A nation was transformed by the events of 26 November but it wasn’t India.

What was unique about that day’s attack? Not its lethality, or its location—on the evening of 11 July 2006, bombs had killed 209 people on Mumbai’s local trains. That attack, like others before it, slipped from memory after arrests and confessions, first recorded and later recanted.

Caught: D’Souza’s photos of Kasab (above) established his guilt beyond doubt. Sebastian D’Souza / Mumbai Mirror / AP

Two things made 26/11 different. One: The courage of Mumbai Mirror photographer Sebastian D’Souza. He shot marvellously clear pictures of Mohammed Ajmal Kasab at Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, demonstrating without doubt who murdered 52 people. Two: The courage of assistant sub-inspector Tukaram Omble, who stood on Marine Drive in the path of a silver Skoda he knew was carrying armed killers. He grappled with Kasab who shot him. Omble died, but held on long enough for Kasab to be captured alive.

Kasab revealed his identity immediately; he was from Faridkot; now it was a question of proving it to the world.

In Pakistan, the idea that he could be Pakistani was dismissed. On 5 December, a BBC reporter found Kasab’s family in Depalpur village. Pakistan’s press ignored this report (“Kasab is not a Pakistani name"). On 7 December, London’s Observer newspaper published the voter identity-card numbers of Kasab’s parents, Amir Kasab and Noor. This also was ignored, but now the world was convinced. On 11 December, Pakistani daily Dawn, founded by Jinnah, admitted that its reporters had met Kasab’s family the previous week but the newspaper had chosen not to report this. Kasab’s father confessed: “I was in denial for the first couple of days."

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Pakistan’s denial continued, ending on 7 January, when national security adviser Mahmud Ali Durrani told CNN-IBN that he had confirmed Kasab’s identity.

This admission moved the UN Security Council to link Lashkar-e-Taiba with Al Qaeda. And it brought phone calls from America to act.

Ultimately, it gave Asif Zardari, head of an ungovernable state, the cause to lead his reluctant army to battle against extremism. Once on the battlefield, Pakistan’s soldiers did what the British Indian army was trained to do. They smashed the Taliban and “pacified" areas that had been in anarchy: Swat, Mingora, all of Malakand and now Waziristan. But they did this under fire from the Pakistani press and public.

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Pakistan is now under attack and suicide bombers detonate themselves in its cities every week, but it is finally fighting back. Backed by America, Zardari has reversed a cycle of extremism that would have consumed Pakistan.

The question is: Who made Pakistan ungovernable? The answer is: its people. The state has been encouraged to do mischief, because it governs a population whose chief complaint against its rulers has been that they’re not extreme enough.

Doing jihad in Kashmir, persecuting communities, selling nuclear technology to Iran, Libya and North Korea, abolishing interest and causing the collapse of the banking system. The deranged generals, parliamentarians, scientists and judges who do these are heroes backed by a national consensus. In that sense, Pakistan’s government is more representative than India’s.

Pakistan’s most beloved leaders have been unhinged. Bhutto wept on seeing Pakistani labourers break stones with their hands but then promised he would starve his people to fund his atomic programme. His parliament apostatized the Ahmadis unanimously, and to public applause.

Zia understood Pakistanis and gave them what they wanted: more religion. The safety announcement on all PIA flights begins with Bismillah al Rahman al Rahim...

The ingress of extremism in Pakistan is as universal as it is banal. Television anchors now say “Allah hafiz", instead of Khuda hafiz. This is because Khuda is Persian and secular, and god may only be the Arabic Allah.

This instinct is coupled with a fondness for conspiracy theory—one of the most common words in Urdu newspapers is saazish—and a belief in the existence of a global anti-Islam movement led by a partnership of Jews and Hindus (Yahud O Hanood).

Balanced leaders such as Musharraf and Zardari are reviled, though they are actually good for Pakistan.

The scholar Stephen Cohen said Pakistan negotiated with a gun pointed to its own head. This is no empty threat because its population wants the trigger pulled and the leaders know that.

Pakistan must now be bribed to do the right thing. In exchange for fighting the Taliban, America wants to give Pakistan $7.5 billion in aid, much of it going to health and education. The Kerry-Lugar Bill says this aid could be stopped if Pakistan does not tackle extremism or prevent attacks on India and Afghanistan. This sounds sensible. But Pakistanis don’t want the money because it infringes on their sovereignty, by which they mean the right to do mischief.

Zardari is a good man, with a trader’s instinct for self-preservation, but leading a nation of warriors who want martyrdom.

Because of this, Zardari had to surrender to the Taliban because that’s what his parliament demanded.

On 16 February, Pakistan said it would accept Shariah in its tribal areas. The population there wanted not health, education, infrastructure and employment, but more religion.

Zardari passed the Bill, but cleverly worded it in such a way that the Taliban would reject the implementation. This rejection gave him the chance to close the loop, show them as intractable, and go to war.

The Zardaris and the Bhuttos are Baloch feudals settled in Sindh. Zardari is Shia in a nation that’s 80% Sunni, 60% Punjabi, and vulnerable to sneers that he’s not really representative.

He is getting weaker because Pakistanis hate his rational instinct, but after the Mumbai attacks he has done enough things right to pull Pakistanis out of the hole they want to be in.

He has pacified the Pashtun, and now he must tackle a more dangerous opponent: the Punjabi, who is radicalized by the gigantic Markaz Dawa organization. Its head is Hafiz Saeed, founder of Lashkar-e-Taiba, which recruited Kasab.

This will be difficult, and the press will fight it, but Zardari has three more years of his term left to finish the job. And every time he is opposed, he can point to the events of 26 November and say, “This is what happens when Pakistan does not act."

Aakar Patel is a director at Hill Road Media.

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