It was evident that the tragedy of 9/11 would signify the start of a new war in the 21st century. Furthermore, the unimaginable destruction of life throughout the country transformed the landscape of political and social activities for the years to come.
Thousands of miles away, the triad of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Saudi Arabia became the epicentre of coverage and suspicion. It was highlighted later on how the expedited visa procedures by Saudi authorities led to the entrance of hijackers in the US. Pakistan, on the other hand, was facing the ghosts of its past dating back to Soviet invasion of Afganistan. Moreover, the “Frankenstein”[s] in Afganistan, as Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto used to say, had turned their back on us.
Pakistan was fresh out of testing their nuclear weapons and the state of US-Pakistan relations was deteriorating every single day. Furthermore, the extensive sanctions placed on both, India and Pakistan, didn’t make things any better.
However, soon after the attacks, there was a deep shift in the attitudes of the governments of the US and Pakistan. While some analysts argue that there was forced compliance, Pakistan was keen on cooperation and saw it as an opportunity to fix their relationship. So, in the name of “War on Terror”, both of the states started collaboration on military ends. Moreover, this was the point where Pakistan and the US relationship went back to normalcy. On 15th September 2001, Pakistan announced that it would extend complete support in gathering evidence regarding the attacks and getting to the culprits—marking the start of this contentious collaboration. This would also be a huge contributing factor in how Pakistan sees 9/11.
For many people, this is where the issues started. The current population and the government of Pakistan hold polarizing views regarding 9/11 and Pakistan’s entrance in the “War on Terror”. It is primarily attributed to the fact that as soon as Pakistan initiated action, the Taliban regime in Afganistan turned against us. Furthermore, the US-led coalition was subjectively successful against the regime and Al-Qaeda, making Pakistan more prone to terrorist attacks.
Later down the line, people witnessed what they had predicted. Pakistan was plagued by continuous terrorist attacks, to the point that no day would go by without at least a single terrorist attack in the country. The worsening situation led to thousands of deaths. Consequently, this is where the Pakistani people contend the value of their life by asking how avenging 3000 victims of 9/11 resulted in 30,000 dead bodies in Pakistan.
If we dial a bit back, Osama Bin Laden was one of the Mujahideens who helped in averting the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. In fact, many rural and conservative localities of Pakistan still considered OBL as a pious man. Not only that, some Pakistani factions even supported him by saying that he is a warrior. This perception took time to shed off but the remnants of his positive perception are still present. In this context, some conservative Pakistani factions felt that OBL was “martyred”.
Another aspect of “War on Terror” was NATO supplies that the US sent via Pakistan. Since the US had conflicting relations with Iran, they could not use Chabahar Port, or any Iranian port for that matter, to supply their armaments in Afghanistan. Consequently, they had to use Pakistani routes which provided them with a convenient way to continue arms supplies. When the US forces carried out an attack on Pakistani forces in a friendly-fire, Pakistan seized NATO supplies and halted the movement. However, even after the resumption of supplies and negotiations on both sides, Pakistani people always saw the US as the betraying side.
Quite recently, when the US President Donald J. Trump stated:
The statement drew an immense amount of backlash and further strengthened the belief in Pakistani populace that joining the “War on Terror” was indeed a “foolish” mistake on our end.
If one were to ask how Pakistan sees 9/11, the answer would lie somewhere around the lines of “a tragic event that initiated the dawn of terrorism in the country with long-lasting and impending consequences in the South Asian region”.