Rohit Kumar's Views

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What makes the Times Square bomber different from other Pakistani terrorists

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By Ahmed Rashid

LAHORE – By all accounts and even by Pakistan’s grim roster of terrorist bombers Faisal Shahzad is an extraordinary militant. He is also Pakistan’s first global jihadist.

We are still learning details about the man, but we already know his basic profile.

He had spent 10 years in the United States gaining a bachelor’s and then a masters degree in business studies. He worked as a financial analyst at a U.S. financial marketing services company. He was married with two children. He is a U.S. citizen.

But what is truly extraordinary, from a Pakistani perspective, is that he belongs to this country’s true blue-blooded “establishment” – his father is a retired Air Vice Marshal of the Pakistan Air Force, who lived quietly in a suburb of Peshawar until Tuesday when he packed up his family and left the house for a secret destination to escape the press pack outside.

The military has ruled Pakistan for half its existence and the sons and daughters of many senior officers have especially benefited from U.S. largesse to win scholarships in the U.S. and then settle down there. They never seem to have problems gaining green cards or citizenship. But then they are mostly professionals who never dabble in Islamic militancy.

Even for Shahzad, from what we now know, there is no record of extreme religiosity in his family, nor did he hang out with militant groups, nor attend noted militant mosques in Karachi where he spent five months last year. In his youth he never attended a madrassa (religious school) nor did anything that would appear to arouse suspicion that he was planning to plant a car bomb in the middle of New York.

The fact that his father belonged to the country’s ruling elite helped provide a cover that made it virtually impossible to detect his terrorist activities. Claims by American interrogators in the past 48 hours that Shahzad had received weapons and bomb making training in the Pakistan’s violent north west was obviously so quietly done that nobody, not even his family seems to have cottoned on.

The fact that he was determined to set off a bomb in the U.S. rather than in Pakistan or in Afghanistan where Westerners have been recruited as suicide bombers makes him Pakistan’s first global jihadist. In other words someone who is willing to carry out jihad world wide and the basis of Al Qaeda’s beliefs.

The implications for Pakistan are immense. If Shahzad is found to have been trained in bomb-making in two distinct areas, U.S.-Pakistan relations are likely to sour dramatically for the Pakistanis have so far refused to combat terrorism emanating from these two sources.


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