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Terrorism Timeline: Pakistan and the Global War on Terror

Pakistan Plays Friend and Foe to U.S.

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Pakistan plays a key and highly conflicted--role in the global war on terror. The country is a U.S. ally in the war, but is often accused of supporting Taliban and Al Qaeda presence in its northern provinces. Pakistan also has nuclear ambitions. This timeline of Pakistan's role in the war tells the story of Pakistan's complex relationship to terrorism and the war on terror since 2001.

1990s: Pakistan Supports Taliban

  • General Pervez Musharraf overthrows Pakistan government, and installs a military dictatorship.

  • Pakistan serves as the primary incubator of the Taliban, a faction of the Afghan mujahideen who took refuge in Pakistan during the Soviet-Afghan war. Pakistan is one of two countries that maintains diplomatic ties with the Taliban regime (1996-2001)(the other is Saudi Arabia)
Read more: Taliban profile | Mujahideen

2001: Pakistan Joins the War on Terror, Pakistanis Don't

  • President Musharraf agrees to join forces with United States as an ally in the Global War on Terror, following the 9/11 attacks. This included realigning domestic political institutions to serve U.S. interests; granting the U.S. access to Pakistan's airfields; and overtly pledging support to the U.S. coalition.

  • Pakistanis do not necessarily ally with the U.S.: "According to a gallup poll of Pakistanis in urban areas, 83 percent sympathize with the Taliban rather than the US and 82 percent consider Oslama bin Laden a holy warrior not a terrorist, although 64 percennt also believe the attack on the US was an act of terrorism" (Christopher de Bellaigue, "The Perils of Pakistan," The New York Review of Books, November 15, 2001)

2002: More Counterterrorism ... and More Terrorism

  • Musharraf again condemns terrorism, whether directed against Indian Kashmir or against Westerners. He promises to reduce support for madrasas (religious schools suspected of inculcating extreme views); outlaws a number of militant Pakistani groups; turns over Al Qaeda members to the U.S.; and impounds terrorist assets.

  • Anti-Western terrorist attacks are on the rise. A grenade lobbed into a church in March kills five; in May, a car bomb in Karachi kills 14; a bomb set off near U.S. Consulate in June kills 12. Al Qaeda links are suspected. Several attacks in Kashmir are attributed to Pakistan based Lashkar e Tayyiba
Read more: Review of The Journalist and the Jihadi: the Murder of Daniel Pearl (HBO Film) | Al Qaeda Profile

2003: U.S. & Pakistan Cooperate, but Pakistan "Talibanization" Increases

  • Musharraf cooperates with the U.S. to achieve global war on terror objectives, including permitting U.S. military support operations.

  • President Bush links U.S. and Pakistan goals. In July, Bush declares: "Both the United States and Pakistan are threatened by global terror, and we're determined to defeat it. Since [the] September 11th [2001] attacks, Pakistan has apprehended more than five-hundred al-Qaida and Taleban terrorists."

  • The U.S. presence in Pakistan (coupled with the Iraq invasion) fosters increased anti-Americanism. Taliban members who've fled Afghanistan and Al Qaeda operatives are reportedly "re-Talibanizing" Pakistan, despite Pakistani disavowals.
Read more: Pakistan Strikes at Terrorism (VOA News, July 2003)

2004-2005: U.S. Aborts Plan to Capture Al Qaeda Heads

  • US-Pakistan joint counterterrorism efforts in military and law enforcement spheres continue. The US also says that the Pakistan has not done enough to combat Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

  • Terrorist attacks continue. Several target Western interests; others perpetuate the Pakistani-Indian territorial standoff.

  • Baluchistan's longstanding insurrectionist operations against the Pakistani government gathers steam, creating complications for Pakistani efforts to pursue Al Qaeda in the province

  • The U.S. government scraps a plan to attack to capture top Al Qaeda members in Pakistan's tribal territory, fearing it would endanger delicate relations with Pakistan.
Read more: Commentary on the aborted Al Qaeda capture plan

2006-2007: Pressures on Musharraf Rises as Pursuit of Taliban Continues

  • Terrorist attacks continue, and the Taliban and Al Qaeda gather strength and support in Pakistan's tribal areas.

  • The tension between Pakistani military and intelligence support for violent extremists, and popular anti-Anti Americanism begins to strain myth of perfect relationship between Musharraf and the U.S.
Read more: Pakistan and Afghanistan Argue over Who Does Less to Stop Terrorism | "We Are All Al Qaeda Now": How Pakistan Bombings Militarize Pakistanis | The Price of Holding Off Taliban in Afghanistan: Carnage in Pakistan

2008: Musharraf Departs, Militants Become Focus of U.S. "War on Terror"

  • President Musharraf resigns. His resignation is largely under pressure from the United States, although substantial local forces are also at work. His resignation signals his perceived failure to halt the activities of violent extremists in the Northwest provinces bordering Afghanistan. Civilan rule replaces Musharraf's military government, under the leadership of Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani.
  • Analysts from the West focus attention on the ISI, Pakistan's Intelligence service. The ISI has long been suspected of supporting jihadist activities against Afghanistan, which would serve Pakistan's strategic interest in quelling potential Afghan power.
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