Terrorism's Supermarket

Article excerpt

Byline: Fareed Zakaria

Why Pakistan keeps exporting jihad.

Faisal Shahzad, the would-be terrorist of Times Square, seems to have followed a familiar path. Like many earlier recruits to jihad, he was middle-class, educated, seemingly assimilated--and then something happened that radicalized him. We may never be sure what made him want to kill innocent men, women, and children. But his story shares another important detail with many of his predecessors: a connection to Pakistan.

The British government has estimated that 70 percent of the terror plots it has uncovered in the past decade can be traced back to Pakistan. Pakistan remains a terrorist hothouse even as jihadism is losing favor elsewhere in the Muslim world. From Egypt to Jordan to Malaysia to Indonesia, radical Islamic groups have been weakened militarily and have lost much of the support they had politically. Why not in Pakistan? The answer is simple: from its founding, the Pakistani government has supported and encouraged jihadi groups, creating an atmosphere that has allowed them to flourish. It appears to have partially reversed course in recent years, but the rot is deep.

For a wannabe terrorist shopping for help, Pakistan is a supermarket. There are dozens of jihadi organizations: Jaish-e-Muhammad, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Al Qaeda, Jalaluddin and Siraj Haqqani's network, Tehrik-e-Taliban, and the list goes on. Some of the major ones, like the Kashmiri separatist group Lashkar-e-Taiba, operate openly via front groups throughout the country. But none seem to have any difficulty getting money and weapons.

The Pakistani scholar-politician Husain Haqqani tells in his brilliant history, Pakistan: Between Mosque and Military, how the government's jihadist connections go back to the country's creation as an ideological, Islamic state and the decision by successive governments to use jihad both to gain domestic support and to hurt its perennial rival, India. Describing the military's distinction between terrorists and "freedom fighters," he notes that the problem is systemic. "This duality?.?.?.?is a structural problem, rooted in history and a consistent policy of the state. It is not just the inadvertent outcome of decisions by some governments." That Haqqani is now Pakistan's ambassador to Washington adds an ironic twist to the story. (And a sad one, because the elected government he represents appears to have little power. …