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Year In Review: War On Terror Shifts To Pakistan

The death of bin Laden in Pakistan was a game-changer for U.S.-Pakistan relations
The death of bin Laden in Pakistan was a game-changer for U.S.-Pakistan relations
"We know that there are those who believe that in America's fight against Al-Qaeda we have imposed a war upon Pakistan. But violent extremists are a threat not just to the United States but to Pakistan as well, and indeed to the entire civilized world."
These comments by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, made during a visit to Islamabad in January, were intended to assuage concerns in Pakistan and to set the tone for further cooperation in stamping out extremism.
But by year's end, it became clear that 2011 was a year in which Pakistan transformed from being an key ally in the war on terror, to being the front line in the war on terror.
Death Of Osama Bin Laden
The death of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, announced to the world by U.S. President Barak Obama on May 2, was a game-changer.
The world's most wanted man was not supposed to be there at all -- Pakistan had long denied that bin Laden was on its soil. He certainly was not expected to turn up deep in Pakistan, living in a compound located only a stone's throw from Pakistan's most prestigious military training base.
That bin Laden was killed in a top-secret raid carried out by U.S. commandoes without Islamabad's knowledge added to the embarrassment, and fueled public anger over incursions of Pakistani territory.
Regionally, it was taken as proof that Pakistan was, indeed, a sanctuary to terrorists.
"The world must know as we have said repeatedly over the years, almost every day, that the war on terrorism should not be fought in the villages of Afghanistan," said Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
"The war against terrorism should not be fought in homes of oppressed Afghans and cannot be won by bombing innocent women and children of Afghanistan. The war on terror should be fought in the sanctuaries, the hubs, and the recruiting centers of terrorists."
Much the same opinion was expressed in India, Pakistan's neighbor to the east. And fears that Pakistan was an incubator for extremism that would spread to Central Asia could only rise.
Anti-American sentiment is strong in Pakistan
Anti-American sentiment is strong in Pakistan
The same month, Kazakhstan suffered a rare suicide bombing. It was carried out by a group linked to the Islamic Movement in Uzbekistan, which has ties to Al-Qaeda and is seen to be headquartered in Pakistan. And elsewhere in the region -- including Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan -- it did not go unnoticed that many of the militants killed or arrested on their territory had received training in Pakistan.
Spectacular attacks in Afghanistan were attributed to the Haqqani network, which is based in Pakistan. In comments made in September, top U.S. officer Admiral Michael Mullen told lawmakers that the network "acts as a veritable arm of Pakistan's [Inter-Services Intelligence] agency."
"In choosing to use violent extremism as an instrument of policy, the government of Pakistan -- and most especially the Pakistani army and ISI -- jeopardizes not only the prospect of our strategic partnership but Pakistan's opportunity to be a respected nation with legitimate regional influence," Mullen said.
Controversial Attack
Events pushed Islamabad toward a collision course with Washington, highlighted by a late November incident in which NATO helicopters fired on two border posts in northwest Pakistan, killing 24 government soldiers.
Pakistan reacted furiously to the attack. The government cited the deadly incident as its reason for boycotting an important international conference on Afghanistan's future. Trucks filled with cargo headed to supply NATO forces in Afghanistan were halted at the border. The United States was ordered to evacuate an air base on Pakistani territory that was believed to be a possible launching point for highly unpopular drone strikes.
Parliamentary committees looked into any secret agreements made with the United States, as the rift between Pakistan's powerful military and civilian government grew amid "memo-gate." The scandal, centered around allegations that members of the civilian government had sought Washington's help to stave off a possible military coup, added to the storm of anti-U.S. sentiment.
Addressing the country's foreign policy elite in December, Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani reiterated Pakistan's resolve to rethink its relations with the West.
"We have been compelled to take these steps to safeguard Pakistan's interests. As a responsible state, Pakistan will do whatever we can for stability and peace of our region. But we will never allow anyone to undermine our legitimate interests," Gilani said.
Continuing rumors of a possible soft coup, a dire economic crisis, and the possibility of parliamentary elections all add to the promise of domestic political turmoil, and help ensure that outsiders involved in the war on terror can be expected to keep their gaze locked on Pakistan.
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    Abubakar Siddique

    Abubakar Siddique, a journalist for RFE/RL's Radio Azadi, specializes in the coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan. He is the author of The Pashtun Question: The Unresolved Key To The Future Of Pakistan And Afghanistan. He is also one of the authors of the Azadi Briefing, a weekly newsletter that unpacks the key issues in Afghanistan.