By a stroke of chance, the 9/11 terror strikes against the US became the genesis for my book. Having arrived in the US from Pakistan on a teaching fellowship shortly before the horrific attacks, I was drawn into the narrative. It was a narrative waiting to be told. As a journalist in Pakistan, I had for decades witnessed the huge influence of the US on my region. While inside America, I recognized that the media and educational institutions discussed domestic subjects – which to my mind nurtured a tunnel vision.
That changed a decade ago, as airplanes turned into missiles and crashed into the World Trade Towers. It was a high price that ordinary Americans paid for foreign involvements that were not of their choosing. And yet, 9-11 raised a clamor among people that they be told how US foreign policy was conducted. As popular demand forced the media to zero into the world – and Afghanistan and Pakistan became house-hold names – the globe grew more connected.
In undertaking to write `Aboard the Democracy Train,’ I went back in time – from the Cold War days when the US and Pakistan had combined to defeat the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Then, as a front line reporter for the daily Dawn newspaper in Karachi, Pakistan, I had chronicled how the weapons funneled to the Afghan Mujahedeen next door, were used to settle ethnic and tribal feuds inside Pakistan. It was the period when US-Pakistan collaboration hastened the rise of the Taliban.
Back then, I was one of the nation’s few women reporters to document Benazir Bhutto’s meteoric rise to become the nation’s first woman prime minister. Fast forward nearly two decades later. Based in Washington D.C. in the post 9/11 era, I was privy to another historical event. This time, it was Benazir – adored by Pakistan’s masses – attempting to convince the US that she would be a better candidate than President Gen. Pervaiz Musharraf in tackling Al Qaeda and Taliban militants in the region.
The tight rope that Benazir walked between the US and Pakistan military’s interests – not to mention the antipathy she aroused as a woman within the terror network – led to her tragic and inevitable end. Her murder fed into the clamor for change by the masses, grown more impoverished and brutalized by the spill over of the Afghan war. `Aboard’ documents how after Benazir joined her family of martyred Bhuttos, and her Pakistan Peoples Party was swept into power – it catapulted husband, President Asif Zardari into new and unchartered territory.
But the world too changed after 9/11 precipitated the US invasion of Afghanistan a decade ago. The US’s longest war – with numerous soldiers’ deaths and combat related suicides – has taken a toll on American society. While the economic recession sweeping across the US and Europe has triggered demands in the West to draw back in its foreign involvements and focus on jobs and growing the economy at home.
Ten years after the events of 9/11, the lesson taught by the loss of innocent lives – whether in the US or in Afghanistan and Pakistan – is the need to stop all wars. Indeed, even as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down and the internet provides new tools, the West has learnt a great deal about traditional cultures like Pakistan. It is with the simple moral compass in me that I have written `Aboard,’ – knowing we are all in this together.
Each time history repeats itself, the price goes up – John A. Appleman