When Pakistan allied itself with America after 9/11, the country was rejuvenated. After a decade in the wilderness, a new dictator, General Musharraf, saw a chance to return Pakistan to the international top table. In his enthusiasm to rekindle an old alliance, George Bush politely ignored Pakistan’s role in creating the Taliban movement and encouraging its support for Osama bin Laden.
Making promises of moderation and tough action against America’s enemies, Musharraf disowned the Taliban in Afghanistan and rounded up hundreds of al-Qaeda operatives. In exchange, the Americans offered their new partner fistfuls of cash and access to more. As the Americans marched on Kabul, Pakistan’s faltering economy sputtered back to life.
Ten years on from 9/11, however, anti-American fervour has reached new heights. Despite billions in aid, a recent poll put pro-American sentiment at a meagre 12 per cent. A decade on, the War on Terror has served to enrage a populace that has been brought up on the benefits of Jihad – in state schools and Saudi-funded madrassas – since the early 1980s.
Around 40,000 militants now stalk the countryside and terrorism is rife: in 2010, the civilian death toll was nearly 2,000. The abortive 2010 Times Square bombing was claimed by the Pakistani Taliban, a group that didn’t even exist in 2001.
Naturally, the killing of bin Laden raised serious questions about the viability of the alliance. His discovery in a leafy garrison town raised uncomfortable questions in Washington about the continuing relationship between Pakistani security services and Islamic militancy. For its part, Islamabad was visibly humiliated, not because it was seen as abetting an international terrorist, but because it had failed to stop a foreign military carrying out an operation on its soil.
There is one positive, however. Even though the majority of Pakistan’s population blames America for the terrorism that has torn through the country in recent years, the experience of bloodshed has slackened their support for violence. In 2002, 62 per cent of Pakistanis thought that suicide bombing in defence of Islam was justified. A decade after 9/11, this had fallen to just 15 per cent.
Pakistan’s weak institutions, powerful religious constituency and self-destructive foreign policy mean that it’s back where it started: a pariah state with a serious cash-flow crisis. The US has cut its military aid by a third and tried to cut Pakistan out of Afghan negotiations. As leading Pakistani security analyst Ahmed Rashid says, “Pakistan has succeeded in totally isolating itself internationally – it doesn’t have a single credible ally.”
Not wanting to associate itself with an internationally unpalatable Islamabad, even the Afghan Taliban is trying to shed its former patrons. Their leadership, the Quetta Shura, named after the Pakistani city that has hosted them for the past 10 years, is looking to establish a new international office – in Doha.