10 Years Later, 9/11 Conspiracy Theories Linger in Pakistan

BY Larisa Epatko  September 2, 2011 at 2:07 PM EST


Funeral procession following a suicide attack near a police station in the Lakki Marwat district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, Pakistan. Photo by STR/AFP/Getty Images.

Ten years after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States, many Pakistanis still don’t know who perpetrated the assault, according to GlobalPost’s Pakistan reporter Suzanna Koster.

“Many Pakistanis I spoke to in the six years that I’ve been a correspondent here say they have no idea who carried out the 9/11 attacks,” she said.

In a 2008 World Public Opinion poll, 72 percent of the Pakistani respondents said they didn’t know who were behind the attacks. As many people believed Israel was behind it as al-Qaida (4 percent), and 19 percent thought the United States itself carried out the attacks.

“This is an argument that I have heard over and over again,” said Koster. “In this conspiracy theory, the U.S. staged the attacks to have a reason for invading Afghanistan.”

The conspiracy-minded think the United States wanted to enter Afghanistan to be closer to oil sources in Central Asia, closer to China to thwart its growing economy and power, or to wipe out the Muslim community, she said.

Many voicing these perspectives were well-educated Pakistanis, she added. “For instance, a wealthy English-speaking Pakistani from an area beleaguered by the Pakistani Taliban firmly believed the U.S. wanted to extinguish Muslims.”

And some Pakistanis that Koster interviewed, from hotel managers to day laborers, said there was a connection between the violence in their country, including a spate of recent suicide attacks, with the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan and Pakistan’s compliance with it.

They say that before the invasion there were hardly any terrorist attacks, and felt that if the United States left Afghanistan — now that al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden is dead — the security situation would return to normal, she reported.

According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, which counts deaths based on public sources, about 11,400 civilians and 3,900 security personnel have been killed in Pakistan in terrorist-related violence since 2003.

Koster said over the years, some Pakistanis have changed their attitudes about 9/11. “I spoke to a 24-year old student from the restive northwestern region of Pakistan. When he heard about the 9/11 attacks he was one of the Pakistanis who believed bin Laden was behind it and thought he was a hero. He thought bin Laden had waged the ultimate jihad. Later he realized he was wrong.

“He thinks bin Laden is a terrorist now, and jihad is not the same as killing innocent people,” though the young man still doesn’t approve of U.S. policies in Pakistan and Afghanistan, she said.

Watch: Koster’s report, “Rehab for the Taliban”

On Friday’s NewsHour, we’ll air a report on how Afghans view 9/11. Browse all of our World coverage and follow us on Twitter.