Foreign Policy Blogs

2011: Pakistan’s Year of Infamy

Summary of the Past Year

Many Pakistanis will remember 2011 as the year of infamy. Those who supported Islamic terrorist groups, including elements in the military, the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound that killed him on May 2nd, was an embarrassing exposure of Islamabad’s double-game. Those who passionately insisted upon more time, rather employing diplomatic pressure, on Pakistan to “do more” were caught in the middle of tough questions in capital cities across the globe.

Bin Laden Raid

The world was appalled, if not totally flabbergasted, to learn on May 2nd that Osama bin Laden, the most wanted terrorist in the world and the founder of Al-Qaeda, had been hosted either officially or unofficially by Pakistan, a supposed front-line state in the war on terrorism. Bin Laden, the architect of 9/11 attacks which killed around 3000 people, had been hiding in the same town which houses Pakistan’s version of West Point known as the Pakistan Military Academy.

Unembarrassed over providing shelter to the Al-Qaeda chief, Pakistan protested against America’s unilateral strike which killed bin Laden. For Pakistanis, it was a breach of their sovereignty and territorial integrity. For Americans, it was a brazen breach of trust and norms of strategic partnership. Bin Laden’s killing put forward more difficult questions: Was the Pakistani military complicit in sheltering the Saudi-born militant leader or was it incompetent to trace him remains a blend of mystery and open secret.


The Pakistani thought that the Americans had made up their minds to further humiliate the ISI when the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) arrested Ghulam Nabi Fai, a Washington-based lobbyist accused of illegally working for the ISI. Fai, the FBI said, had received approximately $500, 000 to 700,000 annually from the ISI without registering under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) to, what political experts believed, promote Pakistan’s stance on Kashmir against its next door enemy India. Pakistan’s embassy in Washington said it had ‘no knowledge’ of the case involving Fai.

Raymond Davis

The Abbottabad raid escalated tensions between the United States and Pakistan following the earlier arrest of a CIA contractor, Raymond Davis, on charges of killing two personnel of Pakistan’s spy agency, the Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence, in the historic city of Lahore on January 27, 2011. Although Davis was eventually released after paying compensation worth $2.3 million, shooting at the ISI personnel, who had been chasing Davis’ car, triggered massive waves of anti-American sentiments among the Pakistani public as well as the army.

Haqqani Network

On September 22, Washington officially blamed Pakistan’s ISI for supporting Taliban’s Haqqani Network which was responsible for an attack on the US embassy and NATO headquarters in Afghan capital, Kabul, on September 13. Admiral Mike Mullen, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, termed the Network, a “veritable arm” of the ISI as he testified before Senate’s Armed Services Committee. Pakistan’s former President General Pervez Musharraf billed Mulle’s remarks “diverged from reality’ while his successor General Ashfaq Kayani begged that “singling out Pakistan was “neither fair nor productive.”

An extraordinary meeting of Pakistan’s army commanders was immediately convened which expressed concern over the ‘negative statements emanating from (the) US.”  While senior generals did not promise to take action against the Haqqani Network, the newly inducted charismatic yet hawkish foreign minister, Hina Rabani Khar, said she was ‘quite sure’ that the CIA also had links with “many terrorist organizations around the world…this particular Network [the Haqqani] …was the blue-eyed boy of the CIA for many years.”

Drone Strikes

In 2011, Pakistanis almost ran out of patience with America’s continued drone strikes in the Waziristan tribal region. Although this year, according to the New America Foundation (NAF), witnessed fewer (70) drone strikes against 2010 (70), Pakistanis vociferously vented their disapproval inside the national parliament, official meetings, street protests and newspaper columns. The NAF research database shows 283 drone strikes have killed “approximately between 1,717, and 2,680 individuals, of whom around 1,424 to, 2,209 described as militant in reliable press accounts.”

“Despite the drone program’s shortcomings, it is likely to continue — put simply,” wrote Peter Bergen and Katherine Tiedemann in their August 2011 Foreign Affairs article, “Washington has no better military options for combating the anti-Western militants who have made their home in Pakistan’s tribal areas. Pakistan’s army has proved itself unwilling or unable to clear out the Taliban and other insurgent groups from North Waziristan, where around 90 percent of last year’s drone strikes took place.”

NATO Attack/ Bonn Conference

NATO helicopters killed 25 Pakistani soldiers on November 25th by attacking a military check post in Mohmand Agency bordering Afghanistan. In reaction, the Pakistan army warned of “serious repercussions” of the “latest attack by Nato forces on our post.”

Both, NATO and Pakistan, accuse each other of initiating fire first.

Consequently, Pakistan blocked supplies to NATO troops stationed in Pakistan as a reaction and issued an ultimatum to the United States to vacate Shamsi Airbase in southwestern Balochistan which has been used for unmanned drones to attack Taliban insurgents in Pakistan’s tribal region.

In a clear move of no-cooperation with and hysterical fury, Islamabad also boycotted next week’s Bonn Conference II.

In an article in the Atlantic, Joshua Foust, a fellow at the American Security Project, described Pakistan’s boycott as “more or less a death-blow to the conference.”

“Without Taliban participation, the conference’s utility was going to be severely limited. But missing the Taliban’s primary sponsor and support, in addition to the Taliban, and possibly the only other regional player with sufficient clout to alter Afghan politics… there is little hope for Bonn II to be anything other than an expensive piece of theater that will do little to advance or save the country.”


In 2011, Pakistan’s military staged an indirect but extraordinary comeback in the country’s politics. The army has not only directly and publicly dealt with key foreign affairs but it has also put in jeopardy and uncertainty the very survival of the civilian government headed by the Pakistan People’s Party’s of the assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

In what the Pakistanis phrase as the Memogate Scandal (inspired by America’s Watergate Scandal), the country’s overly pro-US and staunchly anti-military Ambassador stationed in Washington DC, Husain Haqqani, was forced to resign. Haqqani, a former Boston University associate professor, was accused by a hitherto unknown Pakistani-American businessman, Mansoor Ijaz, of dispatching a memo to Admiral Mike Mullen asking for assistance to prevent the Pakistani army and the ISI from toppling the democratic government.

Pakistan’s Supreme Court has now asked President Asif Ali Zardari, Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani and the Director General of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to submit their evidence over the memogate scandle. Former Ambassador Haqqani has been replaced in Washington with a pro-military journalist-turned-former minister, Sherry Rehman. Trendy Haqqani, who communicates with the media via Twitter, has been warned by the court not to leave Pakistan until the memogate probe is complete.

Floods 2011

Pakistan’s floods in 2011 remained largely unnoticed for two reasons.

First, the nuclear-armed Muslim nation made front page headlines several times in 2011 but this attention was mainly for political reasons, terrorism and the country’s worsening ties with Washington.

Secondly, many individuals, media outlets and even foreign governments confused this year’s disaster the floods of summer 2010 which killed 1600 people, besides affecting 20 million people.

In 2011, Pakistan experienced further devastation in 2011 because of massive floods.

According to a September 2011 UN report Pakistan; Rapid Response Plan, this year’s floods have affected 5,4441,869 people; damaged 665,821 houses and destroyed an area of 1,595,052 acres of crops in Sindh province while damages in the largest province of Balochistan could not be estimated yet.

Millions of Pakistani flood victims of two back-to-back floods still await assistance. International donor agencies and individual philanthropist barely trust Pakistan’s unquestionably corrupt, inefficient and untrustworthy government. While the United Nations has requested $356.7 million assistance for Pakistan’s flood affected people, the uphill task will take many years or perhaps decades to compensate the damage the floods caused.

MFN Status for India

If there was one good news story from Pakistan on the foreign policy front then it came in November when Islamabad decided to grant India the Most Favored Nation (MFN) status. As original members of General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (now known as the World Trade Organization) both the countries should have granted this status to each other as early as 1948. India gave Pakistan the MNF status in 1996, which took Islamabad 15 years to reciprocate.

Hence, the two neighboring countries intend to enhance their existing trade, which is between $2 and $3 billion to $ 14 billion in 2014.


Pakistan failed to protect its civilians from homegrown religious terrorism as the country recorded the highest number of civilian causalities (2463) since 2003. The country seemed to be losing its battle against insurgents. In 2011, according to South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), the second highest number of soldiers and army men were killed by terrorists. Furthermore, Pakistan scored its worst marks in three years in terms of killing terrorists. This year, Pakistan killed only 2527 terrorists/insurgents as compared to killing 7435 in 2010, 11704 in 2009 and 6715 in 2008.

The heartening news for the people of Pakistan, the real victims of terrorism, is the steady decline in suicide bombings. Fewer people (606) were killed in fewer (39) suicide bombings in 2011 as compared to 49,76 and 57 for the years 2010,20109 and 2008 respectively which killed 1167, 949 and 893 respectively.

Press Freedom

Pakistan remained the world’s deadliest country for the second consecutive year for journalists. In spite of a statistical difference between the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders, which have documented the killing of 7 and 9 reporters respectively, PBS Newshours says Pakistan accounts for the highest number of slain reporters.

According to the CPJ, Pakistan has remained in the list of top five most unsafe countries for journalists since 2005 where reporting was confirmed as the motive of killing of 39 journalists since 1998. The CJP, however, does not document many stringers and reporters working in rural Pakistan who often get killed because of their professional activities. For example, the CPJ database does not include a prominent journalist from Balochistan, Munir Ahmed Shakir, who was gunned down this year.

Pakistani cable operators, supposedly with the guidance of the military, banned the service of BBC World Service in November and continued blocking the Baloch Hal, the first online newspaper of the conflict-stricken Balochistan province. Authorities in Karachi detained and eventually deported Italian journalist Francesca Marino after discovering that her name was blacklisted among the “unwelcome journalists.”


On November 16, the deputy spokesman of the US Department of State, Mark Toner, expressed concerns over the situation in Pakistan’s gas and oil-rich province of Balochistan. For the past eight years, Islamabad has brutally crushed the secular Baloch nationalist movement for calls for self-determination.

Relatives of the missing Baloch persons claim Pakistan has subjected around four thousand political activists to enforced disappearance among whom the bullet-riddled dead bodies of at least 150 have been found.

In February, the Amnesty International described the phenomenon as ‘kill and dump operations’ and called upon the Pakistani government to “provide accountability for rising atrocities in Balochistan”.

“The victims’ relatives and Baloch groups blame the “kill and dump” incidents on Pakistani security forces, particularly the Frontier Corps and intelligence agencies. Many of the victims were abducted by uniformed Frontier Corps soldiers, often accompanying men in plain clothes, in front of multiple witnesses,” the global human rights watchdog said.

Rise of Imran Khan

Pakistan’s analysis of year 2011 will remain incomplete without discussing the emergence of a relatively unknown political leader (at least in the United States and Europe) who has decided to challenge the ruling Pakistan People’s Party and former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League. Imran Khan, a former cricket skipper under whose leadership Pakistan won the world cup in 1992, was reported by the Pew Research Center as Pakistan’s most popular political figure with a favorable rating of 68% against Nawaz Sharif (63%) and President Zardari (11%).

Here is why the West, including the United States, must fear Mr. Khan.

Mr. Khan, who heads Pakistan’s Justice Movement, owes his dramatic political rise largely because of his anti-US provocative speeches which galvanize a remarkably huge young audience. Political experts in Pakistan say Mr. Khan enjoys absolute support from the ISI so that they pit him against President Zardari and opposition leader Sharif.

The ISI has had a long history of meddling into Pakistani politics and churning out radial politicians who mainly blame the United States for all troubles in their country.

Imran Khan is either loved or hated but today he has risen as someone who cannot easily be  ignored. It is tragic for the Pakistani politics that only anti-US sentiments, not issues pertaining to bad governance and corruption, could lead to the rise of an alternative political force to challenge the status quo.

Most Unexpected Event

The killing of Osama bin Laden in the garrison town of Abbottabad plunged Pakistan in a state of shame and guilt. It even compelled the domestic supporters of the Pakistani army to seek an explanation. In the United States, it equally became difficult for the friends of Pakistan to defend latter’s commitment to the war on terror.

“[The US military] … are angry with the Pakistani military for playing both sides against the middle. They are aware that if you’re an American soldier and the Afghan Taliban who are shooting at you are actually the ones being supported and trained in Pakistan. So, there is real anger with the Pakistan army over this double game,” said Stephen P. Cohen, a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution.

Person (or group of people) of the Year

Three people departed from Pakistan in 2011 with food for thought about the future of the country.

Salmaan Taseer, a liberal politicians who governed the powerful province of Punjab, was shot 26 times with a submachine gun by his own security guard in the nation’s capital on January 4thMalik Mumtaz Qadiri, Taseer’s twenty-six year old assassin, a religious zealot, defended his act in the name of Islam because the governor had called for reforming Pakistan’s controversial Blasphemy Law which is often misused against religious minorities.

Two months after Taseer’s murder, Pakistan’s sole minority minister Shahbaz Bhatti, a Roman Catholic, was killed on March 2 in Islamabad. The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for this killing the minority minister, citing ‘blasphemous remarks against the Prophet of Islam’, totally the same reason the Governor’s guard used to justify shooting his boss.

A leading investigative journalist, Syed Saleem Shahzad, 40, who exposed links with Al-Qaeda and elements inside the nation’s military, was kidnapped on May 29th, also from Islamabad, and found dead on June 3. The Obama administration and the Human Rights Watch both blame the ISI for killing the Asia Times journalist to muzzle criticism against the military and Islamists.

Forecast for 2012

As the military in Pakistan has almost regained control over the driving seat on policy matters, it is most likely to push the country into further isolation. Pakistan is back to 1990s where it will improve relations with Taliban and care less for the future of its relationship with the US. For good or bad reasons, some elements in the Pakistani army love Afghanistan more than the Afghans themselves.

Therefore, Pakistan will increase contacts and cooperation with Taliban and radical groups in order to upstage India in the future Afghan set-up.

The army seems to have forgiven President Zardari this time over the memogate, a similar ‘mistake’ in the future will, however, not be tolerated. The possibility of a military coup in Pakistan in 2011 is still an exaggerated fear but the ISI will continue to groom Imran Khan and lure more PPP and PML leaders, such as the former foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, to join Mr. Khan’s pro-military party.

For Pakistan’s silent yet educated and moderate population, there are “direct and clear lessons” in the killing of the three men, whom we have featured as the persons of the year, to know learn the price of challenging the status quo.

In 2012, Pakistan is likely remain more diplomatically isolated, politically unstable, militarily defiant and intellectually restricted.



Malik Siraj Akbar

Malik Siraj Akbar is a freelance journalist based in Washington DC. A 2010-11 Hubert Humphrey Fellow, Malik is the editor-in-chief of The Baloch Hal, the first online English newspaper of Balochistan, Pakistan's largest province. He worked for five years as the Bureau Chief of Daily Times, a reputed Pakistani English newspaper.

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