The Terrorists Want to Destroy Pakistan, Too – Asif Ali Zardari’s article in The New York Times

Op-Ed Contributor

Published: December 8, 2008

Islamabad, Pakistan

THE recent death and destruction in Mumbai, India, brought to my mind the death and destruction in Karachi on Oct. 18, 2007, when terrorists attacked a festive homecoming rally for my wife, Benazir Bhutto. Nearly 150 Pakistanis were killed and more than 450 were injured. The terrorist attacks in Mumbai may be a news story for most of the world. For me it is a painful reality of shared experience. Having seen my wife escape death by a hairbreadth on that day in Karachi, I lost her in a second, unfortunately successful, attempt two months later.

The Mumbai attacks were directed not only at India but also at Pakistan’s new democratic government and the peace process with India that we have initiated. Supporters of authoritarianism in Pakistan and non-state actors with a vested interest in perpetuating conflict do not want change in Pakistan to take root.

To foil the designs of the terrorists, the two great nations of Pakistan and India, born together from the same revolution and mandate in 1947, must continue to move forward with the peace process. Pakistan is shocked at the terrorist attacks in Mumbai. We can identify with India’s pain. I am especially empathetic. I feel this pain every time I look into the eyes of my children.

Pakistan is committed to the pursuit, arrest, trial and punishment of anyone involved in these heinous attacks. But we caution against hasty judgments and inflammatory statements. As was demonstrated in Sunday’s raids, which resulted in the arrest of militants, Pakistan will take action against the non-state actors found within our territory, treating them as criminals, terrorists and murderers. Not only are the terrorists not linked to the government of Pakistan in any way, we are their targets and we continue to be their victims.

India is a mature nation and a stable democracy. Pakistanis appreciate India’s democratic contributions. But as rage fueled by the Mumbai attacks catches on, Indians must pause and take a breath. India and Pakistan — and the rest of the world — must work together to track down the terrorists who caused mayhem in Mumbai, attacked New York, London and Madrid in the past, and destroyed the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad in September. The terrorists who killed my wife are connected by ideology to these enemies of civilization.

These militants did not arise from whole cloth. Pakistan was an ally of the West throughout the cold war. The world worked to exploit religion against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan by empowering the most fanatic extremists as an instrument of destruction of a superpower. The strategy worked, but its legacy was the creation of an extremist militia with its own dynamic.

Pakistan continues to pay the price: the legacy of dictatorship, the fatigue of fanaticism, the dismemberment of civil society and the destruction of our democratic infrastructure. The resulting poverty continues to fuel the extremists and has created a culture of grievance and victimhood.

The challenge of confronting terrorists who have a vast support network is huge; Pakistan’s fledgling democracy needs help from the rest of the world. We are on the frontlines of the war on terrorism. We have 150,000 soldiers fighting Al Qaeda, the Taliban and their extremist allies along the border with Afghanistan — far more troops than NATO has in Afghanistan.

Nearly 2,000 Pakistanis have lost their lives to terrorism in this year alone, including 1,400 civilians and 600 security personnel ranging in rank from ordinary soldier to three-star general. There have been more than 600 terrorism-related incidents in Pakistan this year. The terrorists have been set back by our aggressive war against them in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and the Pashtun-majority areas bordering Afghanistan. Six hundred militants have been killed in recent attacks, hundreds by Pakistani F-16 jet strikes in the last two months.

Terrorism is a regional as well as a global threat, and it needs to be battled collectively. We understand the domestic political considerations in India in the aftermath of Mumbai. Nevertheless, accusations of complicity on Pakistan’s part only complicate the already complex situation.

For India, Pakistan and the United States, the best response to the Mumbai carnage is to coordinate in counteracting the scourge of terrorism. The world must act to strengthen Pakistan’s economy and democracy, help us build civil society and provide us with the law enforcement and counterterrorism capacities that will enable us to fight the terrorists effectively.

Benazir Bhutto once said that democracy is the best revenge against the abuses of dictatorship. In the current environment, reconciliation and rapprochement is the best revenge against the dark forces that are trying to provoke a confrontation between Pakistan and India, and ultimately a clash of civilizations.

Asif Ali Zardari is the president of Pakistan.

Some Comments:

Excellent point. There are doubtless both jihadists and CIA backers of Musharaf who would love to see Zardari’s government embroiled in battle with India. Not to mention some barons of the global free market who might make a tidy profit off of such a war.

— kelley b, Ann Arbor, MI


I write this comment as both a Pakistani and a concerned global citizen. President Zardari does raise two important points in this article. First, terrorism is not just an Indian or an American problem but is very much a Pakistani problem as well. There is no doubt that the attacks in Mumbai were heinous, cowardly, and highly condemnable. However, India and the world as a whole has to realize that Pakistan is trying its best to root out these non-state actors and is paying a huge price in the process. President Zardari highlights the history of these extremist elements who have been entrenched in Pakistan since the Soviet-Afghan war. It is not going to be easy to root them out. The most the rest of the world can do right now is to support the democratically elected government in Pakistan and not erroneously and somewhat irresponsibly blame them for the attacks. By constantly undermining and pressurizing the government, the world would weaken the government’s ability to fight these terrorists.
Second, President Zardari raises the point of NATO troops in Afghanistan. I believe NATO has to increase its presence in Afghanistan in order to reduce the flow of terrorists within Afghanistan and across the border from Pakistan. President-Elect Obama understands the challenges and the huge potential costs of failing in Afghanistan. More troops for Afghanistan, a new Pakistan policy based on focusing efforts to provide more non-military aid, encouraging viable dialogue between India and Pakistan, and the resolution of Kashmir dispute all are needed to stabilize Afghanistan, Pakistan and to root out the extremists.
Yes the world should push Pakistan to do more but should also realize and appreciate the sacrifice its making. We should give this elected government a chance and their early conduct has shown that they do mean business.

— Aneeb Sharif, Wooster, OH


All good points Mr. Prime Minister Zardari. Yes, the right wingers among both the Hindus and the Muslims fuel the continued rage. Yet, when you reasonably offered to send the head of the ISI to India to help with the investigations, word has it that Gen. Kayani and others in the military establishment opposed it. Why? If you all are so committed to rooting out terrorism why could you not stand up to the military that has always seemed to operate with their own agenda?

Some of it goes back to the Karachi Grammar type elite going along to get along. Let the military do pretty much anything as long as it does not affect our lives behind the 10 foot high walls in Defence. Well, with the Marriott bombing, it hit close to home.

My deepest sympathies on the loss of your wife. There is no point writing op-eds in the NYTimes but of not standing up to the real powers in your country.

— S.Cavett, NJ


Does this mean that Pakistan now accepts that those responsible for the Mumbai attacks came from Pakistan? Mr. Zardari, for example recently stated that he believed the terrorist captured alive was not Pakistani. If so, he should let his fellow citizens of Pakistan know. A scan of Pakistan’s newspapers suggest that they believe that this is an “unjust” and “hasty” accusation – the result of a terrible Indian conspiracy.

This article is extremely well-written and its sentiments laudable. He can talk the talk, but can he walk the walk? The location of the terrorist camps were one of South Asia’s worst kept secrets acc to an article in the New York Times. Why wait until 170 innocent people are killed before closing one of them down? Pardon, my cynicism, but Pakistan has arrested the head of the LeT in the past and then quietly let him go when the international pressure has died down. Will Mr Zardari prosecute and punish the terrorists he calls murderers? Will his army let him?

— NK, Houston


I am deeply touched by Prime Minister Zardari’s honest words. He continues to say the right things – he may be our best hope for good to come out of Mumbai.

Let’s hope (a) that he is not attacked or thrown out by the right wing in Pakistan, and (b) he continues to act on his principles and words with support from USA and India.

To peace!

— asharma, san francisco,ca


This is a time for courage and calm in the face of adversity. President Zardari exhibits both and deserves our support for his clear-headed vision of how the terrorist scourge can best be eliminated. Overcoming decades or centuries of rancor may appear daunting, but with the right international and domestic support his vision can clearly lead to a better future for all Pakistanis and their neighbors in India and abroad.

— Brooklawn, Connecticut


I don’t doubt the geniuneness of Mr Zardari’s feelings. But, I doubt whether the Army and ISI will allow him to act. Best option seems to be targeted sanctions to punish the key individuals involved in these organizations….let them feel some presonal pain, without hurting the Pakistani people.

— Ravi, Tokyo


If you want peace the first thing you should do is to reform the secret service that was somehow responsible for your wife’s death.

The second thing is if any member of your country is implicated handle it ( he/she only for human beings), to India to be judged according to the International Laws.

It seems the attacks were on Pakistan soil when it’s no the case (Excusatio non petita acusatio manifesta).

— Alfonso G. Llamas, Indonesia


Vast majority of Pakistanis agree that the survival of Pakistan depends on rooting out the seeds of terrorism which have been sowed for decades. It took us a generation to get us where we are and it will take time and relentless efforts to reverse the indoctrination, frustration, lack of opportunities, political manipulation and intolerance which underlie this persistent nightmare.

— Ahmad Raza, M.D., Plano, Texas


Most of Pakistan’s homegrown Islamic terrorists (and by that I really mean all of them) are a creation of the ISI. They’re funded, trained and put into use at the behest of the ISI. If President Zardari wants to take his cherished peace process with India forward all he has to do is disband the ISI. That’ll be the greatest tribute he could offer to the victims of fundamentalist terrorist attacks in Mumbai and, indeed, to his wife. He’ll also end up solving much of the “threat from terrorism” that his nation faces. Writing pithy op-ed pieces may be good for his domestic audience (if he has any left) but anyone with even a brief knowledge of the Pakistan’s history knows that it counts for nothing.

— NA, Boston, MA


It is a beautifully articulated article, exposing the scourage of terrorism in this area of the world.

I personally am a big admirer of Z. A. Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto. In fact, after the unfortunate assasination of Benazir Bhutto, ,I personally campaigned for grant of Nobel Peace Prize, to Benazir. In this regard, I approached many leaders and newspapers throughout the world and also mailed this idea to Mr. Zardari. In this connection, one is confused when Mr. Zardari points his fingers towards the terrorist in the killing of her wife, but conviniently ignores those names who were nominated by Benazir herself in her email to a US personality. Among those names, perhaps was also the name of the person who was given guard of honor bythe PPP government in the president house of the country. As such, the double talk and double standards weaken the stance in pursuit of her killers. Also it seems useless why we are asking the UN, to investigate the killing of Benazir Bhutto. These contradictions need clarification.

— Syed Nayyar Uddin Ahmad, Lahore, Pakistan



I am glad that you chose to explain your position. I am also pleased to see that you explained to the world how Pakistan got involved with the Taliban in the first place while battling the Soviets.
The world will trust you only if your government, military and the ISI will sever your relationship with the extremists publicly. Then, if you are really interested in getting rid of the terrorists take help of US and possibly India openly or covertly. Both know your country well.
If you do not pursue an aggressive strategy it will cause immense harm to India, the NATO forces in Afghanistan and ultimately to the very existence of your country.
I am sure you do understand that Indians have only so much patience. And, can you imagine another attack on US soil? Do you really believe that Americans will be patient like Indians? Mr.Obama already said that his government will take matter into its own hands if your government is unable or unwilling to tackle the terrorists.
If you manage to address this issue honestly and openly I am sure the West and even the Indians will cooperate. They do understand that currently your government is not full control on the military or the ISI.

— GS, Texas