August 24, 1990 is a day that is forever etched in my mind. On this sunny morning, my father was teaching in his school, just two blocks from his house in the state of Kashmir, India. On the pretense of discussing school issues, two fundamentalist Islamic terrorists asked my father to meet them outside the school. When he came out, at gunpoint they took him to an alley behind the school. He was asked to kneel down and two bullets were put in his head at point blank range. He fell to the ground and just lay there. Nobody, Hindu or Muslim, who was watching this scene from the barely opened windows of their houses, dared to come to his help.The police intentionally took their own time to come to the scene and no eyewitnesses were needed, as such murders were never investigated. They picked the lifeless body of my father and took him to the hospital, where he was declared dead on arrival.
The single reason for why my father was killed - "He was a Hindu". He was not a public figure, but a simple teacher doing what he loved – teach to transform the lives of many - one student, one school at a time. September 11, 2001 was an agonizing reminder that terrorism has followed me to my new home of the last two decades. The reason for the death of the 5000 people that day also was singular - "They were Americans".
I feel and relate to the agony of the relatives and friends of the people who perished last Tuesday. The terrorists who killed my father were trained in Pakistan and Afghanistan by groups sponsored by the likes of Osama Bin Ladin. The only difference is that my father lived several thousand miles away and it was eleven years ago. Just goes to show that terrorism has now transcended boundaries and time.
But this is not a story about my father, but how we may have already made our first mistake in standing up against terrorism. That mistake is using Pakistan as a base for possible invasion against Afghanistan.Known for harboring and training terrorists, Pakistan by many accounts, including that of the US State Department, supports one of world's largest numbers of terrorist operations in the world.
How can we justify making allies with a terrorist harboring country to get rid of terrorists hiding in another? Are we going to insist that Pakistan close all its terrorist camps immediately and not reopen them in the future, or are we going to look the other way when our job is done?
Many international experts in the media have called using Pakistan as a base "dicey" as we may not have a choice because of geography. US Attorney General Ashcroft attitude toward Pakistan is of "trust and verify". However, did we not tell the world that we are standing up against any country that encourages and sponsors terrorism?
Norman Schwarzkopf himself said on Friday, September 14, 2001 on NBC, that during the Russian occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s US might have trained some of the same terrorists that assaulted us on the fateful Tuesday. Since mid 1980s, terrorists from Pakistan and Afghanistan have infiltrated India with their full cooperation, sponsorship and knowledge. They have created chaos in Kashmir with bombings in public places, raiding military establishments, and murder of innocent civilians. Their single mission in Kashmir has been to eradicate non-Muslims. They have been highly successful in their mission having killed thousands of Kashmiri Hindus and displaced hundreds of thousands more to other states in India, where many continue to live like refugees in their own country.
I want to emphasize that I am speaking against the terrorists, governments and those people in our own country that harbor and sponsor them, and not against Islam. Many Muslims are offended by calling these groups as fundamentalist Islamic terrorists. The only reason these terrorists are called by such a name is because it represents their mission - to get rid of the non-believers of Islam or those who threaten it, especially in the Middle East and Southeast Asia. This is analogous to why we call a group "white supremacists" because the core belief of such a group is that whites are a better than any other race. That is not a reflection on all whites.
The action of Timothy McVeigh does not make all Catholics terrorists, the taunting of Catholic children in Protestant neighborhoods in Ireland does not make all Protestants bigots, the monolithic ideology of David Duke does not make all whites supremacists, the heinous act of Gopal Godse (Gandhi's assassin) does not make all Hindus nonsecular.
Coming back to the issue of using Pakistan as a base, many politicians are justifying Pakistan’s stand as they think Pakistan is helping to liberate Kashmir but I can but look at it as terrorism on India, the largest democracy in the world.
When India and Pakistan gained independence from Great Britain in 1947, Kashmir (bordering Pakistan to the west, China to the North and India to the South) was an independent state ruled under a Hindu king. Soon after, when the Kabalis, a tribal army, from Pakistan invaded Kashmir, the Hindu king requested India for help. In return for this help, he legally acceded Kashmir to India in 1948. Ever since then Pakistan has waged several wars against India claiming Kashmir belongs to Pakistan.As Americans, we can count similar examples of such accession of a state in our own country, whether it was just for exchange of money as was the case of Alaska. How would we feel if a few extremists in Alaska wanted to return to Russian rule, and Russia openly helped them in their mission by sponsoring terrorist activities? Would we call it terrorism or liberation of Alaska? It is open knowledge that some residents of California want the state to be given back to Mexico.
By making Pakistan as an ally, we are going to further deteriorate the relationship between two nuclear countries of India and Pakistan, who have come to the verge of war several times in the last five years? Although, in return for their help, Pakistan has been promised financial support to renew their economy, they may spend it on building their defense to continue the dispute over Kashmir. The poor in Pakistan would see no benefit.
Just look at how many Pakistanis have taken to the streets, in spite of a ban on protests in that country, to speak against our agreement with the Pakistani leaders. Have we forgotten Somalia already? Are we willing to have an extremist become Pakistan's new leader whose one finger can launch a nuclear missile while we sleep at night? While in time, we may soon complain about long lines at the airport, how do we plan to face the families of our armed forces deployed in an openly hostile nation?In spite of my reservations, I will categorically stand behind what our President decides. However, I hope that he first actively seeks help from democracies in Southeast Asia and Middle East, just like he is doing with the NATO allies. Preserving democracies in this region, and there are only a few legitimate ones left, is in our best interests.
It is the democracies around the world that ensure the freedom we have come to cherish, it is not because of some dictator who is our friend one day, gets hanged by his own people the next day, and replaced by our enemy the day after that. Trusting and supporting dictators has never worked but we continue to do so out of some compulsion I fail to understand. Just look at examples of these dictators we supported in recent history: Manuel Noreiga in Panama, Sadaam Hussain in Iraq, and Augusto Pinochet in Chile, to name a few.
We are in bad need of a paradigm shift in our foreign policy. We need to go back to the basics that existed with our "Greatest Generation" when the good fought against the evil. However, we now continue to hear that the world is more complex now and it is not black and white anymore, but
just look closer and think long-term, the choice of action is clear.In our heart and beyond our anger, we all know standing up for what is right and moral is the only way that will bring a long lasting solution and a safe America for our children. Whether standing up means war or diplomacy, we need to conquer the fear struck in our heart, and that would be a true homage to the people who perished on September 11, 2001.
God bless America!
Autar Kaw, "New Alliance with Pakistan Reason for Concern",
Guest Column, St. Petersburg Times, October 14, 2001, last accessed at