updated September 7, 2008
The U.S. war on terror has included Pakistan as an unnamed front since it began bombing Afghanistan in 2001. Pakistanis, doubtful (to say the least) of American motives in the region in the first place, have responded with hostility for several years to Pakistani air strikes they believe are promoted by the U.S.. At the end of 2007, plans were revealed to expand the number of U.S. special forces troops substantially. In the fall of 2008, both the government and people on the ground expressed fury when a ground operation by U.S. special forces killed fifteen villagers. Nevertheless, as of September, 2008, both current and future U.S. administrations (whether Republican or Democratic) appear to promote more military activity in Pakistan without much attention to the role attacks play in radicalizing local populations.
A Suicide Bombing Has a Story Behind It
The story behind a suicide bombing at a Pakistani military post in the Northwest Frontier province on November 7, 2006 provides a great case study not only in the process of radicalization, but in the complexities of the landscape.
The suicide bombing was carried out to avenge an earlier attack on October 30 by the Pakistani military. Under American pressure, Paksitan's military had attacked a school. Furious local residents (as well as militants exploiting the situation) claimed there were children, not 'high level targets,' in the school at the time.
Local residents protested their outrage—and their belief that the American military was its cause—with virulently anti-American protests that included burning American flags and effigies of President Bush. They saw the attack on an Islamic school (a madrasa) as an attack against Islam.
Official Stories Left Out School Attack Details
American news readers at the time heard nothing of the attack, but were only provided incendiary images of protesters burning flags and chanting "Death to America."
A week later, when the suicide bombing took place, neither the American nor the Pakistani administration mentioned the school attack that provoked it.
President Bush only extened condolences to survivors of the suicide attack victims. He didn't mention the context in which the suicide bombing took place, nor the role of the United States in shaping. All that was left was a tale of a suicide bombing that seems to have neither rhyme nor reason, but an inexplicable urge to violence by a Pakistani assailant.Pakistani President Musharraf followed suit, and confirmed his country's alliance with the United States, stating that terrorism would be eradicated "with an iron hand" from Pakistan.
The real story was essentially indigestible by news organizations: incomplete, full of complex geopolitical relations and local passions, and many players: the U.S. military, the Pakistani government, the Pakistani army, local Islamist militias, the Taliban, Al Qaeda, tribal leaders and local villagers.