sin in our religion,” and, “I am a supporter of the state of Israel.”

“If I were an imam today I would be saying, ‘What am I supposed to do?’ ” said John Esposito, a professor of Islamic studies at Georgetown University. “ ‘Can an imam be critical of any aspect of U.S. foreign policy? Can I weigh in on things that others could weigh in on?’ Or is someone going to say, ‘He’s got to be a radical!’ ”

Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi Delivers Message of Peace at U.S. Open After Indo-Pak Express Suffers Defeat

By Stefan Bondy for NY Daily News

Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi delivered his message loud and peacefully, and it had nothing to do with forehands or backhands, or even the doubles title he failed to win.

As a Muslim from Pakistan playing in the U.S. Open doubles final, he said New York needed his words the most, as post-9/11 counsel. So the 30-year-old grabbed the microphone and addressed the estimated 15,000 at Arthur Ashe Stadium – probably the biggest crowd to watch a Grand Slam doubles final – and made sure the moment wasn’t lost.

“I want to say something on behalf of all Pakistanis,” he said following Friday’s 7-6 (5), 7-6 (4) defeat to the Bryan brothers, Bob and Mike. “Every time I come here, there’s a wrong perception about the people of Pakistan.

“They are very friendly, very loving people. We want peace in this world as much as you guys.”

The crowd cheered. By now, such poignancy is expected from Qureshi and, to a lesser extent, his doubles partner, Rohan Bopanna of India. Together, they’ve formed the politically charged tandem known as the Indo-Pak Express, breaking down barriers with their kinship and jettisoning expectations with their recent play.

Their respective neighboring countries have warred with and terrorized each other since the 1940s, citing religion as their great chasm. But Qureshi and Bopanna, a Hindu, represent peace, both on and off the court. Indian and Pakistani fans filled pockets of Arthur Ashe Friday, arriving as early as two hours before the match. U.N. ambassadors from both countries sat side-by-side in the President’s Box – the second straight match they’ve attended together – cheering the same unexpected struggle their team brought to the greatest doubles team of all time, the Bryan brothers. The 16th-seeded Qureshi and Bopanna followed up their run to the Wimbledon quarterfinals with five wins in Flushing.

“They’ve proven that when Indians and Pakistanis get together we can raise fire,” Pakistan ambassador Abdullah Hussain Haroon said. “I think on a people-to-people basis, they’re setting an example that the politicians should follow.”

Prize money and rankings were never a motivating factor, Qureshi said, only good news for his flood-stricken countrymen and a platform to express his message of American misunderstanding. He also defended the decision to build a mosque near the World Trade Center site.

“For me, as a Muslim, that’s what makes America the greatest country in the world – freedom of religion, freedom of speech,” Qureshi said. “If the mosque is built, I think it’s a huge gesture to all the Muslim community out there in the world. I would really appreciate it.”

Pakistan, which borders Afghanistan, has long been considered a headquarters of Al Qaeda.

Qureshi said he’s been stopped at airport immigration “every time” in New York – three hours at a time – including after his latest flight for the Open. And on the eve of the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, he wanted to defend his country’s masses.

“Since September 11, every time I come to the States or western countries I feel people have the wrong impression about Pakistan as a terrorist nation,” Qureshi said. “I just wanted to declare that we are very friendly, loving and caring people, and we want peace in this world as much as Americans and the rest of the world wants.

“There are extremists in every religion, but just because of them you cannot judge the whole country as a terrorist nation. I just wanted to get this message across as a Pakistani.”

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