OPINION | MAY 7, 2010
Once again a terrorist attack, albeit a failed one, has brought Pakistan under the microscope. Faisal Shahzad, the Pakistani-American arrested in connection with the Times Square bomb plot, is less American than he is Pakistani so the focus on Pakistan is not unwarranted. But caricaturing my country as the epicenter of global terrorism is not just misleading, but dangerous.
No one knows Pakistan’s problems better than the Pakistanis that endure them on a daily basis. Since 2006, almost 10,000 Pakistanis have been killed by terrorists. The toll that terror is taking cannot be measured in dead bodies alone. Pakistan’s economy has virtually tanked—with annual GDP growth falling to under 3% in 2009 from almost 8% in 2005—and capital is fleeing. Our dysfunctional government has had to free up more money for an already overbearing military as it takes on terrorists in the tribal regions bordering Afghanistan.
It is fair to say that this fight is the price Pakistan has to pay for its own sins: The problem of terrorism should never have been allowed to take root in those regions. But it’s also fair to say that terrorism has an international dimension. America’s own role in stoking Islamic fanaticism during the 1980s to whip up a counter-Communist front in the region is well documented. The fundamentalist ideology and petrodollars imported to Pakistan from Gulf states like Saudi Arabia have also fueled the current situation.
Wide-scale military operations against terrorists in Pakistan have been going on for years. Financed—and at times enforced—by Pakistan’s partners in this global war on terror, such operations are killing some terrorists. But they are also helping to create new ones. It doesn’t take a genius to understand that killing innocent people makes enemies, not friends.
About one-third of those killed in the drone attacks that the CIA and U.S. Special Operations conduct in Pakistan are innocent civilians.
But the damage caused by the drone attacks is less devastating than the innocent civilian deaths and the destruction of property caused by Pakistani military operations. On April 10, 61 Pakistanis were killed in air strikes conducted by Pakistani jets. The army apologized for what it acknowledged as a mistake, but we can’t possibly know how many such mistakes are being made because access to these areas is restricted. Innocent civilian deaths in the war on terror are already being cited as a prime motivator for Shahzad’s attack on Times Square.
Americans have legitimate concerns about Pakistan. And though we Pakistanis have done so much already, we need to continue to press our government to do more. But labeling Pakistan as a villain and ground zero of Islamist terror doesn’t help.
Eight years of drone attacks, artillery bombardment, and “precision” air strikes in Pakistan may have helped radicalize Shahzad, but they certainly did not prevent him from getting from Connecticut, to Pakistan, to Times Square and then to JFK Airport. Who caught the terrorist? The NYPD and FBI did. Until Pakistan develops a civilian infrastructure that enjoys the kind of confidence New Yorkers invest in New York’s finest, Pakistan’s problems will continue to threaten people far beyond its borders.
Most Pakistanis may not be enamored with the United States, but they are on the same side as Americans. Pakistanis are victims of terror, and they are trying to fight it.
Mr. Zaidi, a columnist for the News (Pakistan) and Al-Shorouk (Egypt), has advised governments and international organizations on how to deliver aid in Pakistan and Afghanistan.