The Continuing Curious Case of Faisal Shehzad

In many ways, Faisal Shahzad has come to epitomize the confusion that Pakistan and its diasporas have had with Islam. Here is an outwardly successful Pakistani American who decided to blow up the very people he was living with. RAND has recently published an important report that calculates the percentage of wannabe Jihadis in the North America. This report finds Pakistani descent Jihadis topping the list. Like it or not, our country has had a hand in some aspect of terrorist acts perpetrated across the globe one way or another. There is absolutely nothing to be proud of hearing these negative headlines about our country; yet if we are not able to recognize our follies, we will never be able to redress them.

Below, we are posting excerpts from two important commentaries and news reports that look at the Pakistan’s confused relationship with armed Jihad that is being perpetrated in the name of Islam. Majority of Pakistanis want nothing to do with killings of innocent civilians in New York, London or Madrid. Yet there is a vocal group within our society that is out to wage a war against the infidels, with special attention reserved for scheming Jews and their benefactor US. At the end, this group needs not more than one person to make its designs known to the world.

Dr. Parvez Hoodbhoy wrote in Dawn under the title “Faisal Shahzad’s Anti Americanism”.[i] Dr. Hoodbhoy went on to pose the vexing question why Pakistanis hate the West so much. We have touched on this question frequently at the PTH before. But there is no harm in revisiting this question again, especially as it makes the front page headlines on and off around the globe.

The man who tried to set off a car bomb in Times Square was a Pakistani. Why is this unsurprising? Because when you hold a burning match to a gasoline tank, the laws of chemistry demand combustion.

As anti-US lava spews from the fiery volcanoes of Pakistan’s private television channels and newspapers, a collective psychosis grips the country’s youth. Murderous intent follows with the conviction that the US is responsible for all ills, both in Pakistan and the world of Islam.

Faisal Shahzad, with designer sunglasses and an MBA degree from the University of Bridgeport, acquired that murderous intent. Living his formative years in Pakistan, he typifies the young Pakistani who grew up in the shadow of Ziaul Haq’s hate-based education curriculum. The son of a retired air vice-marshal, life was easy as was getting US citizenship subsequently. But at some point the toxic schooling and media tutoring must have kicked in. 

Ideas considered extreme a decade ago are now mainstream. A private survey carried out by a European embassy based in Islamabad found that only four per cent of Pakistanis polled speak well of America; 96 per cent against.

Although Pakistan and the US are formal allies, in the public perception the US has ousted India as Pakistan’s number one enemy. Remarkably, anti-US sentiment rises in proportion to aid received. Say a good word about the US, and you are labelled as its agent. From what TV anchors had to say about it, Kerry-Lugar’s $7.5bn may well have been money that the US wants to steal from Pakistan rather than give to it.

Pakistan is not the only country where America is unpopular. In pursuit of its self-interest, the US has waged illegal wars, bribed, bullied and overthrown governments, supported tyrants and undermined movements for progressive change. Paradoxically America is disliked more in Pakistan than in countries which have born the direct brunt of its attacks — Cuba, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. Why?

Drone strikes are a common but false explanation. Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi implicitly justifies the Times Square bombing as retaliation but this does not bear up. Drone attacks have killed some innocents but they have devastated militant operations in Waziristan while causing far less collateral damage than Pakistan Army operations.

On the other hand, the cities of Hanoi and Haiphong were carpet-bombed by B-52 bombers and Vietnam’s jungles were defoliated with Agent Orange. Yet, Vietnam never developed visceral feelings like those in Pakistan.

Finding truer reasons requires deeper digging. In part, Pakistan displays the resentment of a client state for its paymaster. US-Pakistan relations are transactional today but the master-client relationship is older. Indeed, Pakistan chose this path because confronting India over Kashmir demanded big defence budgets. In the 1960s, Pakistan entered into the Seato and Cento military pacts, and was proud to be called ‘America’s most allied ally’. The Pakistan Army became the most powerful, well-equipped and well-organised institution in the country. This also put Pakistan on the external dole.

Passing the buck is equally fundamental to Pakistan’s anti-Americanism. It is in human nature to blame others for one’s own failures. Pakistan has long teetered between being a failed state and a failing state. The rich won’t pay taxes? Little electricity? Contaminated drinking water? Kashmir unsolved? Blame it on the Americans. This phenomenon exists elsewhere too. For example, one saw Hamid Karzai threatening to join the Taliban and lashing out against Americans because they (probably correctly) suggested he committed electoral fraud.

Tragically for Pakistan, anti-Americanism plays squarely into the hands of Islamic militants. They vigorously promote the notion of an Islam-West war when, in fact, they actually wage armed struggle to remake society. They will keep fighting this war even if America were to miraculously evaporate. Created by poverty, a war culture and the macabre manipulations of Pakistan’s intelligence services, they seek a total transformation of society. This means eliminating music, art, entertainment and all manifestations of modernity. Side goals include chasing away the few surviving native Christians, Sikhs and Hindus.

At a time when the country needs clarity of thought to successfully fight extremism, simple bipolar explanations are inadequate. The moralistic question ‘Is America good or bad?’ is futile.

There is little doubt that the US has committed acts of aggression, as in Iraq, and maintains the world’s largest military machine. We know that it will make a deal with the Taliban if perceived to be in its self-interest — even if that means abandoning the Afghans to bloodthirsty fanatics. Yet, it would be wrong to scorn the humanitarian impulse behind US assistance in times of desperation. Shall we write off massive US assistance to Pakistan at the time of the earthquake of 2005? Or to tsunami-affected countries in 2004?

In truth, the US is no more selfish or altruistic than any other country. And it treats its Muslim citizens infinitely better than we treat non-Muslims in Pakistan.

Instead of pronouncing moral judgments on everything and anything, we Pakistanis need to reaffirm what is truly important for our people: peace, economic justice, good governance, rule of law, accountability of rulers, women’s rights and rationality in human affairs. Washington must be resisted, but only when it seeks to drag Pakistan away from these goals. More frenzied anti-Americanism will produce more Faisal Shahzads.


Granted things move at a glacial pace in Pakistan. Pakistan seldom proactively acts to avoid future catastrophes. Yet, the same religious zeal that has made Pakistan the terrorist central of the world, continues unabated in our country. The murderous Jihad against the infidels blares loudly from the mosques. This story from LA Times[ii] goes on to show that Jaish-e-Muhammad and Lashkar-e-Tayyaba continue to operate in our cities and towns. How many of these episodes do we need to hear before Pakistan can get its act together and clamp down on the Jihadi organizations who are paralyzing the country from within.

The leader of Jaish-e-Muhammad (Maulana Masood Azhar), one of Pakistan’s most feared militant groups, recently drew hundreds of worshipers to the Batha Mosque, where the theme of speeches and sermons often covers the same topic: holy war against the West.

Young men streamed into the beige building in north Karachi chanting “God is great!” on the day Maulana Masood Azhar spoke. Though Jaish-e-Muhammad has been banned in Pakistan since 2002, local police officers joined mosque guards in cordoning off the garbage-strewn dirt lanes surrounding the mosque and providing security for the rally.

“They had metal detectors checking people going in,” said Ali Khan, 27, who works at a barber shop about 50 yards from the mosque’s white iron gate. “The people in this mosque, their main focus is jihad.”

Jaish-e-Muhammad is being scrutinized by U.S. and Pakistani investigators for a possible connection to Faisal Shahzad, the 30-year-old Pakistani-American accused of attempting to detonate a car bomb last week in New York City’s Times Square.

Pakistani authorities arrested at least four suspected Jaish-e-Muhammad members in Karachi this week, including Mohammed Rehan, who in July allegedly drove Shahzad to the northwestern city of Peshawar, the gateway to the country’s Taliban-filled tribal areas.

In light of the Shahzad case, the U.S. probably will push Pakistan to clamp down on groups such as Jaish-e-Muhammad that harbor bitter hatred for the United States and have begun to establish links with Al Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban. Pakistan’s record in enforcing its ban on militant groups has been poor, Pakistani analysts said.

In Karachi, banned militant groups routinely dispatch workers to mosques where they have strong followings to pass out jihad pamphlets and compact discs, said Raza Hassan, a Karachi-based crime reporter for Dawn, a Pakistani English-language newspaper.

“Authorities have not come down hard on Jaish-e-Muhammad or any of these banned outfits,” Hassan said. “They seem to lack a policy.”

If there has been a policy, it has been one that publicly condemns certain militant groups while discreetly allowing them to function under the radar. To facilitate their operations, some extremist organizations have created humanitarian front groups with different names that raise funds for building schools and healthcare clinics. What’s not known is how much of that money gets channeled to militant activities.

“Usually when the government bans these militant groups, they suddenly start welfare work,” said Yusuf Khan, a Karachi-based analyst. “During the earthquake in Kashmir in 2005, Jaish-e-Muhammad began helping people and rebuilding. That’s their technique: to become philanthropic and get sympathy.”

One reason groups such as Jaish-e-Muhammad are allowed to operate is because historically they have set their primary target as India, Pakistan’s nuclear-armed rival, experts said.

Lashkar-e-Taiba, the militant group alleged to have engineered the 2008 attacks in Mumbai that killed 166 people, is banned in Pakistan but continues to operate under the banner of Jamaat-ud-Dawa, which runs hospitals and schools throughout the country. Though the West regards Lashkar-e-Taiba as a terrorist organization, the group’s founder, Hafiz Saeed, moves freely through Pakistan and periodically delivers sermons at a mosque in Lahore.

U.S. officials and others in the West worry that Jaish-e-Muhammad and Lashkar-e-Taiba may be operating training compounds in Pakistan’s volatile tribal belt along the Afghan border. Experts doubt that the Shahzad case will prod Pakistani authorities to crack down on those groups.

“I’m afraid it will be life as normal,” said Yusuf Khan. “There is a lot of sympathy among many in law enforcement for these people. You cannot wipe this out.”

It is widely believed that Pakistan’s intelligence community helped form Jaish-e-Muhammad in the mid-1990s to battle Indian forces in the Indian-administered section of Kashmir. Later, however, the group widened its mission, training thousands of recruits to fight U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan. Jaish-e-Muhammad is also linked to the 2002 kidnapping and killing of Wall Street Journal correspondent Daniel Pearl.

Jaish-e-Muhammad’s leader, Azhar, lives in Bahawalpur, a southern Punjab city and the militant group’s home base. When he comes to Karachi, he usually heads to the North Nazimabad neighborhood, where he makes periodic appearances at the Batha Mosque, Ali Khan and other residents said.

Shopkeepers and neighbors near the mosque’s 10-foot perimeter wall said they tolerate a nervous co-existence with the mosque.

“We’re always fearful that something’s going to happen there,” says Shahzad Ali, a 35-year-old grocery shop owner, “and that in the process, we’ll become victims.”

[i] The full op-ed can be found at



Filed under Al Qaeda, FATA, Islam, Islamism, Pakistan, Palestine-israel, Religion, Taliban, Terrorism, USA, violence

11 responses to “The Continuing Curious Case of Faisal Shehzad

  1. Majumdar

    How come Yasser Pai’s article on Daily Times isnt here yet?


  2. Zainab Ali

    It is important for the authorities to investigate the problem thoroughly and then come to a conclusion; it is also the responsibility of the media to always report a confirmed and authorized incident. The investigations are in the early phase, so it is not confirmed whether FS had a link with LET or not.

  3. Jamal

    Islam’s Nowhere Men

    “Millions like Faisal Shahzad are unsettled by a modern world they can neither master nor reject. ”


  4. Akash

    Are you a fan of Voltaire? Your writing has strains of Candide. Excellent style and construction, in addition to the core message of the article. Keep it up!

  5. Vajra


    What a scintillating piece! Thank you for your fresh and effervescent article on this dreary subject.


    I have to reluctantly thank you for drawing attention to Omar’s brilliant little bon-bon.



    Love the parrot. You obviously loved Monty Python!

  6. AZW

    Omar, this was brilliant. You don’t mind if the PTH reproduces your article as a main post, do you?

  7. Vajra


    Adnann, go for it. It was a class act! And to think Akash saw it first.

  8. Akash


    “And to think Akash saw it first.”

    hmm..thanks..for the small mercies, even if they are condescending..

  9. Vajra


    Think nothing of it. I hate your views, not your person. Unlike the irredeemables, the latest example being globetrotter. I was expressing shock at someone so wrapped up in these benighted attitudes actually having the time and thereafter the open-mindedness to pick up that brilliant essay. I am still in shock. Fortunately pleasantly so.

    Can I do much about a situation when someone gives me so much opportunity to be condescending? 😀

  10. globetrotter

    vajra, looking for good articles?


    Article in Dawn (Magazine)

    Past present: Invaders and conquerors
    By Mubarak Ali