“A plot by the United States”: in Pakistan, we still doubt September 11

September 11, 2001. The day everything changed. Four airliners, piloted by the ideological madness of al-Qaeda, attack the most powerful country in the world. In response to this terror that fell from the sky, the United States in turn became bogged down in an escalation of violence. Twenty years later The duty traveled to Pakistan to probe the heart of Islamist ideology and the geopolitical upheavals that have engendered there.

A cup of tea dominates the stall loaded with apples and grapes of Mohammed Shabir. On this late summer Sunday evening, the streets of Rawalpindi, sister city of Islamabad, are slowly starting to come alive again. A few reckless traders are defying containment decreed by authorities on weekends to fight the spread of COVID-19. However, customers are scarce; now is a good time for discussion.

“There is not a single Islamic group which is implicated in the attacks of September 11, 2001”, proclaims the man from Abbottabad, the city where Osama bin Laden, head of al-Qaeda, was killed by an American commando in 2012. “It is a plot of the United States to attack the Muslims of the region”, he advances confidently.

The more the minutes pass, the more the crowd that gathers around the stall swells. Nearby, Wahid, who also runs a fruit stand, is equally wary. “It was a trap to attack the Muslims. The Americans organized the attacks. “

Through the incessant hum of tuk-tuks and motorcycles, the last one stands out in the distance azan (call to prayer) of the day. And what to think of the new Taliban regime which has just settled in neighboring Afghanistan? “Of course I support it, since it is an Islamic government,” said the man wearing a salwar kameez, the traditional Pakistani dress.

In the bustling alleys of this popular town in the province of Punjab, these ideas circulate in abundance and are expressed without the slightest hint of aggression. “The Taliban are people who love Islam and work for Islam,” argues Ihsan Shehzad, who was only five years old when the World Trade Center collapsed. “The regime they are putting in place is better than the current regime in Pakistan. “

A few streets further on, Rashid Hussain is cooking chapli kebab (Pashtun meat patties) in a huge pot filled with oil. “Each country has its own interests and strategies, and not all Americans are bad people,” the man said. But thank God the United States is a defeated power. “

Like many others, the man from Kashmir now hopes that the Taliban will succeed in bringing peace and prosperity to Afghanistan.

Support assumed

A wish also shared by the Pakistani government. On August 16, Prime Minister Imran Khan did not hesitate to welcome the capture of Kabul, believing that the Taliban had just “broken the chains of slavery”.

An openly uninhibited official speech, after the United States had accused for fifteen years the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) – the Pakistani secret services – of secretly supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan.

“Pakistan is trying to bring stability to its neighbor for its own survival,” said in an interview Fatima Sajjad, director of the Center for Critical Peace Studies at the University of Management & Technology in Islamabad.

After the withdrawal of the Soviet army in 1989, a civil war tore Afghanistan apart, leading hundreds of thousands of people into exile, recalls the professor. Many of them crossed the Pakistani-Afghan border, which stretches for 2,430 kilometers. To date, more than 2.5 million Afghan refugees are in Pakistan. Without political stability and economic prosperity in the land of the Taliban, the Pakistani government fears the outbreak of a new migration crisis.

For the Pakistani army and secret services, the sworn enemy remains India, explains Husain Haqqani, successively spokesman for former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, Pakistani ambassador to the United States and today ‘hui researcher at the Hudson Institute in Washington.

“The army and the secret services [du Pakistan] don’t see Islamists as being as big a threat as the rest of the world, ”he said. Following the attacks of September 11, 2001, the country felt compelled to cooperate with the United States (“Either you are with us or you are against us”) and had waged a fierce struggle against the Islamists on its own. territory. “But the years have passed and the country has understood that its national interest [NDLR : la stabilité entre ses frontières et sa lutte contre les nationalismes régionaux] would be better served by continuing to support the Taliban in Afghanistan, as it did in the 1990s, ”said Mr. Haqqani.

The result today is a powerful overhaul of the geopolitical dynamics of the region. Over the years, the Afghan power struggles had become a kind of microcosm of the Indo-Pakistani conflict, where the two regional powers clashed through intervening actors. The Taliban victory therefore represents a major defeat for India, which had drawn closer to the United States and which had close ties with Afghan presidents Hamid Karzai and Ashraf Ghani.

American misunderstanding

Woven for years already, the American defeat in Afghanistan carries with it the gaping incomprehension of the United States towards regional and tribal dynamics – and the absolute conviction of the most powerful country in the world in its ideological and moral supremacy. A dogmatism which only aims to impose its vision of the world, its values ​​and its interests, with little regard for the local populations, is indignant Fatima Sajjad. “If you try to fix a problem without understanding it, it just creates more problems, and that’s what they did.” “

For the past 15 years, the Americans have only criticized the Pakistani double game (allying with the United States while supporting the Taliban) without seeking to understand or resolve Pakistan’s concerns, believes Husain Haqqani for his part. “They just kept telling Pakistan to stop doing what it thinks is right for its best interests. And this method turned out to be a bitter failure. “

To quash terrorism, the United States would have done better to engage with local people and listen to them rather than drop bombs on them, believes Mr.me Sajjad.

“If only a quarter of the $ 3 trillion spent by Americans in the war on terrorism had been invested in education, it would have eliminated terrorism and extremism,” said the professor of international relations. With such investments, chapli kebab from Rawalpindi would have been just as succulent, but certainly with a hint of bitterness less.

This report was partly funded with support from the Transat International Journalism Fund –The duty.

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