The Multiple Lessons of Faisal Shahzad

By Seale, Patrick | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, July 2010 | Go to article overview

The Multiple Lessons of Faisal Shahzad


Seale, Patrick, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


HOW TO explain the case of Faisal Shahzad, the young Pakistani-American who attempted to blow up a car in New York's Times Square on May 3? He had a master's degree in business administration and had worked for various American companies, including the cosmetics firm Elizabeth Arden. His wife, Huma Mian, born in Colorado, had a degree in accountancy.

His father, Bahar ul-Haq, was a retired high-ranking Pakistani air force pilot. Her father, Mohammad Asif Mian, had earned two master's degrees from the Colorado School of Mines and was the author of four books.

To all appearances, Faisal and Huma were part of Pakistan's expatriate elite. They came from solidly middle-class families, were American citizens, had two small children, and seemed fully integrated into American life. But evidently they were not-or at least had decided, in recent months, that they were not.

Many explanations have been suggested for Faisal Shahzad's attempt in May to strike a blow at America, his adopted country. The family seem to have had financial difficulties, victims like so many others of the economic crisis. Their house was repossessed and they moved into rented accommodation. That may have been the start of it. As a Muslim, Faisal may also have been radicalized by the online lectures of Anwar al-Awlaki, a Yemeni-American cleric known for his harsh criticism of America's war against Islamic militants in Yemen and elsewhere.

The most likely explanation is that Faisal Shahzad was outraged by the campaign which the Pakistani army-under intense American pressure-has been waging against militant groups in the tribal areas of northwest Pakistan, flanking Afghanistan. Faisal is said to have traveled to Pakistan 13 times in the past seven years, and to have visited the tribal areas. He would have seen at first hand the terrible impact NATO's Afghan war has had on Pakistan.

America's drone attacks against Taliban targets in the tribal areas have aroused particular fury, as well as fierce anti-American feeling, because of the civilian casualties they have caused and because they are seen as intolerable infringements of Pakistan's sovereignty. The Pakistan army has been widely criticized for fighting what is seen as America's war. Faisal may well have come to think that the drone attacks had to be avenged.

His case offers a classic example of the way South Asian tensions have been imported into the United States (and perhaps into the United Kingdom as well, as was seen by the 2007 attacks on the London Underground). Pakistan lies at the heart of these tensions-and has done so since the partition of the subcontinent in 1947.

Pakistan and India have fought four wars since then-in 1948-49, 1965, 1971 and 1979-but the immediate cause of tension between them is the proxy war they are now fighting over Afghanistan. …

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