Pakistani Americans Ponder Times Square Bombing Fallout

Pakistani Americans Ponder Times Square Bombing Fallout

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 The recent attempt to bomb Times Square in New York evokes many thoughts. One that comes to mind and lingers at a time like this is a storyline from an old movie about a horrible famine in British India around the time of World War II (before the two partitions which resulted in the formation of present day India, Pakistan and Bangladesh). The film’s translated English name was “Distant Thunder”, a masterpiece in celluloid crafted by Director Satyajit Ray.

During the 1940’s in Bengal, a man made famine caused countless deaths, and Ray conveyed rather vividly in his film how the simple lives of villagers were forever transformed as hunger and starvation ravaged through their lives. The food that they had depended on for survival was diverted to feed the army fighting the Japanese instead. In other words, one act by an individual, institution or a small group far away had an impact way beyond what they thought was a simple, desperate decision. But the “Distant Thunder” of their action hit many other lives with devastating consequences.

Jumping back to America and May, 2010, in custody is one man by the name of Faisal Shahzad, a person repeatedly emphasized in the media as a Pakistani-American (Note, not as just a Muslim this time) who is charged with attempting/carrying out a bomb attack in New York’s Times Square. Guilty or not, the courts will take it from here, but the fallout from this thankfully failed attempt at killing or maiming a large number of innocent people raises many questions and impacts many more lives than one might think. The first question to ask is why is Pakistan always somehow involved? The second, what was this guy (or these guys?) thinking? And last but not least, what motivates people like him?

There are no easy answers to these questions. But after attending a recent press conference at one of the oldest mosques in America held by the Pakistani American Association of Sacramento and hearing the universal condemnation of this Times Square attempted bombing event, one could sense that the community is quite angry and alarmed. Pakistanis have roots in California’s Sacramento/ San Joaquin and Central valley regions going back about a hundred years (since long before the partition of India). Several generations have now lived and died here. They have been major contributors to this community and country, as farmers, doctors, engineers and even as law enforcement officials. Needless to say that they are currently going through a crisis not of their making and are now informing members of the Pakistani-American community nationwide to keep their eyes open for any potential troublemakers in their midst. But let us now take a look back.

This Frankenstein created along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border has had many facilitators if not parents. Pakistan is not the lone mad-scientist responsible. The DNA of this monster can also be traced to Washington’s efforts to defeat the former Soviet Union in Afghanistan during the 1980’s when the Pakistani people were being led down the extremist path by an American supported dictator by the name of General Zia-ul-Haq. A short term decision was made during that time to use the Pashtun’s on both sides of the Durand Line against the Soviets because of their well-known fighting abilities. To top it all off, Arabs from all over the Middle East were encouraged to come and join the fight. One of them was Osama Bin Laden. Overall, a really poor job was done to close this operation after the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan defeated. Ironically both the Pakistani Army and the US today are fighting the same people (and their next generation) that they had once trained and equipped.

But caution is advised in finding a military solution now. One cannot just blame the Pashtuns here and declare open war on them. Many others have tried that route before in history. Their defeats have always been temporary and their revenge at a time or place of their choosing is legendary. Pashtun energy needs to be diverted back towards rebuilding Afghanistan, and the first step towards that effort should be to try and change their current perception that their position in the Afghan power structure was forcibly changed by the US. That is not an easy task but to successfully confront the Taliban it has become necessary.

Locally, what needs to be understood is that Pakistani-Americans cannot change Pakistan. Some like this writer have learnt this bitter lesson from the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in 2007. Wishful thinking is not a good strategy and neither is support for individuals alone. What should be encouraged in Pakistan are institution building, non-Madrassah education and cultural exchange programs. And the bottom line is that good relations between the United States and Pakistan are desirable for us. In light of that fact, there should be no barriers between Pakistani-Americans and local law enforcement agencies in America. As one speaker at the mosque press conference pointed out, Pakistani-Americans must have “zero tolerance’ for terrorism.

Returning to the Times Square bombing and Faisal Shahzad, what we first need to do is thank God that the attempt did not succeed. That said, for Mr. Shahzad or his backers, this message needs to be sent: Your attempt to kill innocent people was despicable and Pakistani-Americans hope that they throw the book at you. You may not have succeeded in detonating a bomb in Times Square but you did succeed in detonating thousands of smaller no less sinister devices in the living rooms and neighborhoods of Pakistani-Americans all over America. The damage that you have caused to Pashtuns, Pakistanis and Muslims worldwide is immeasurable. It has been reported that you may have been retaliating for drone attacks. Were you trying to invite a B52 response instead? I don’t believe you know what the B52’s can do. Your gift for Pakistanis was a warning from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton which cannot be taken lightly. The “Distant Thunder” of your unexploded bomb has been heard loud and clear. And the only words that come to mind at the moment that they just might print are “God Damn You”.