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Shocked, dismayed, but not surprised

By Anwar Akhtar
September 12th 2011

I was, like everyone, shocked by the attacks on the Twin Towers on 9/11 – the sheer barbarity, awful scenes of destruction and of so many people dying violent and horrific deaths. I knew immediately this would have huge consequences, such a destructive act against American citizens on American soil. I recall the many instant comparisons made with Pearl Harbor and fearing who would be cast in the role of Japan.

I think it is important to be totally candid about all my thoughts that day as well. Although shocked by the scale, the destruction and the downright evil of that morning, I was not completely surprised Al Qaeda had launched a large scale terrorist attack on America. Many people, like myself, that have spent time in Pakistan, had grave concerns about the networks that emerged both in Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan, post the Soviet defeat in Afghanistan.

The evidence was there that Al Qaeda was a monster that was already getting out of control. For example the attacks on the World Trade Centre in 1993 – a huge explosion and a miracle that there were not mass casualties, the American embassy bombing in Tanzania and Kenya in 1998 and attacks on US Navy ship Cole in the Gulf in 2000.

This is one of those issues which we may never make total sense of – who, what, how and why? Somewhere along the way during the battle to liberate their homeland Afghanistan, by various guerrilla groups, villages and tribal forces that broadly comprised the Mujahadeen, a particularly nasty network emerged that we know now as Al Qaeda, with the most downright evil set of beliefs.

They should have stayed a fringe outfit, a footnote in history. But they were scaled up and expanded. Fortunes were invested in them, especially by Britain and the USA.

I recall as a teenager visiting family in Pakistan, thinking ‘this is madness’. It’s not just the godless Russians they hate, which has made them look like a great investment package to win the Cold War. They hate everybody, especially other Muslims, Shiite, Ahmadi, Sufis, Baralevis, Tajaks, Persians, other Asians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Hindus. They do not like Christians and Jewish people much either.

They, however, had two things going for them; they hated communist Russia, wanting to force them out of Afghanistan, and they were close to the House of Saud. There have been some awful Faustian pacts made in the last century under the theory of ‘my enemy’s enemy’ – but this has to be one of the worst.

Al Qaeda had been tacitly supported by the West and House of Saud for many years. They had become a strong and effective force. The West had helped underwrite them and allowed them to grow. We need to learn from that mistake.

To her credit Hilary Clinton has come as close as any significant US politician has ever managed to acknowledging the harm this has done to the Muslim world and vowing never to repeat such a mistake. This video link of her has had huge circulation in Pakistan and has probably done more for the USA in terms of diplomatic capital in Pakistan than any other statement I can think of.

I am involved in work around human rights and development issues in Pakistan. Many, not all, but many, problems in Pakistan now are a direct consequence of the very same Faustian pact that caused 9/11 – investment in armed militias and dictators, rather than in citizen groups, education, health provision, youth organisations, trade unions, women’s rights networks, cultural organisations, universities and academics. These are the people and groups that are the very backbone and infrastructure of democracy, all of whom are under attack in Pakistan by the forces we backed in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

There was a reason why the Saudis originally backed Al Qaeda – both had megalomaniac agendas for complete control of the Muslim world. Demographics and age trends tell you that the oligarchs, dictators and sheiks will have to relinquish control of the entire Muslim world and the ‘we are protecting Islam’ line may con part of one generation, but probably not two. The Arab Spring shows that.

Al Qaeda is now almost a spent force, far diminished from what it was. This is evident from what has happened in Egypt and Tunisia and the sorry run down, worn out fugitive that Bin Laden became – utterly irrelevant to the Arab spring and cut off from the Taliban.

His poison however has left a terrible legacy that we all need to combat. One way of doing so is to not allow a ‘them-and-us’ narrative between Muslims and the West.

For instance, rather than looking at the British Pakistani community through a prism of mistrust which was essentially what the Prevent programme was (rushed through following the horror of7/7), we could ask how a million British Pakistani citizens with ancestral links in South Asia could be champions for Britain in the region, due to the strength of links with Diaspora communities and how that can benefit Britain in a globalised world. A narrative of trust rather than the voices of fear, hate and demonization we hear often aimed at British Muslims.

Another is to do everything we can to support democracy and human rights in the Muslim world. Unfortunately that support will have a price. The cost will have to be paid by the arms industry, the Halliburtons, the Blackwaters and the oil companies that have done so well out of the old power relationships that suited them just fine, despite the shock and horror of 9/11. Democracy has a cost for all of us here, in South Asia and in the Middle East.

Originally published by Dale & Co

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