The aftermath of 9/11 in the fall of 2001 is recalled, and it is noted that war against al-Qaida in Afghanistan and the Taliban regime was imminent at the time.
Many nations offered their support to the US, but the world was shocked, or at least I was, that Pakistan became an ally of ours in that war with General Pervez Musharraf's decision in September 2001 to abandon the Taliban, whom Pakistan had previously supported, and joined the Western alliance.
At first glance, that was a plus, but many are uneasy about that alliance for three reasons:
1. Pakistan is 77% Sunni Muslim, the same version of Islam that al-Qaida and the Taliban adopt. Empathy on the part of the Pakistani Sunni for members of al-Qaida may be presumed.
2. Pakistan would not allow Western troops within its borders, making it a dubious ally. Generally speaking, allies coordinate and cooperate with their military resources. In Pakistan's defence, she did allocate three airbases to the Western forces for the invasion of Afghanistan.
3. The vast and rugged Hindukush mountain range is on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan. One can easily surmise that when the Taliban fell, elements of that group along with elements of al-Qaida, presumably with Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri in tow, would flee to those mountains, making their capture very difficult while, at the same time, allowing them bases from which to operate in Afghanistan.
Reasonable conjecture suggests Bin Laden's hideout is in a mountainous region of northwest Pakistan, and, legally, Western forces cannot go there.
"One has to think like an Arab in order to understand the Arabs."
The missile strike on the 13th brought all of this back into focus. I am reluctant to believe that my country, via CIA ops, would attack a village with 10 very expensive missiles from a Predator drone without being very sure; that the attack was based on a whim ... or we just do not like Muslims.
Unfortunately, the aftermath of that strike has been an information nightmare with conflicting claims and, at this writing, much is still unknown.
We may never completely know what happened at Damadola.
So, what was this all about, and how does this reflect on the evaluation of Pakistan as an ally in the hunt for remaining elements of the Taliban and al-Qaida?
On the 14th, citing unidentified American intelligence officials, US news networks reported that a CIA-operated Predator drone aircraft carried out the missile strike because al-Zawahiri, Bin Laden's top lieutenant, was thought to be at a compound in the village or about to arrive.
Pakistan condemned the CIA air strike on the border village of Damadola that officials said unsuccessfully targeted al-Qaida's second-in-command, and said it was protesting to the US Embassy over the attack that killed at least 17 people.
An AP reporter who visited Damadola about 12 hours after the attack saw three destroyed houses, hundreds of yards apart. Villagers had quickly buried at least 15 people in the true tradition of Islamic custom, including women and children according to the villagers.
A Pakistani intelligence official told AP that the remains of some bodies had "quickly been removed" from Damadola after the strike. The official said that hours before the strike some unidentified guests had arrived at the home of a tribesman named Shah Zaman, who later claimed that he was a "law-abiding labourer," not a terrorist.
As the week wore on so did the conflicting reports. A CNN report stated that, according Pakistani sources, "between 10 and 12 foreign extremists had been invited to the dinner" in Damadola.
On Thursday and Friday the reports were stunning. Aljazeera reported: "Pakistani authorities said on Thursday at least four foreign fighters were killed in last Friday's attack in Damadola village near the Afghan border that officials say targeted but missed its apparent target, al-Zawahiri."
They were identified as the Egyptian, Midhat Mursi al-Sayid Umar, an explosives expert; Abd al-Rahman al-Misri al Maghribi, a son-in-law of al-Zawahri; and Abu Obaida al-Misri, al-Qaida's chief of operations in Afghanistan's eastern Kunar province.
The fourth man, not identified in this particular article by Aljazeera, is probably Khalid Habib, al-Qaida’s chief of operations along the Afghan-Pakistan border who is accused of twice planning assassination attempts on the Pakistani president, Musharraf.
Pakistan has been an ally of the US for much its existence since the inception of its independence (1947).
Also, on Thursday, for the first time in 13 months, we heard from Bin Laden, threatening the West with one breath while offering a truce with the other.
One may offer conjecture that the terrorist leader, after a long silence, was trying to restore his chain of command after it had been severely damaged on the 13th. On Friday, we learned of an audiotape featuring al-Zawahiri reading a poem.
It could have been made any time in the past four years, and it did not mention the events on January 13th.
Going back to the four, or five, al-Qaida members killed by the strike, it was reported that their bodies were removed by "sympathisers". If true, that would suggest that not all the villagers were quite so innocent.
In that same vein, why would certain members of that "innocent" village invite some of the most wanted men on the planet to dinner?
What about the fate of al-Zawahiri? Several days passed, and, in the truest sense of the word, he was conspicuous by his absence. An unofficial report from Americans stated that the Predator did not miss.
Most reports, Pakistani in origin, said that it did. In a less than remarkable development, because the world could not be that lucky, Aljazeera revealed a videotape of al-Zawahiri on the 30th. It mentioned the 13th CIA strike and was filled with the usual hate-filled invectives, mostly against the Americans in general, and Bush in specific.
It should be noted that Pakistani officials were vindicated by the tape. In the meantime, Washington has remained mute on the CIA paroxysm, an old, but proven, tactic.
However interesting, al-Zawahiri's existence is immaterial to the evaluation of Pakistan as an ally of the US. This relationship is nothing new. Pakistan has been an ally of the US for much its existence since the inception of its independence (1947).
At one point, its relationship with the US was so close and friendly that it was called the US's most-allied ally in Asia. Coming to the present, Musharraff may not be the most popular leader in Pakistan's short history, but he may be accused of being shrewd.
In the fall of 2001, with the Western powers about to unload on Afghanistan, Musharraf may have concluded that continued support of the Taliban and, as a by-product of that support, al-Qaida, could cause the war in Afghanistan to spill over into Pakistan.
Why would certain members of that "innocent" village invite some of the most wanted men on the planet to dinner?
That, in turn, could cause Pakistan to be on the wrong end of Western missiles. This could be headed off by becoming an ally of Western intentions with the aforementioned conditions, preventing any missiles landing on Pakistani soil, theoretically.
Such an agreement would also preclude an invasion of Western troops on Pakistan's western frontier, theoretically.
Dr Nazir Khaja, a Pakistani American, writes: "Why do they hate us? This question is being asked more and more in this country. The answer lies in looking at our relationship with Pakistan and other countries and recognising what went wrong.
Instead of supporting the military infrastructure of the countries, the US can strengthen the infrastructure of peace and prosperity by supporting the countries to develop in peaceful ways.
If we are to make any headway in this war on terror we ought to rethink our foreign policy and find better ways of engaging with the people across the world rather than being supportive of dictators, monarchs and despots."
Pakistan has a literacy rate of 48.7%, and a per capita income of $736. Many have a major challenge finding potable water. It is a divided nation with severe sectarian issues that rival the most serious in the middle east and a nuclear rival on its doorstep.
We may never completely know what happened at Damadola, and if it is true that the US killed innocents there – and I fear there is substance to those reports – that causes me great sorrow.
"Why do they hate us? This question is being asked more and more in this country. The answer lies in looking at our relationship with Pakistan".
Dr Nazir Khaja
I feel a similar anguish when learning daily of the Muslim killing Muslim in Iraq at the hands of the Sunni resistance and al-Qaida of Iraq. Moreover, Americans have empathy for the people of Pakistan. We both understand the seriousness of a monstrous attack on our homeland by a foreign entity.
I conclude that no American, including this one, has a right to judge Pakistan, a vastly troubled nation, on the merits of its alliance with the West.
Sandy Shanks is the author of two novels, The Bode Testament and Impeachment. A historian, he is also a columnist, specialising in political/military issues.
The opinions expressed here are the author's and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position or have the endorsement of Aljazeera.