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An enigma called Faisal

19 May, 2010

By Momin Iftikhar


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For a couple of days Faisal Shahzad has made headlines for his aborted attempt to blow up a vessel in Times Squares at a time when this ‚Äúcrossroads‚ÄĚ of the world was packed with tourists. For those who are familiar with Manhattan topography, the site is not far off from the location of ‚Äúground zero‚ÄĚ, the vacant space where twin towers stood tall till September 11 and were destroyed by terrorists. The world has never been the same again, particularly for Pakistan, which is reverberating with its aftershocks and one never can prophesize as to when these violent tremors shall cease. One needs to thank providence for averting the disaster because a successful detonation of the vehicle, primed for a deadly explosion, would have certainly resulted into a large number of casualties and the scenario for Pakistan would have become extremely complex; not that it is not mind boggling already.

Who is Faisal; what drove him to such an act of diabolic desperation; why he turned into a cold blooded killer leaving aside the fa√Āade of a Wall Street yuppie; are some question essential to understand his motivations, but alas, a background check reveals no clues. The scion of an elitist military family (his father a retired AVM, an uncle a major general), he had no exposure to extremism nor exhibited any leanings for obscurantism or violence. Landed in the USA at an age of 18 on an education visa and for the next 12 years had remained ensconced in the pursuit of the American dream, becoming a naturalised US citizen barely a year ago. Not a loner keeping questionable company; had a wife and two young and lovely children -- a veritable family man not prone to outburst of jehadi violence. A fellow who turned for unknown motivations, he bears a close affinity to the main character in Mohsin Hamid‚Äôs Booker‚Äôs nominated book ‚ÄúThe Reluctant Fundamentalist‚ÄĚ. Obviously something got under his skin and drove him beyond the edge which only his American interrogators would dig out.

This flaw in the US military’s make up was underscored during its sojourn in Iraq where the British soldiers, despite their shortcomings in the military hardware outperformed them in handling post war scenarios requiring an understanding of local dynamics.

The US has repeatedly failed to understand the political impact of military actions, particularly when the ‚Äúcollateral damage‚ÄĚ caused by its ruthless application of firepower results into large scale manslaughter of the local population.The urge to seek retribution among victims of collateral damage is certainly strong; a factor that needs to be digested by the US military-intelligence establishment. Faisal is likely to have fallen victim to the knots in his own mind and gone beyond the edge of sanity or become a victim of people who used him as a vehicle to justify their own ends by exploiting his vulnerabilities to their advantage.

Faisal happens to be the first person of Pakistani descent who has planned an act of terrorism on the US soil; a most despicable and reprehensible act for which Pakistan and Pakistani Americans and expatriates will have to pay a heavy price in days to come. It, in all probability is an individual act, like the one performed before him by a few American terrorists as well, indulging their godforsaken dark leanings but it carries a heavy price to be paid by the Pakistani nation.

Clinton has already sounded the warning shot and despite the fact that Pakistan has sacrificed around 3000 of its sons to flush out the scourge of terrorism from FATA, the calls to do more are in the air. Pakistan Army shall be under increased pressure to open another front in the North Waziristan from where Faisal, allegedly, got indoctrinated and learnt to make the most miserable of the explosive devices which, god be thanked , failed to explode.

In this context, the US must understand that Pakistan has its own compulsions and priorities and US exhortations need to be resisted if operationally un-viable. The Waziristan connection should also be questioned on the grounds that if this is the training the jehadi terrorists imparted to him in the caves of North Waziristan, given their reputation, it only points to the inadequacies of the learning skills in Faisal. What drove him beyond the edge is still to be revealed but the impression of a bumbling naivete, acting impulsively remains strong.

 

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