Pakistan, perhaps the world’s greatest victim of terrorism, joins the other targets of al-Qaida — the people of the United States, Britain, Spain, Indonesia, Afghanistan, Turkey, Yemen, Kenya, Tanzania, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Algeria — in our satisfaction that the source of the greatest evil of the new millennium has been silenced, and his victims given justice. He was not anywhere we had anticipated he would be, but now he is gone.
Although the events of May 1 were not a joint operation, a decade of cooperation and partnership between the United States and Pakistan led up to the elimination of Osama bin Laden as a continuing threat to the civilized world. And we in Pakistan take some satisfaction that our early assistance in identifying an al-Qaida courier ultimately led to this day.
Let us be frank. Pakistan has paid an enormous price for its stand against terrorism. More of our soldiers have died than all of NATO’s casualties combined. Two thousand police officers, as many as 30,000 innocent civilians and a generation of social progress for our people have been lost. And for me, justice against bin Laden was not just political; it was also personal, as the terrorists murdered our greatest leader, the mother of my children. Twice he tried to assassinate my wife. In 1989 he poured $50 million into a no-confidence vote to topple her first government. She said that she was bin Laden’s worst nightmare — a democratically elected, progressive, moderate, pluralistic female leader. She was right, and she paid for it with her life.
Some in the U.S. press have suggested that Pakistan lacked vitality in its pursuit of terrorism, or worse yet that we were disingenuous and actually protected the terrorists we claimed to be pursuing. Such baseless speculation may make exciting cable news, but it doesn’t reflect fact. Pakistan had as much reason to despise al-Qaida as any nation. The war on terrorism is as much Pakistan’s war as as it is America’s. And though it may have started with bin Laden, the forces of modernity and moderation remain under serious threat.
My government endorses the words of President Obama and appreciates the credit he gave us that May night for the successful operation in Khyber Pakhtunkhawa. We also applaud and endorse the words of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that we must “press forward, bolstering our partnerships, strengthening our networks, investing in a positive vision of peace and progress, and relentlessly pursuing the murderers who target innocent people.” We have not yet won this war, but we now clearly can see the beginning of the end, and the kind of South and Central Asia that lies in our future.
Only hours after bin Laden’s death, the Taliban reacted by blaming the government of Pakistan and calling for retribution against its leaders, and specifically against me as the nation’s president. We will not be intimidated. Pakistan has never been and never will be the hotbed of fanaticism that is often described by the media.
Radical religious parties have never received more than 11 percent of the vote. Recent polls showed that 85 percent of our people are strongly opposed to al-Qaida. In 2009, when the Taliban briefly took over the Swat Valley, it demonstrated to the people of Pakistan what our future would look like under its rule — repressive politics, religious fanaticism, bigotry and discrimination against girls and women, closing of schools and burning of books. Those few months did more to unite the people of Pakistan around our moderate vision of the future than anything else possibly could.
A freely elected democratic government, with the support and mandate of the people, working with democracies all over the world, is determined to build a viable, prosperous Pakistan that is a model to the entire Islamic world on what can be accomplished in giving hope to our people and opportunity to our children. We can become everything that al-Qaida and the Taliban most fear — a vision of a modern Islamic future. Our people, our government, our military, our intelligence agencies are very much united. Some abroad insist that this is not the case, but they are wrong. Pakistanis are united.
Together, our nations have suffered and sacrificed. We have fought bravely and with passion and commitment. Ultimately we will prevail. For, in the words of my martyred wife, Benazir Bhutto, “Truth, justice and the forces of history are on our side.”
Asif Ali Zardari is the president of Pakistan.