The world order changed completely after 9/11. The leader of the free world trumpeted a whole new mantra that redefined global alliances and allegiances. Countries that expressed their desire to be ‘with’ the forces of ‘good’ were assigned new roles whereas countries that refused to align with the forces of ‘good’ were branded as axis of evil and declared as the ‘enemies of the free world’.
Time was up for a new frontline to be drawn and a new war to be waged. World leaders sang in chorus their devotion to freedom and security and paid homage to the chairman of the free world during whirlwind trips to the 21st century Babylon, i.e. Washington D.C. Hence, when Chairman Bush reassessed the strength of his mighty army, it was time to invade the forces of ‘darkness’ and ‘evil’ and eliminate them forever.
There was one country that advertently or inadvertently decided to become the frontline of the ‘global war on terror’ and hosted itself as the launching pad for the 21st century’s first full-scale war. While on paper both the sides are of no match at all, the situation on the ground is very complicated. The ‘evil enemy’ though outnumbered in all aspects still enjoys the advantage of home ground and home crowd. The frontline state, along with its allies, has wagered every resource and deployed every tactic to win this war but victory is still nowhere in sight.
But there are certain things that are evident. The frontline state of the global war on terror, Pakistan, is a nation that is battling for its existence. Came into being as a theocratic state back in 1947, the country’s pillars are badly shaken by years of military rule, corruption, civil disorder, foreign intervention and the list of ills goes on and on. The following photo story unveils some of the factors that not only unsettles today’s Pakistani society, they also pose a grave threat to the so-called ‘free world’.
General Pervez Musharraf seized power in a bloodless coup on 12 October, 1999, after deposing then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. He consolidated his power by appointing himself as the ‘Chief Executive’ of Pakistan and later assuming the reigns of Presidency. The only price he had to pay for overthrowing a democratic government was the suspension from the British Commonwealth. Governments around the world were swift to recognize his actions.
Before the U.S. invasion in 2001, Taliban controlled over 90% of Afghanistan. They ruled an impoverished country devastated by two decades of war and infighting. Though they failed to gain international legitimacy, they did manage to bring peace across the country and establish rule of law. Poppy cultivation, warlordism and animal fights virtually vanished, though movement of women was heavily restricted by the Taliban.
The unprecedented attacks on American soil on 11 September, 2001, galvanized the whole world. Bush administration was swift to blame Afghanistan based Al-Qaeda and their hosts Taliban. “America was targeted for attack because we’re the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world. And no one will keep that light from shining,” U.S. President George W. Bush said in his statement later that day.
In an address to the joint session of U.S. Congress on 20 September 2001, President George W. Bush said: “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.” The last time world heard a similar statement like this was back in Italy during World War II when Italian Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini made speeches across the country to drum up support for his regime.
Despite snubbing the military government and keeping contacts to a minimum before the 9/11, Washington invited President Gen. Pervez Musharraf and discussed plans to invade Afghanistan by using Pakistani airbases and military installations.
Though Taliban were of no match to the hi-tech American war machine and were quickly overthrown, they spread across the country and sought refuge in border areas with Pakistan. This dispersal gave rise to armed conflicts in Pakistani tribal areas that border Afghanistan. Militants sympathetic to Taliban mounted an insurgency against the Pakistani government which they saw as a western puppet.
Pakistan army was quick to respond to these uprisings in Waziristan by sending military contingents armed with tanks, helicopters and ammunition provided by the U.S. military. Thousands of people have lost their lives in the conflict since 2002 while thousands others are internally displaced in the country. Armed groups control many areas of the region, mounting guerrilla attacks on the Pakistani army. Photo – Reuters.
Movement for Baluchistan autonomy strengthened as military resources of Pakistani army came under strain. Embroiled in several conflicts, the morale of Pakistani army dipped amid reports of human rights abuses and mounting civilian death toll. The military operation in Baluchistan failed to silence the voice for provincial autonomy and instead provoked calls for separation and independence. Photo – AFP
The U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 saw the flushing out of militants loyal to Al-Qaeda. After coming under heavy American fire, the militants sought refuge in areas bordering Afghanistan where they regrouped and rejuvenated, thanks to local support. The Afghan invasion by U.S. led NATO forces has proved deeply unpopular among the masses in both Afghanistan and Pakistan due to heavy civilian casualties and the return to power of blood-thirsty and corrupt warlords. Photo – Reuters
Complexities on the ground spiraled out of control and the insurgency spread to neighboring regions on the western frontier with Afghanistan. Groups loyal to Islamist Taliban overthrew local administrations and imposed their self-styled Shariah based government in areas under their control.
According to Pakistani economic analysts, military expenditures eat up more than 80% of the country’s fiscal budget whereas education, healthcare, housing and other basic necessities are neglected. According to renowned economist, Mr. Kaiser Bengali, “Pakistan is a national security state, where national security is the main objective of the state. Whatever the military thinks is national security is national security, and to the military, the military is national!”
Gen. Musharraf’s policies of liberalization were seen by many as blatant westernization and tampering with country’s conservative values. Religious seminary students who rose against Gen. Musharraf’s agenda, basing themselves in Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) in the capital Islamabad were crushed in a military operation in which hundreds of people lost their lives. Government gained control of the seminary after days of intense gun-battles with the militants. Photo – EPA
Taliban have established control in border hinterlands and formed their administrations based on the interpretation of the Islamic law, Shariah. Their ranks are swelling day by day and areas under their control are growing despite frantic attempts by the Pakistani government to curtail their influence. Despite heavy losses and bloodshed, military operations have failed to yield any result so far. Photo – EPA
One of the most brazen attack carried out by the Islamist militants was the truck bombing of Marriott Hotel in Islamabad which is frequented by foreigners, government officials and the wealthy Pakistani elite. More than 50 people lost their lives, including the ambassador of Czech Republic to Pakistan whereas hundreds of others were injured.
Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, seen as a symbol of western democracy in the country, was killed in an alleged suicide bombing in Rawalpindi on 27 December, 2007. At least 30 people were killed in the attack which was blamed on elements loyal to Al-Qaeda. Dismissing the allegations, the militant groups blamed Gen. Musharraf for the assassination, pointing out that she was shot in the head and that the crime scene was wiped out minutes after the attack to hide evidences. Any conclusive report is still awaited.
Late Benazir Bhutto’s widower Asif Ali Zardari rose to ranks soon after his wife’s death. Critics of Mr. Zardari accuse him of corruption and mismanagement. He maneuvered his way to become the President of Pakistan soon after Gen. Musharraf resigned amidst political pressure. Benazir Bhutto’s civilian government was twice overthrown partly due to Asif Zardari’s involvement in corruption, fraud and abuse of power. Photo – AFP
The U.S. invasion of Afghanistan and political interference in Pakistan’s internal affairs has deepened the sectarian divisions within the society. Numerous suicide bombings have targeted the Shia minority in the country, sparking bloody clashes and retaliatory attacks. Groups loyal to the Taliban accuse the Shias of acting as proxies of the Islamic Republic of Iran in the country and weakening the majority Sunni influence. Analysts fear the country is another Iraq in the making.
Though U.S. military forces operate in neighboring Afghanistan, attacks carried out by American air force drones have targeted several villages and cities in the bordering regions of Pakistan, killing hundreds of innocent civilians and driving thousands of others homeless. These attacks have fuelled unprecedented levels of anti-U.S. sentiment and despair. Photo – Reuters
The sole surviving perpetrator of the Mumbai terror attacks is reported to be from a village in Punjab province of Pakistan. Indian government insists the attacks were planned on Pakistani soil by groups loyal to Al-Qaeda and Kashmiri separatist movements. Islamabad vehemently denies Indian allegations. Pakistani government’s failure to stop such attacks along with New Delhi’s debacle to foil them before happening have come under intense criticism from public in both countries.
While the country’s resources are spent on wars waged to contain insurgencies in regions neighboring Afghanistan, the majority of the population suffers from increasing poverty, staggering inflation, spiraling unemployment, chronic power failures and shortages of basic food items. Nine years of military rule has failed to address the root cause of social and economic ills of the country whereas the newly elected civilian government badly struggles to make its ends meet, prompting IMF rescue packages and loans.
The Pakistani government has come under increasing pressure due to U.S. bombardment on Pak-Afghan border areas. A recent poll concluded that more than 80% of Pakistanis want an immediate end to aerial raids in the country and suspension of military ties with the Americans. Sympathy for the Taliban is also said to be on the rise. Photo – Reuters
Despite hopes that new U.S. President Barack Obama will change American policy towards Pakistan and will order an immediate halt to aerial raids in the tribal areas, the attacks carried out by drones continue day in day out. People in the country are questioning Obama’s mantra of change and a new start to the region. Photo – Mohammed Sajjad (AP)