I remember watching the events of 9/11 unfold, outraged at the loss of life. I was only too aware that the reports spilling out about the involvement of 'Islamic terrorists', would significantly shape the future of the Middle East. However, I never thought for a moment that in the years to follow, Pakistan too would be involved in what was to become 'The War on Terror'. In the initial years after 9/11 the world looked to 'Arabs' as the aggressors. First there was the hunt for Arabs hiding in Afghanistan, then there was the toppling of an Arab regime in Iraq. In the ten years since the twin tower attacks, Pakistan has joined the ranks of terrorist nations whilst confusingly remaining an 'ally in the region'.
My understanding of Pakistan prior to 9/11 was of a 'liberal' Muslim nation, where religion and culture played an integral role in the life of the individual, but was safe from a more 'radicalised' form of Islam. More traditionalist views have always been held in the tribal areas, but the Pakistan I knew was one where the Niqab was unheard of, female education was greatly encouraged and suicide bombs were only know as the tools of Palestinians, fighting an occupation in a far away land. In fact, prior to 9/11 there had only ever been one reported case of a suicide bombing, but in the past decade reports of daily carnage from Pakistan are now akin to reports from Afghanistan and Iraq, the difference here, however is there is no official war in Pakistan.
Momina Khawar, a 19 year old student from Lahore told me:
"Before 9/11, I hadn't even heard about the word 'terrorism' or knew what war looked like. In schools now, each child has been influenced. They play games such as 'Find the Bomb!' I remember playing 'Teacher, Teacher' with my friends as a child, now it's been simply turned into 'Bomb, Bomb!' "
So how and why did things change in Pakistan?
In 2003 Pakistan joined the US led War on Terror. Many Pakistanis within the country, as well as those living in the West, believe it was this move that led Pakistan onto a path of political instability.
Junaid Anwar a 26 year old Engineer from Lahore told me:
"After 9/11 and the war on terror started, initially there was hatred against US, and then our wrong policies made us hate each other"
At the time, the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, didn't give much of a choice to Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf; Pakistan was to either join as an ally or become the next target.
As Pakistan become more entangled in the web of the War on Terror, aiding what some Pakistanis deem as 'Western interests in Afghanistan', militancy spiralled out of control. But there was one significant event that changed Pakistan completely: The Lal Masjid - known as the Red Mosque siege.
In July 2007, in an attempt to clamp down on 'radical Islam', authorities sent troops into the Red Mosque in central Islamabad and over 100 people were killed in an 8 day siege. The history of the Red Mosque is a complicated one, from friend to foe depending on the political situation of the time. Prior to the siege, the mosque had already gained a reputation for a radical interpretation of Islam. Despite this, the mosque was popular with the city's elite, including army and government officials, who were situated close to the Mosque. Attached to the Mosque was a religious school for women - The Jamia Hafsa Madrassa, with the Male Madrassa a short distance away.
Whether the Musharaf regime were justified in their actions or not, a populist view is that this incident was the point where Pakistan's future as a nation in turmoil was sealed. Indeed there is evidence to suggest that this is in fact true, figures do show a dramatic increase in suicide bombings after the 2007 siege.
I contacted the Pakistani Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS), a Think Tank in Pakistan that collects data on issues of conflict and security. The data provided showed that out of 330 suicide attacks post 9/11, 315 took place after 2007. In fact between 2006-2007 there was a jump from 6 attacks in 2006 to 60 attacks in 2007. Furthermore, since 9/11 a total of 4804 Pakistani's have been killed in militant attacks, and 8622 have been injured.
In addition to suffering at the hands of militants, Pakistanis also suffer from the illegal use of drones. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism collated data, producing a report which gives a grave insight into the impact of drone attacks in Pakistan. The Bureau concluded that at least 2292 people had been killed in US drone attacks since 2004, 160 of which were said to be children. They assert that there are credible reports of at least 385 civilians among the dead, but believe the real figure could be as high as 775. It is interesting to note that the US government has only named 126 of those killed by drone attacks as militants, whilst the rest are described as 'low ranking' militants.
When Obama took his seat in office, many Pakistanis hoped it would provide a bright new future for Pakistan, but in reality the situation only worsened. According to The Bureau, under President Obama there have been a total of 236 attacks; that iss one every four days. Information provided by PIPS paints a very similar picture; out of a total of 281 drone attacks, 271 took place between 2008-2011.
When we compare the increase of drones attacks with the increase in suicide bomb attacks, there again is a correlation. In the period between 2008-2011 which saw the highest use of drones, Pakistan also endured 265 suicide bomb attacks. Again that is one every four days.
Momina, talked to me about the impact she thinks drones have had on Pakistan:
"These lethal drone attacks have radicalised large sums of the population in the tribal belt, and why wouldn't they be? They've lost their children, women and men; their breadwinners. And this radicalisation is spreading far and deep into the Pakistani society. The more they bomb, the harder it will become for America to get out of this war. It's common sense that people who have been direct victims of the drone attacks will side with the Taliban and sympathise with their anti-American sentiment. But it's Pakistan that suffers in the long run. For us, the loss is economic, physical, moral and mental. It's beyond any foreigner's imagination"
Meher Zaidi, a 54 year old Doctor from Karachi shares some of Momina's sentiments and told me:
"Pakistan was not having internal violence like suicide bombings, drone attacks, or polarisation pre-9/11.The Afghan war on terror has been going on for so many years and has now has moved inside Pakistan. Now many millions have been displaced and their homes destroyed in this war"
Meher raises some valid points, due to the on going War on Terror within Pakistan millions have been displaced by the conflict. According to the UN, in the past three years alone more than four million people have been displaced in successive waves of conflict between government forces and militants in the North West of Pakistan. Although many have been able to return, approximately 400,000 still remain displaced.
The reality is, militancy has begun to embed itself into the fabric of Pakistani society but instead of simply being aggressors, the vast majority of Pakistanis are in fact victims themselves. Pakistan is a nation suffering from the additional conflicts in Kashmir and Balochistan, a crippling economy and the aftermath of one of the worst humanitarian crisis in recent history. The continuing illegal US military action in Pakistan has intensified divisions in an already polarised society. Pakistanis are victims on all sides, not only do they suffer tremendously from attacks by domestic extremists, they also suffer at the hands of the West. As the unofficial war intensifies, so does the tragedy that is unfolding in Pakistan today.
Momina, summarises this well:
"In Pakistan, we use a common phrase summing up what life is like in a terror-stricken country: ''First, 9/11. Then 7/7. Then 24/7 in Pakistan!'' Not a single day passes by when we don't hear of a bomb blast. It hurts to feel habituated to the news of 1 person dead. Even 10 don't matter anymore. It takes a 100 to shake us from our seats"
Follow Nabeela Zahir on Twitter: www.twitter.com/nabeelazahir