10th ANNIVERSARY OF 9/11: IS THE WHITE HOUSE STILL CROSSING THE CHASM IN TWO LEAPS?



Author : C.Uday Bhaskar


The 10th anniversary of 9/11 is a somber moment, tinged in deep tragedy for those who have lost loved ones – either killed or maimed. The total cost in human lives may be over a quarter of a million of different nationalities when the grisly body count is totalled up…and it shows little sign of abating. Anxiety is writ large in many parts of the world…waiting with bated breath for this dreadful temporal punctuation to pass into the irrevocable abyss of the past.

Did the White House under President Bush make the right call at the time even as the embers of the twisted girders of the Twin Towers were still smoldering? Chapter, verse and word has filled cyber and print-space over the last few days and the chutzpah moment surely must be the revered status accorded to former Pakistani President Musharraf at a BBC debate on Saturday (Sep 10). The astute General was both the Pakistani Army Chief and President of his country – having overthrown a civilian PM – Nawaz Sharif in a dramatic coup in October 1999.

Pakistan’s support to the Taliban then in power in Kabul and the swift volte-face in the face of the Bush ultimatum – ‘with us, or against us’ – is now part of the historical narrative of 9/11. And so is the cynical observation of the role played by the Pak military, of hunting with the US hound and running with the jihadi hare - peaking with the Osama Bin Laden operation in Abbottabad in May this year bringing the war on terror to some kind of closure.

This comment picks up one strand of the 10th anniversary reflections that dwell on the US – Pakistan relationship. Bruce Riedel who served on the national security staff of President Clinton has written extensively and insightfully of the last decade and observes of US policy errors: “Other mistakes were strategic. The biggest was to ignore al Qaeda in Pakistan to invade Iraq, which, at that point, posed no serious threat. The Bush administration underestimated Osama bin Laden’s resilience, trusted the generals of Pakistan, and focused on the wrong battlefield. Bin Laden recognized our misstep early, and set a trap in Iraq, urging jihadists to travel to this latest front, even before the invasion.”

Riedel continues about Pakistan: “Trusting Pervez Musharraf, then Pakistan’s president, to fight on our side against bin Laden and the Taliban was another strategic failure. ‘Our man’ in Islamabad turned out to be helping the Taliban regroup while bin Laden hid out in his front yard, living in plain sight of Pakistan’s most elite military academy for years. And when Musharraf faltered, we still tried to prop him up. Our desperate attempt to save Musharraf failed to keep the dictator in power, further alienated the Pakistani people, and, tragically, ended with Al Qaeda’s assassination of Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister and Pakistan’s best hope.”

Has the White House been able to finally make an objective assessment about the scourge of terror – the 9/11 variant – and the gene-pool that is nurturing it? The answer to this loaded question is embedded in the deliberately distorted narrative that shrouds US-Pak relations for almost 50 years. For all their professional acumen, American strategists may have misled their political and military leadership by creating conditions in which the US tax-payer has paid the adversary to pursue a war in which American lives were lost – and the challenge is far from shrunk – the ideology that motivates the al Qaeda and its many adherents.

The Pakistani religious right that comprises the ‘deep state’ was conceived in the Zia years and is now manifest in the visage that endorsed the cold-blooded assassination of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer in January this year. Abbottabad was the ultimate duplicity – what General Musharraf blithely brushed away as the ISI ‘sleeping just once’. Ten years after 9/11, courageous Pakistani analysts and commentators who have been ignored or intimidated in the past are drawing attention to the reality that the White House appears reluctant to accept - their country “ has become al Qaeda’s global headquarters, infecting Pakistan’s Islamic extremist groups with a new nihilistic ideology and transforming the country’s tribal area near the border with Afghanistan into the epicenter of global jihad, a violent sanctuary where the traditional population is terrorized and al Qaeda and other terrorists plot attacks not just against the West and U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan but also against the Pakistani government itself .”

The ‘deep state’ in Pakistan that continues to support distorted Islamic radicalism and virulent terror groups is a narrative that needs to be acknowledged in its unvarnished contour. Seeking to cross this interpretative policy chasm in two leaps is untenable and this is the cross that the White House continues to bear. Will the 11th anniversary of 9/11 be any different?

(This article first appeared in the Reuters on September 11, 2011)
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