- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 17, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan.

I picked an interesting moment to visit Pakistan: four terrorist attacks in less than a week. The first was at the World Food Program office here in the capital; five killed. The second was in the Khyber Bazaar in Peshawar; more than 50 killed. The third was at the military’s general headquarters in Rawalpindi where Taliban insurgents, armed with automatic weapons, grenades and rocket launchers, fought for 22 hours. A couple of days later, terrorists attacked a military convoy, killing about 40 near the Swat Valley - territory only recently liberated from the Taliban by Pakistani military forces following a costly battle.

If you look closely, you’ll see a message written in this blood: “You, Pakistan’s so-called leaders, can’t provide food for the hungry or security for the marketplace. Your soldiers and officers can’t even protect themselves. You are useless and weak. You will submit. Or we will destroy you.”

Pakistanis can be remarkably nonchalant about terrorism. They have suffered 129 terrorist attacks in the two years since the assassination of presidential candidate Benazir Bhutto. Since Sept. 11, 2001, at least 5,000 Pakistanis have been killed in acts of terrorism.

But the assault on the general headquarters seems to have shaken people up. Hitting the Pakistani equivalent of the Pentagon is, as a headline in the daily newspaper Dawn puts it, “audacious.” The military is the country’s strongest, proudest and most durable institution. A serious offensive against the Taliban is expected, probably in Waziristan where the group seems to have been making gains.

I was invited to Pakistan by the State Department under a “U.S. Speaker and Specialist” program intended to improve the dialogue between Pakistanis and Americans. I have been speaking at universities, meeting with journalists, government officials and religious leaders, doing TV and radio interviews.

I find people admirably hospitable. Many are friendly. But on the campuses in particular, mixed in with hard but fair questions, is a large measure of anger and resentment. The grievances cited: The U.S. interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, U.S. support for Israel and India, Vietnam, Hiroshima - the list goes on.

In Lahore, I meet with a group of religious leaders. One refers to “moderate Islam.” Another says, “There is no such thing as ‘moderate Islam.’” I ask him what term he would use for the Islam of Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar. “Oh, that’s not Islam at all,” he says. “So they are heretics?” I ask. “If we call them apostates and they call us apostates, where does it get us?” he replies. I respond: “What do you do instead? Ignore those slaughtering innocents in the name of Islam around the world and hope that someday they might see things differently? Why would that happen?” He thinks hard, but he does not come up with an answer.

At Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad, a professor responds to my remarks by instructing me: “Injustices and terrorism are two sides of the same coin.” I reply that the world has never been - and I’m afraid never will be - free of injustices. But by his reasoning, we not only must accept terrorism - we should give it license. If I decide to address the injustice of Sept. 11 - or of the genocide of black Muslims in Darfur - by blowing up this university, would that be OK? Just two sides of the same coin? He doesn’t concede the point, but others tell me they think I’m right and he’s wrong.

Pakistan is having a historic debate, and it is having it in the midst of a civil war. Pakistan is a front-line state in a global conflict. For a while we called it the war on terrorism; now we can’t agree on a name. I’m persuaded that the majority in this country is on the right side of the debate, the civil war and the global conflict. But among history’s lessons is this: When moderate majorities face radical and determined minorities, there is no guaranteeing the outcome.

Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on terrorism.

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