Essays on the causes and consequences of the impending collapse of Pakistan.
While the economy of Pakistan may be able to survive for a while fed by drug trade, its eventual institutional meltdown cannot be avoided. Its madrasas are turning out something like 3 million jihadis a year fit for nothing but religious war. The pressure of this 'Jihad Explosion' in the region will be a major factor for years to come.
The Indian establishment, obsessed with the insurgency in Kashmir,
appears to have totally missed the cataclysmic changes taking place across the
border that may soon render the Kashmir issue all but irrelevant. Here is the
reality: Pakistan is now a state on
the verge of collapse. While world attention is focused on the so-called
‘nuclear flashpoint’ of Kashmir, the State of Pakistan is being overwhelmed
by forces of history and geography. A state with less than a tenth the resources
of India, Pakistan is forced to fight insurgencies on its frontiers perhaps ten
times as great as in Kashmir. It is only a matter of time before the
institutions of the state totally breakdown. And this is because of the
fundamental irrationality of Pakistan, which is less a state than a turbulent
frontier that a small Punjabi elite is attempting to hold together. This is the
picture that emerges from a masterly study of the state of Pakistan written by
Robert Kaplan, probably the world’s leading reporter on the region (‘The
Lawless Frontier’, The Atlantic Monthly,
Here is what it means in simple
terms: while world attention is focused on the proxy war in Kashmir, conflicts
far more fierce and fundamental in nature are taking place in the borderlands of
Pakistan — in the Northwest Frontier, Baluchistan and even Sind. This has set
the state of Pakistan on a course of irreversible dissolution. Here is the crux
of the problem in Kaplan’s words: “Osama bin Laden, and the fighting in Kashmir obscure the core issue of South Asia: the
institutional meltdown of Pakistan…” And this is due to the “accumulation
of disorder and irrationality” that is yet to be understood. And the jihad
in Kashmir is a consequence of this fear of a crumbling state — in the
hope of providing a unifying theme to unite forces of the frontier that are
implacably hostile to the Punjabi ruling establishment.
Of course border problems are
nothing new, but in the case of Pakistan it is of an altogether different
dimension. The reason is simple: Pakistan is made up mostly of border regions
with a small Punjabi core. As Kaplan puts it: “PAKISTAN covers the desert
frontier of the Subcontinent. British civil administration extended only to
Lahore, in the fertile Punjab, near Pakistan's eastern border with India; its
Mogul architecture, gardens, and rich bazaars give Lahore a closer resemblance
to the Indian cities of New Delhi and Calcutta than to any other place in
Pakistan. But the rest of Pakistan— the rugged Afghan-border regions of
Baluchistan and the North-West Frontier Province, the alkaline wasteland of Sind,
and the Hindu Kush and Karakoram Mountains embracing Kashmir — has never been
subdued by the British or anyone else.” It is a small chunk of India latched
on to a huge and hostile border region. It is a total mismatch.
This might be an
oversimplification but his basic insight is valid: Pakistan is made up of a vast
desert frontier with a small Punjabi core. This unruly desert frontier is what a
Punjabi elite and a sprinkling of Mujahirs like Genral Musharaf are trying to
rule, while holding up Islam as the unifying force. But this has not made the
people on the frontier hate them any less, for Islam always has led to divisions
with each side claiming the other to be less pure. Pakistan’s answer to this
encirclement was to create the Taliban through which to control Afghanistan
itself. This was facilitated by the war in Afghanistan, which the CIA financed
and Pakistani ISI managed. This obscured for a while the fundamental
irrationality and the chaos that is inherent in the makeup of Pakistan. The flow
of foreign money, especially during the Afghan War, obscured also its economic
fragility— of the small productive Punjab trying to support the vast unruly
and unproductive frontier. The Cold War and the Afghan War gave Pakistan an
exaggerated sense of importance. Pakistani leaders and the elite failed to
recognize that they were needed only to do a dirty job that Americans didn’t
want to do themselves.
To compound this folly,
Pakistan has now embarked on a course of destabilization of India itself. It is
difficult to see how an unstable India helps Pakistan any more than an unstable
Afghanistan does. But today Pakistan is a state that is distinguished not by
reason but dogma, beginning with its geography. Its belief in Islam as the
solution to all its problems has led it to define itself as the Jihad state par
excellence in the world today. It has made it also the most despised country
in the world. It sees spreading terror as its salvation. This bespeaks a mind
stupefied by religious dogma to a point beyond reason and logic. This is
Talibanism pure and simple.
This has now come back to haunt
it in the form of Afghan refugees and lawlessness on a scale that has
overwhelmed the Pakistani establishment. The
problem is rooted in history and geography of the region. Foreign aid and
rescheduled payments can only prolong the agony; they cannot alter the
geo-strategic reality or the inherent irrationality of Pakistan’s composition.
It is also independent of who is in power— the military or a civilian
government. The frontier tribes recognize neither. Nor do they care to be ruled
by plainsmen from the Punjab— be they Muslim, Hindu, Sikh or the British. This
is the basic force of history that the Punjabi ruling elite calling itself
Pakistan is fighting against. The outcome of the struggle is a foregone
conclusion. It follows a historic pattern: a weak state in the Punjab has always
succumbed to forces from the northwest. A strong state of which Punjab is a part
has always turned back the invader. So the
only hope for its Punjabi heartland to survive is to be part of the strong state
With such mighty forces at play, it is clear that a Punjabi-Mohajir elite in a slender sliver of land cannot hope to control a vast and ‘lawless frontier’— as Kaplan puts it. The only natural boundary between this frontier-land and the plains is the Indus River, which leaves Pakistan with no strategic depth. The question then becomes one of survival— not exercise of authority. It also shows the futility of India placing trust in any Pakistani leader, in the hope of achieving peace in the region. No leader can control either geography or the forces of sectarian hate and violence that dominate the region. It is only a matter of time before the state crumbles under the weight. When that happens, all of Pakistan will become a ‘lawless frontier’. The only institutions left in Pakistan will be the madrasas — or Islamic schools — that turn out something like half a million ‘students’ a year fit for nothing except jihad. Their first targets will the elite at home. They are already running the state in Afghanistan and much of Pakistan. Left unchecked, they will soon control all of Pakistan. The consequences for the region can be cataclysmic, and India should prepare for the inevitable outcome.
So here is what India will be faced with in the not too distant future.
The state we now call Pakistan will be whittled down to Punjab and the regions
east of the Indus River, struggling to protect itself from the forces of unruly
frontiers controlled by warlords great and small in search of loot. This is what
institutional meltdown will amount to. By one of those coincidences of history,
this institutional meltdown in Pakistan is paralleled by a meltdown in the
Indian intellectual establishment. It is a sobering reminder of the bankruptcy
of the Indian (Leftist) intellectual establishment that this fundamental
analysis of the problem of Pakistan and its consequences comes from a Western
reporter in far off America and not anyone in India.
behavior of the Indian intelligentsia may be compared to Nero fiddling when Rome
was burning; they would rather carry candles to the Wagah border and ask for
appeasing the Pakistani establishment than inform the public with a realistic
appraisal of the primal nature of the forces of fear and hatred that are burning
across the border. It is an unhappy fact that the Indian intelligentsia has
offered little more than appeasement of hostile forces in one guise or another.
It is worth recalling that Gandhiji himself failed with his appeasement policy,
not once but repeatedly, beginning with the Khilafat Movement and ending with
the Partition. Kuldip Nayar, for example, who has become the leading spokesman
for appeasement, is unlikely to succeed where Gandhiji failed. The breakdown of
reason in Pakistan is paralleled by a similar breakdown in India. The dogma of
Jihad has its counterpart in the dogma of appeasement. Fortunately their days
are numbered. The meltdown in Pakistan will consume its advocates in India also.
What is needed therefore is a new way of looking at the problem— one rooted in
ground realities rather than fantasy.
The first point to note is that Pakistan will not crumble quietly. It is
too steeped in hate and violence to disappear like the Soviet Empire. More
likely, it will be like former Yugoslavia. Eventually the land beyond the Indus
will return to being the frontier that it has always been, and the Punjabi-Mohajir
colony calling itself Pakistan will be struggling for survival. Its enemy will
not be India but the Talibanized network of ‘schools’ and its hate-filled
‘students’ trying to undermine and even destroy the Punjabi elite. To see
what will be like, one has only to look at what happened to the Afghan elite
after the Taliban took over. And in Punjab the hostilities are infinitely
greater. They are rooted in the historic hostility of the frontier nomads
towards the settled people of the plains. Appeal to Islam will not save them,
for what the Punjabis are up against is the geo-strategic reality of the region.
And this is what has shaped their history. And they have made the situation
worse by creating and sponsoring the Taliban.
Here is the historic pattern previously alluded to. Whenever there was a
weak state in the Punjab region, it has fallen before invaders from the
northwest. This was the case when it was invaded by Darius, Muhammad of Ghazni,
Timur, Babar and Nadir Shah. On the other hand, whenever the Punjab was part of
a powerful state, it has turned back the invader. This is what happened when the
Greeks, the Huns and Afghans in the time of Ranjit Singh tried to invade the
planes. (Incidentally, history books are wrong in claiming that Alexander was
victorious. It was as much a disaster as Napoleon’s march on Moscow. This is
clear from early accounts. But British controlled textbooks presented it
otherwise, to emphasize European superiority. The correct perspective was
provided by the great Russian general Marshal Zukhov. Alexander’s troops
mutinied, and he himself died a year later broken in health and spirit.)
Punjab is as much India’s responsibility as it is Pakistan’s. India cannot
let these invading forces cross the Indus and turn West Punjab into a wasteland.
The only way for Punjab to survive is to let the frontier be frontier and rejoin
India— its natural home. But is the Punjabi ruling elite capable of such
vision? As one Pakistani (Punjabi) journalist told Kaplan, “We have never
defined ourselves in our own right — only in relation to India. That is our
tragedy.” This attitude represents a historic truth: Punjab is India or it is
happy hunting ground for the frontier tribes. If the Punjabis do not cure
themselves of their hatred, it may soon lead to an even greater tragedy— of
Afghanistan consuming Pakistan itself. Punjabis should see for themselves that
Pakistan is a fantasy that died the day Bangladesh broke away. They should also
recognize that the Punjabis never asked for Pakistan; the people who planted
that poison seed remained in India. And the same people — of the Deoband
School of Lucknow — planted also the poison seed that grew to be Taliban.
choice for the Punjabis of Pakistan is clear. Forces of history and geography
are against them. They can return to their natural home in India as the proud
citizens of a great power or continue their sordid existence as a client state
that can be hired by a patron whenever a dirty job needs to be done. But even
this is precarious and short-lived existence. For all its bombast, Pakistan —
its Punjabi core at least — is today little more than a buffer state between
India and the violent frontier. Once they become part of India, they will have a
great power to defend them against the hordes. One hopes they recognize the
inexorability of the logic: it is India or
oblivion, there is no middle ground.
For India the option is clear. Pakistan
as it exists today is facing a meltdown. Changes of government and leaders will
not turn back the elemental forces now in play. And negotiations and treaties
with a melting state are meaningless. As India becomes a great power, the
Pakistani Punjab and the land east of the Indus River will inexorably be drawn
into India. And the Indus River will again be its natural boundary. There will
be many challenges, but the goal is clear: to minimize the damage and
destruction during this historic reunion, which I now feel is inevitable. In
summary, India can no longer afford the luxury of being a soft state, continuing
to avoid hard decisions and actions. A soft state at this critical juncture in
history may also face a meltdown like Pakistan.
[TOP OF THE PAGE] [HOME] [CONTENTS]
past April in Quetta, the bleached-gray, drought-stricken capital of the
Pakistani border province of Baluchistan, I awoke to explosions and gunfire. In
search of the violence, my translator, Jamil, and I jumped into a
four-wheel-drive Toyota and raced through the section of town inhabited by
Pashtoon tribesmen. Suddenly we were surrounded by Pakistani soldiers, who
forced us out of the car and pointed assault rifles in our faces. While they
searched us, I saw two other soldiers with automatic weapons run along a high
wall a few feet from where we stood. Shots rang out from inside the adjacent
compound. By 11:00 a.m. five people had been killed and twenty wounded, and a
large cache of weapons had been confiscated in a raid on the Pashtoonkhwa Milli
Awami (Pashtoon National People's Party), a group supporting an independent
"Pashtoonistan" created out of Pakistani territory. The party stood
accused of murders and kidnapping. Security forces claimed victory, but reports
later circulated that party members had filtered back into the area with
articles from the 1990s show that Osama bin Laden represents only the tip of the
iceberg. Quetta's mainly Pashtoon shop owners called a strike to protest the
raid. It was the second strike that week against the recently installed military
regime of General Pervez Musharraf. For the previous two days owners had shut
their businesses to protest the regime's plan to tax the cross-border smuggling
of computer parts, fuel, automatic weapons, and much other contraband on which
the province's economy depends -- as it depends on the heroin trade. The week I
was in Quetta, there was also a series of bomb blasts in government buildings,
relating to the arrests of a hundred members of an ethnic-Baluch clan who were
wanted in connection with the murder of a judge. A few weeks before that two
bombs had gone off inside army bases in Quetta. Musharraf's regime was trying to
extend taxation and the rule of law to this tribal area hard by Afghanistan, and
it was encountering stiff resistance. Chiefs here were nervous about Musharraf's
plan to hold local elections, which could threaten
"The government wants to destroy
the tribal system, but there are no institutions to replace it," the head
of the Raisani tribe, Nawabzada Mir Lashkari Raisani, told me inside his walled
compound, which was protected by white-turbaned bodyguards armed with
Kalashnikovs. "Much of my time is spent deciding cases that in another
country would be handled by family courts," he said, as we devoured mounds
of rice and spicy grilled meats laid out on a carpet in his residence. "The
tribes are large social-welfare networks. The government wants us to stop
smuggling, and that will cause huge social distress."
The Raisanis, numbering some 20,000,
speak a Dravidian language of southern India -- unlike the Turco-Iranian
Baluchis and the Indo-Aryan Pashtoons, whose languages borrow heavily from
Persian. The Raisanis are traditional enemies of the Bugtis, an ethnic-Baluch
tribe. "I will not disarm, because I do not trust the government to protect
me," Mir Lashkari told me. He added, "Only the army needs
Pakistan." The tribes and ethnic groups, he said, can defend themselves
without the state. Indeed, the
international arms bazaar and the unrestricted flow of drugs and electronic
goods have increased the tribes' autonomy.
Inside Mir Lashkari's compound,
surrounded by a sandpaper desert and bare saw-toothed escarpments, it occurred
to me that a topographical map would explain, at least partially, why both
military and democratic governments in Pakistan have failed, even as India's
democracy has gone more than half a century without a coup -- and why, I
believe, Pakistan and its problems will for the next few years generate
Pakistan, in fact, could be a
Yugoslavia in the making, but with nuclear weapons. In the Balkans the collapse
of both communist authoritarianism and the Cold War security structure unleashed
disintegrative tribal forces. But in South Asia globalization itself could bring
collapse. South Asia illustrates that globalization is not a uniform coat of
paint. It can lead to war and chaos as easily as to prosperity and human rights.
Just as the media's fascination with Poland, Hungary, and the rest of Central
Europe after the collapse of the Berlin Wall obscured for a time the dissolution
that had already begun in Yugoslavia, the current consternation over the
extremist government in Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden, and the fighting in Kashmir obscures the core issue of South Asia: the
institutional meltdown of Pakistan. And as was true of Yugoslavia, it is the
bewildering complexity of ethnic and religious divisions that makes Pakistan so
fragile. My comparison to 1980s Yugoslavia, a place that I also saw firsthand,
is not casual. In both cases it was the very accumulation of disorder and irrationality that was so striking and
that must be described in detail -- not merely stated -- to be understood.
PAKISTAN covers the desert frontier of the Subcontinent. [This unruly
desert frontier is what a Punjabi elite and a sprinkling of Mujahirs like Genral
Musharaf are trying to rule. Having nothing in common, Pakistan is trying to
forge a national identity based on hatred of India and everything she stands. By
this, the Punjabis and the Mujahirs are rejecting their identity and becoming
more and more like the frontiersmen who hate them.] British civil administration
extended only to Lahore, in the fertile Punjab, near Pakistan's eastern border
with India; its Mogul architecture, gardens, and rich bazaars give Lahore a
closer resemblance to the Indian cities of New Delhi and Calcutta than to any
other place in Pakistan. But the rest of Pakistan -- the rugged Afghan-border
regions of Baluchistan and the North-West Frontier Province, the alkaline
wasteland of Sind, and the Hindu Kush and Karakoram Mountains embracing Kashmir
-- has never been subdued by the British or anyone else. This area was grossly
underdeveloped compared with British India; the few entrepreneurs were Hindus,
who fled after Partition, in 1947. Even Karachi, now Pakistan's business center
and a city of 14 million riddled by sectarian violence, was only an isolated
settlement on the Arabian Sea when the British departed. Karachi's lack of the
prideful identity and civilizing urbanity found in Lahore and the great cities
of India helps to explain its current unrest. Islamabad, Pakistan's sterile
capital, with its vast, empty avenues lined with Mogul-cum-Stalinist structures,
was not built until the 1960s.
When seven million Muslim refugees,
fleeing India, created Pakistan, the role of the military became paramount, by
necessity. The refugees were consumed by the need to manage enormous and unruly
borderlands and by fear of their much larger, Hindu-dominated neighbor.
Furthermore, with local tribal and ethnic identities so strong, civilian
politics became a bureaucratic forum for revenge and unsavory tradeoffs. In the
ancient tribal and feudal cultures of the region leaders bartered water wells
and tracts of desert; in the new state they bartered flour mills, electricity
grids, and transport systems.
Thinking purely in terms of blood and
territory comes naturally in Quetta, a cinder-block jumble of shops whose
outskirts are composed of walled tribal compounds and Afghan refugee camps.
Since Afghanistan erupted into war, in the late 1970s, and refugees poured
across the border, Quetta has increasingly become an Afghan city inside
Pakistan. Cheap, Western-style polyesters have taken over much of the Third
World, but in Quetta nearly everyone still wears traditional shalwar kameez:
baggy cotton pants and a long, flowing shirt, with a blanket over the shoulder
for praying and sleeping. The Baluch are identified by their grandiose white
turbans, the Pashtoons from southern Afghanistan by smaller, darker ones, and
the Pashtoons from northern Afghanistan by flat woolen caps called pakols. In
addition there are Asian-looking Uzbeks and Shia Hazaras -- descendants of
Genghis Khan's Mongols who settled in central Afghanistan before becoming
I had last visited Quetta in 1988,
when it was a clean, relatively quiet place of fewer than 500,000 people. Now it
was noisy and dirty, crowded with beggars and drug addicts, and its population
was unofficially estimated at 1.2 million. A three-year drought afflicting
southern Asia from Afghanistan to India had provoked an exodus from the
surrounding desert into the city. The delightful water channels I remembered
from the 1980s are now dry and filled with crud. Traveling outside Quetta, I saw
empty riverbeds and dam catchments. Desperate men equipped with nothing but
shovels dug ninety-foot-deep wells in the 110° heat, searching for water near
Hanna Lake, which was once beautiful and full, and is now brown and diminished.
With irrigation canals dry, aquifers are being depleted by overuse. Agriculture
is in decline because of the water shortage, with cultivation reduced in many
areas by 70 percent. Political disorder and mismanagement have blocked new
industry and investment.
Pakistan's Afghan-border region --
1,000 miles long and 100 miles wide -- is a deathly volcanic landscape of crags
and winding canyons where the tropical floor of the Subcontinent pushes upward
into the high, shaved wastes of Central Asia, and where desert and mountain
tribesmen replace the darker-skinned people in the cities. From Baluchistan
north through the "tribal agencies" of Waziristan, Kurram, Orakzai,
Khyber, Mohmand, and Bajaur -- near Peshawar, the destitute capital of the
North-West Frontier Province -- one finds an anarchic realm of highwaymen,
religious and tribal violence, heroin laboratories, and weapons smuggling.
Here the religious extremism and
disorder begot by two decades of war in Afghanistan merge with the troubles in
Pakistan. With 148 million people, Pakistan is the world's seventh largest
nation, and its annual population-growth rate of 2.6 percent will make it the
third most populous nation by 2050, behind India and China -- if it still
exists. Afghanistan and Pakistan should be seen as one political unit. This is a
result of Pakistan's heavy involvement in the Afghan guerrilla struggle against
Soviet occupation forces in the 1980s and in the rise of Afghanistan's Taliban
extremists afterward. But geography and British colonial history are factors
No border here could be natural. The
transition from the steamy lowlands of the Subcontinent to the high moonscapes
of Central Asia is gradual. The Pashtoons controlling the frontier zone of
eastern and southern Afghanistan have never accepted the arbitrary boundary
between Afghanistan and colonial India drawn in 1893 by the British envoy, Sir
Mortimer Durand. Moreover, the British bequeathed to the Pakistanis the belt of
anarchic territories they called tribal agencies, which lie to the east of the
Durand Line. This had the effect of further confusing the boundary between
settled land and the chaos of Afghanistan. Pakistani governments have always
felt besieged -- not only by India but also by Afghan tribesmen. In order to
fight India, in the Pakistani view, it is necessary to dominate Afghanistan. But
this Pakistan has never been able to accomplish. The story of the lawless
frontier, and of its emerging importance as a crisis point, is the story of
failure: the failure of a sophisticated people from the industrial and
agricultural plain of Punjab -- the Pakistani military and political elite -- to
dominate an unreconstructed tribal people of the high desert. [Sic: It never
occurred to the self-same ‘sophisticated’ Pakistani elite and leadership
that the solution to this problem lay in friendship with India. But this would
cost Pakistan its identity.]
WHEN the explosions and gunfire
awakened me in Quetta, I was staying at the home of a friend, Hamed Karzai, who
from 1992 to 1994 had been Afghanistan's first deputy foreign minister. At that
time Afghanistan was governed by the mujahideen, the "holy warriors"
who had defeated the Soviets. That was before the emergence of the radical
Taliban ("Knowledge Seekers"), of whom Karzai is now an outspoken
opponent. Not only was the iron gate outside his home bolted at night, with an
armed Afghan on duty, but Karzai insisted that a former mujahideen commander
guard the door of my room. I forgave Karzai his anxiety on my behalf. In July of
last year his father was assassinated while walking home from evening prayers at
a nearby mosque; the gunman escaped on a waiting motorbike. The murder, together
with many others in Pakistan's borderland, was attributed to the Taliban.
Karzai, forty-two, is Afghan royalty.
He is tall and olive-complexioned, with a clipped salt-and-pepper beard and a
starched shalwar kameez. The slope of his bald head and nose gives him the look
of an eagle. After the murder of his father Karzai inherited the title khan
("head") of the 500,000-strong Popolzai -- the Pashtoon clan of Ahmad
Shah Durrani, the Persian army commander who conquered the southern Afghan city
of Kandahar and in 1747 became the first king of Afghanistan. Because tribal
position is of great importance in Afghan society, the mujahideen always trusted
the Westernized and moderate Karzai. The same went for the Taliban, who sought
him out long before they seized power and later offered him the post of United
"The Taliban were good, honest
people," Karzai told me over green Afghan tea and almonds. "They were
connected to the madrassas [Islamic academies] in Quetta and Peshawar, and were
my friends from the jihad [holy war] against the Soviets. They came to me in
May, 1994, saying, 'Hamed, we must do something about the situation in Kandahar.
It is unbearable.' I had no reservations about helping them. I had a lot of
money and weapons left over from the jihad. I also helped them with political
legitimacy. It was only in September of 1994 that others began to appear at the
meetings-- silent ones I did not
recognize, people who took over the Taliban movement. That was the hidden hand
of Pakistani intelligence."
I heard versions of this story from
several former commanders of the jihad, who told me how they had supported the
Taliban only to be deceived by the Pakistani intelligence agents who were behind
the movement. These incomplete and somewhat self-serving accounts encapsulated
much complicated history. By early 1994 Afghanistan was in disarray. The
mujahideen who warred against the Soviets had been a motley collection of seven
Pakistan-based resistance groups, divided by region, clan, politics, and
religious ideology. Worse, the resistance commanders inside Afghanistan had only
the loosest of links to the seven groups. For them, party affiliation was merely
a matter of access to weaponry -- the groups were awash in guns and money,
provided by the CIA through Pakistan's Inter-Services intelligence (ISI). Thus
when the Soviet-backed Afghan regime collapsed in Kabul, the capital, in 1992,
Afghanistan became a writhing nest of petty warlords who fought and negotiated
with one another for small chunks of territory. Girls and young boys were raped
and traded between commanders. The situation was especially bad in Kandahar. The
road leading to it from Quetta was shared by at least twenty factions, each of
which put a chain across the road and demanded tolls.
there were also honest commanders, backwoodsmen who lived by a primitive creed
called Pashtoonwali -- "the way of the Pashtoons," a code more severe
even than Koranic law. While emphasizing hospitality and chivalry, Pashtoonwali
demands blood vengeance on fellow Muslims for killing and punishes adultery
based on hearsay alone. In addition to these commanders there were hordes of
young boys who had grown up in crowded refugee camps in Quetta and Peshawar,
where they were educated in madrassas supported by Saudi Arabia. The schools
taught a more ideological and austere brand of Islam than the ones practiced in
the mountains of Afghanistan, where before the Soviet occupation religion had
been a natural outgrowth of rural life. (In the mountains women need not always
wear veils, for example, because in the course of a day the only males they
encounter are their relatives.) In the urban anonymity of Pakistani cities and
adjacent refugee camps religion was reinvented in harsher form, to preserve
values suddenly under attack.
The communist ideology brought to
Afghanistan by the Soviet occupation had required an equally harsh response, and
throughout the 1980s and early 1990s the madrassas for Afghan refugees in
Pakistan provided it. The fierce brand of Islam they taught was not just a
reaction to urban conditions but also a result of evolving and intertwining
Saudi and Pakistani philosophies. In the
Afghan refugee academies Saudi Wahabism merged (as it did nowhere else) with the
Deobandism of the Subcontinent. [Sic: A
fine insight!] Wahabism arose in the Arabian peninsula in the eighteenth
century with the teachings of Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahab, who led a puritanical
reaction against what he considered lax observance. Deobandism takes its name
from the village of Deoband, outside New Delhi, where in the nineteenth century
an Islamic academy developed an orthodox pan-Islam in reaction against British
As Afghanistan fell apart in an orgy
of banditry, madrassa students in Pakistan came into contact with uncorrupted
backwoodsmen inside Afghanistan; together they filled the vacuum in authority.
One of the backwoodsmen was Mullah Mohammed Omar, a mujahideen commander who is
said to have ignited the Taliban revolt, in early 1994, by leading a small force
in Kandahar that captured and hanged from the barrel of a tank a fellow
commander guilty of raping two girls.
The Taliban rose and swept across
late-twentieth-century Afghanistan much as Islam itself had swept across
seventh-century Arabia and North Africa, filling the void left by the anarchy
and decadence of waning Byzantine rule. In the process of overrunning 80 percent
of the country, the Taliban captured Kabul, in 1996. There they carried out
amputations and stonings and seized the Soviet puppet ruler of Afghanistan,
Najibullah, from a United Nations compound, castrating and jeep-dragging him
before hanging him from a traffic post.
The atrocities demonstrated the
Taliban obsession with the notion that the city, with its foreign influences, is
the root of all evil. In the recently published Taliban the journalist Ahmed
Rashid writes that because many of the Taliban are orphans of war, who have
never known the company of women, they have retreated into a male brotherhood
reminiscent of the Crusaders. Indeed, the most dangerous movements are often
composed of war orphans, who, being unsocialized, are exceptionally brutal (the
Khmer Rouge, in Cambodia, and the Revolutionary United Front, in Sierra Leone,
are two examples). Of course, the longer wars go on, the more orphans are
The Taliban embody a lethal
combination: a primitive tribal creed, a fierce religious ideology, and the
sheer incompetence, naiveté, and cruelty that are begot by isolation from the
outside world and growing up amid war without parents. They are also an example
of gobalization, influenced by imported pan-Islamic ideologies and supported
economically by both Osama bin Laden's worldwide terrorist network (for whom
they provide a base) and a multibillion-dollar smuggling industry in which ships
and trucks bring consumer goods from the wealthy Arabian Gulf emirate of Dubai
(less a state than the world's largest shopping mall) through Iran and
Afghanistan and on to Quetta and Karachi.
The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan
also relied on crucial help from Pakistan. By 1994 Pakistan was tiring of its
Afghan mujahideen puppet, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Throughout the 1980s and early
1990s its Inter-Services Intelligence had channeled more arms and money from the
CIA to Hekmatyar's radical-fundamentalist faction than to any of the more
moderate mujahideen groups. Hekmatyar was young, charismatic, highly educated,
and power-hungry. Yet his attraction for the ISI lay in the fact that he had
little grassroots support inside Afghanistan itself and was thus beholden to the
Pakistanis. The continuing anarchy in Afghanistan after the departure of the
Soviets showed the fundamental flaw in the ISI's policy. Hekmatyar could never
consolidate power to the extent Pakistan required in order to safeguard its land
routes to the new oil states of Central Asia -- routes that would create a
bulwark of Muslim states that could confront India.
It was a democratically elected Prime
Minister, Benazir Bhutto, along with her Interior Minister, the retired general
Naseerullah Babar, who conceived of the Taliban as a solution to Pakistan's
problem. [Sic: Bhutto the great
strategic thinker! So the ‘problem’ of Pakistan existed even in her time.]
Through the ISI the Bhutto government began to provide the Taliban with money,
fuel, subsidized wheat, vehicles, weapons, and volunteers from Pakistan's
madrassas. It also linked Afghanistan to Pakistan's telephone grid. [Sic: It is interesting that Pakistani leaders — even Westernized
ones like Bhutto — have no vision beyond Islam.]
But the Taliban won't play the role
of puppet. And Afghanistan's religious extremism is accelerating Pakistan's,
through the network of madrassas. Furthermore, the future of the Taliban
themselves is uncertain. They have restored security in Afghanistan by disarming
much of the countryside, but they have built no institutions to sustain their
rule -- and 70 percent of working-age Afghans are jobless. Just as the Taliban
rose and spread like Islam itself, they could also descend into disorderly power
struggles, much like the medieval Muslim rulers who followed the prophet
Mohammed. Ultimately, the Taliban are tribal Pashtoons from the southern and
eastern Afghan borderlands -- an anarchic mountain people who have ground up one
foreign invader after another, defying attempts by the Moguls, the Sikhs, the
British, the Soviets, and the Pakistanis to control them. As Mahauddin, a
white-robed Pashtoon cleric from southwestern Afghanistan, told me in Karzai's
home, "We are thirsty for a pure Afghan government, a loya jirga [grand
council of tribal chiefs] without Russia or the ISI to influence us." In
fact, with mujahideen field commanders no longer getting CIA money and weapons
through the ISI, power in Afghanistan is inexorably gravitating back to the
tribal heads. For example, commanders of Popolzai descent who were loyal to
Hekmatyar and the other mujahideen party leaders have returned to Karzai's fold,
which is why he is so troublesome to the Taliban and their Pakistani backers --
and why Quetta is dangerous for Karzai.
hundred miles north of Quetta lies Peshawar, at the eastern end of the Khyber
Pass -- the fabled gateway connecting Central Asia to the Subcontinent, which in
our day means connecting Afghanistan to Pakistan. Here the religious disputes
that run parallel to tribal divides come more clearly into focus. In the late
1970s Peshawar went from being a quaint backwater whose bazaars were
interspersed with stately lawns and red-brick mansions in Anglo-Indian Gothic
style to becoming a geopolitical fault line. Afghan refugees poured through the
Khyber Pass by the millions, escaping the Soviet invasion. At the same time, the
Iranian revolution closed off an important route for drug smugglers, who began
transporting locally produced heroin eastward through the Khyber Pass and down
to the port of Karachi. Peshawar's population doubled to a million. Throughout
the 1980s war, crime, and urbanization generated an intolerant religiosity.
Returning to Peshawar for the first
time in more than a decade, I found an even more crowded, poor, and polluted
city than the one I remembered. It was also more Afghan. In the 1980s Peshawar's
Afghan population consisted of refugees from the rural hinterlands. But from
1992 to 1994, when a civil war among the mujahideen destroyed Kabul with mortar
fire and rocket-propelled grenades, the sophisticated urbanites of the Afghan
capital migrated to Peshawar. Unlike the rural refugees, these people had an
exportable cosmopolitan culture, and this added another layer of change to
Peshawar. Now there are many more Afghan restaurants and carpet shops and
nightclubs for Afghan music -- especially owing to the Taliban ban on music in
Kabul. There are also many Afghan prostitutes, fairer-skinned and reputed to be
more compliant than their Pakistani counterparts. The presence of educated
Afghans made me realize that the very element of the population most averse to
Taliban rule was now absent from Afghanistan, reducing the likelihood of an
In the 1980s traveling outside
Peshawar into the tribal agencies of the North-West Frontier Province was easy
for journalists, because the Pakistani regime encouraged news coverage of the
mujahideen struggle against the Soviets in Afghanistan. This time it took me
several days to get a permit to travel from Peshawar into the Orakzai and Kurram
tribal agencies, which in recent years have been plagued by communal violence
between members of the Sunni and Shia sects of Islam. The permit was valid only
provided that I was accompanied by an armed escort of local tribal militia.
The road south and west of Peshawar
runs past squalid mud-brick and wattle stalls crowded with bearded and turbaned
Pashtoon men; the women, concealed under burkas, resemble moving tents. The sky
is polluted by a greasy haze of black smoke from tire-fed fires, used to bake
mud bricks. The odor in each town is a rich mixture of dung, hashish, grilled
meat, and diesel oil -- and also cordite in Darra Adam Khel, where Pashtoons
work at foot-powered lathes producing local copies of Kalashnikovs and other
assault rifles. In one shop, whose glass cases were filled with rifles, pistols,
and bullet magazines, I met Haji Mohammed Zaman Khan, a local tribal leader.
Haji Zaman wore a bulbous red cloth hat with an ostentatious bow around it-- the
signature of the Afridi, a branch of the Pashtoons thought to be descended from Greek soldiers of Alexander the Great's army, which came
down the Khyber Pass. Here, as in Quetta, all the stores had been closed in
protest against the military government's plan to tax the smuggling trade. Haji
Zaman explained, "The government tries to stop production of opium poppies,
our only cash crop. It wants to ban the transport of guns, which will make
thousands jobless. “Smuggling is the only means of survival we have left. Why
doesn't the government raise money from the corrupt? When we see that the
corrupt are being punished, then maybe we will trust the government."
By "the corrupt," Zaman
meant officials of previous democratic governments who are under investigation
for taking billions of dollars in bribes and depositing them in foreign bank
accounts. Throughout Baluchistan and the North-West Frontier, I heard calls for
revenge against those officials. No one with whom I spoke voiced any interest in
national elections, which are very tentatively scheduled to take place in three
years; political analysts in Islamabad call them a dead issue among the masses,
though only for now.
Beyond Darra Adam Khel the landscape
consisted of naked rock, heat, and haze. High temperatures had come a month
early, with 110° common by early May, and there had been no seasonal rains to
cool the ground. I saw women in
burkas searching for water trickling through otherwise dry gravel beds.
Low-walled fortresses of red brick were scarred with graffiti that read, in
English and Urdu, LONG LIVE OSAMA BIN LADEN and WE WANT ISLAMIC LAW. Throughout
the tribal lands of Pakistan people are naming their newborns
Osama. To these people, Bin Laden represents an Islamic David against a
global American Goliath. It is the American government's promotion of Bin Laden
as a formidable enemy that helps to give him credibility here. To the poor, he
embodies the idea that only strict Islam has the power to vanquish the advancing
materialism of the West. In the nearby tribal agency of Waziristan, Pakistani
members of the Taliban have been destroying television sets, videos, and other
reminders of the West. Bin Laden's terrorist organization, with operatives on
several continents, is both a symptom of and a reaction against globalization.
Parachinar, the largest town in the
Kurram tribal agency, was a small market center twelve years ago. Now it is a
crowded city of 300,000, characterized by brutal concrete, electricity outages,
water shortages, battles over property rights, and terrorism powered by guns
that are filtering back into Pakistan from Afghanistan. When I asked the
assistant political agent for Kurram, Massoud Urrahma, if military rule had made
a difference, he replied dismissively, "Whether the government in Islamabad
is military or democratic doesn't matter. We have no civil law here -- only
Pashtoon tribal law."
The Pashtoon population of Kurram is
split between Sunnis and Shias. In September of 1996 a gun battle among teenage
members of the two rival Muslim sects escalated into a communal war in which
more than 200 people were killed and women and children were kidnapped. A
paramilitary official said that the atrocities were out of "the Stone
Age"; militants even executed out-of-towners who were staying at a local
hotel. Now the situation in Parachinar is peaceful but extremely tense.
Paramilitaries guard the streets around the Sunni and Shia mosques, which stand
nearly side by side, their minarets scarred by bullet holes. Only a few weeks
before my visit seventeen people had been killed in violence between Sunnis and
Shias in another tribal region of the North-West Frontier.
"The Shias are eighty percent of
the Kurram agency, "the Shia leader in Parachinar, Mohammed Anwar, told me.
"The problems have all been caused by Afghan refugees who support the
Sunnis." Yet the Sunni leader, Haji Asghar Din, claims that 75 percent of
the local population is Sunni. He told me that Sunnis cannot buy land from Shias
-- "so how can we consider them our brothers?" The only certainty is
that Parachinar, hemmed in by the Safed Koh Mountains on the Afghan border, has
little more room to expand. A high birth rate and a flood of Afghan refugees
have intensified the property conflicts. Population growth has also weakened the
power of tribal elders and created extremist youth factions. The lack of water
and electricity has increased anger. Meanwhile, the government schools are
abysmal -- often without teachers, books, and roofs. The poor, who form the
overwhelming majority, cannot afford the private academies, so they send their
children to Sunni and Shia madrassas, where students are well cared for and
indoctrinated with sectarian beliefs.
Every person I interviewed was sullen
and reticent. One day a crowd of men surrounded me and led me to the back of a
pharmacy, where they took turns denouncing America and telling me that the
Taliban were good because they had restored security to Afghanistan, ending
mujahideen lawlessness. The "external hand of India" was to blame for
the local troubles between Sunnis and Shias here, I was told. Conspiracy
theories, I have noticed, are inflamed by illiteracy: people who can't read rely
on hearsay. In Pakistan the adult literacy rate is below 33 percent. In the
tribal areas it is below that. As for the percentage of women in Parachinar who
can read, I heard figures as low as two percent; nobody really knows.
TRIBAL and religious unrest in
Pakistan is aggravated by terrible living conditions and divisive nationalisms.
These are most clearly seen in Karachi, far to the south, on the Arabian Sea.
Traditionless, dysfunctional, and unstable, Karachi is an unfortunately apt
metaphor for Pakistan's general condition. Only a quarter of the 14 million
residents are native to Sind, the region around Karachi, and are themselves
migrants from the drought-stricken interior. The rest are immigrants from
elsewhere on the Subcontinent. At least a quarter of the populace lives in
katchiabaadis, "temporary houses" built haphazardly of corrugated
iron, cinder blocks, wattle, burlap, and cardboard, with stones and tires
anchoring their rattling roofs. Vistas of these houses go on for miles.
Some katchiabaadi neighborhoods have
existed for decades; they have shops, teahouses, and makeshift playgrounds.
Goats wander everywhere. Children and adults sift through mounds of garbage in
search of items to recycle. "The water situation is getting worse;
electricity and other infrastructure are hopeless," a foreign expert told
me. "The entire foundation of life here is imploding -- except, of course,
in the neighborhoods where people have lots of money."
Most Third World cities manifest
dramatic contrasts between rich and poor. But in no other place have I seen rich
and poor live in such close and hostile proximity as in Karachi. On one street a
grimy warren of katchiabaadis lay to my right, and a high wall guarding luxury
villas and a Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet lay to my left. Karachi's villas look
like embassies, with guards, barbed wire, iron grilles, and beautiful
bougainvillaea and jacaranda trees adorning stucco ramparts. The villas, with
their satellite dishes for watching CNN, MTV, and other international channels,
symbolize a high-end kind of globalization; the katchiabaadis -- so much like
the slums I have seen throughout the developing world -- a low-end kind.
During the week that I was in Karachi
in May, seven vehicles, including a bus, were set afire by rampaging youths, who
also broke windows at a McDonald's and a Kentucky Fried Chicken. Seven other
vehicles were carjacked. Bombs exploded near a police station and in the central
business district, killing one person and injuring six others. Three people were
murdered by unidentified assailants. As in Baluchistan and the North-West
Frontier Province, political, ethnic, and religious reasons are given for the
violence. But the evidence is often murky. Seeing how people lived in Karachi, I
wondered if sheer rage might have much to do with it. I consider it a triumph of
the human spirit, in fact, that there is not more violence here: the day that
the youths went rampaging was the tenth in succession without water for part of
the city. The wealthy have their own private water tanks, water-distribution
network, and generators.
More than 4,000 people have been
killed and more than 10,000 wounded in Karachi since the mid-1980s, when the
city began to overflow with weapons from the Afghan war and communal fighting
broke out between Pashtoons and two generations of mohajirs, Muslim refugees
from India. In the late 1980s and the 1990s mohajirs and Sindhis fought each
other here and elsewhere in Sind. In the first ten months of 1998 there were 629
murders in Karachi committed by what a local magazine called "unaffiliated
contract killers"; none was solved by the police. Mobile phones were banned
in the 1990s, because urban guerrillas were using them. Wire services dutifully
report all the violence in Karachi, and in Baluchistan and the North-West
Frontier, too. The reports are rarely picked up by the American media.
Just as the yearning for an
independent Pashtoonistan is ever present in the Afghan borderlands, in southern
Pakistan some Sindhis long for an independent Sind. Sind has been inhabited for
6,000 years, and although the Sindhis are a mixture of Arabs, Persians, and
other passing conquerors, they retain a strong cultural identity. But the idea
of a stable, independent Sind is ludicrous, given the enmity between Sunnis and
Shias that I saw in Karachi. I drove through a mishmash of gleaming high-rises,
katchiabaadis, and sloppily constructed overpasses to arrive at a guarded house
where a man introduced himself as a "retired school principal" and a
"moderate Shia." Surrounded by his friends, he told me, "They'll
kill us if you identify us by name."
General Musharraf, Pakistan's new
ruler, "is a serious, humane man, but he has arrived too late to save
Pakistan," the Shia leader explained. "With life getting worse
materially, religion is more enticing, and tensions between us and the Sunni
extremists are on the rise." The man spoke at length about universal love,
honor, and tolerance in a very soft and patient tone, while offering me tea and
dainty sweets. He gave me several books that laid out the Shia view of Muslim
history -- doctrines, he told me, that had gotten his friends murdered. Nothing
he said seemed offensive or narrow-minded. Rather, it was the obsession with
Shi'ism itself that was the problem. His orthodoxy conflicted with others in a
land where poverty is stark, ignorance and conspiracy-mongering are widespread,
and the state itself is weak.
Next I visited the Sunnis. I drove
through another succession of katchiabaadis to a bleak industrial zone, where I
left the car and banged at an iron gate. Inside was a complex of school
buildings with armed security guards. One of the guards led me to a room with a
wall-to-wall carpet that had just been vacuumed. People sat on the floor with
cushions behind them, in the traditional Oriental fashion. All had beards,
skullcaps, and spotless white robes. The low glass coffee tables had just been
polished. After the filth of so much of Karachi, I couldn't help being
I noticed security cameras mounted
over all the doors. After removing my shoes, I was brought an ice-cold Pepsi.
Then I was ushered into another spotless room, also with a vacuumed rug. Behind
a low glass desk in a corner I saw three closed-circuit television screens, a
speakerphone, headphones, a VCR, and a computer. A tiny, pudgy man with a gray
beard and fashionable glasses, wearing a skullcap and a white shalwar kameez,
entered the room. "Will you excuse me while I say my prayers?" he
asked. I waited as he knelt on the floor and prayed. Then he sat down behind the
desk, turned on the television screens, put on the headphones, and proceeded to
observe two classes in progress, giving orders to the teachers over the
speakerphone while monitoring the entrance on a third screen. Speaking in a
finely enunciated blend of Urdu and Arabic, he seemed both meticulous and
Mufti Mohammed Naeem is the rector of
the Jamia Binoria, a "society" of Islamic madrassas linked to the
extreme Wahabi and Deobandi traditions. (Masood
Azhar, a militant whom India jailed for fanning Islamic separatism in Kashmir
and was forced to release after an airline hijacking last December, studied in
one of these academies.) Mufti Naeem rattled off statistics for me: the Jamia
Binoria has 2,300 students, ages eight through twenty, from thirty countries,
including the United States. The twelve-acre campus includes a hotel and a
supermarket. Separate accommodations and cafeterias are provided for boys and
girls. "The girls arrive from abroad with skirts, but now they are fully
covered," he said breezily. "We have changed their minds." He
explained that although the foreign students paid tuition, the poor of the
katchiabaadis were educated without charge. Yes, he had a Web site. As he spoke,
he fielded calls and kept checking the television monitors.
"What do you teach?" I
"Islam, not math or anything
else, only Islam." Mufti Naeem called in a number of foreign students. One,
a teenage American boy from Los Angeles, explained, "We only study those
sciences -- such as grammar, Arabic linguistics, and jurisprudence -- that help
us understand Islam." When I asked the students what they planned to do
when they returned home, they all said, "Propagate Islam." Some of the
Americans came from Muslim backgrounds; others were Christians who had
converted. The Americans agreed that the United States was a land of decadence
and materialism for which only the prophet Mohammed had the answer.
The most significant aspect of the
madrassa was the service it provided for the poor. Here was the one school in
Karachi, a local analyst told me, where the children of the katchiabaadis were
fed, educated, protected, and even loved. Mufti Naeem said, "The state is
bathed in corruption. The teachers at the government schools are unqualified.
They get their jobs through political connections. We, not the government, are
educating the common people. And we are putting all our efforts into training
those who will spread Islam."
According to the Human Rights
Commission of Pakistan, many of the country's public schools are "ghost
schools" that exist only on paper. If there was one thing the military
regime could accomplish, I thought, it would be to force parents, particularly
in the backward tribal areas, to send their children, boys and girls, to school,
and to make the schools decent. But General Musharraf is not doing that. Nor is
he being pressured by the West to do it, even as the West spends its political
capital here demanding a return to the same parliamentary system that bankrupted
the country and resulted in the military coup. Given that the Subcontinent is a
nuclear battleground where defense budgets are skyrocketing, and at the same
time it is home to 45 percent of the world's illiterate people, I can see few
priorities for the United States higher than pressuring governments in the
region to improve primary education. Otherwise the madrassas will do it. What
was so frightening about Mufti Naeem was the way he used Western information-age
paraphernalia in the service of pan-Islamic absolutism.
PAKISTAN has never been well
governed. After the military fought its catastrophic war with India in 1971,
hopes were placed on the new democratic leader, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, a wealthy
landlord from Sind. But Bhutto turned out to be a divisive populist who sowed
fear with his security service and surrounded himself with sycophants. His 1977
re-election was marred by fraud; riots broke out and Bhutto declared martial
law. Soldiers fired on people in the streets. The military wasn't happy; the
army chief of staff, Zia ul-Haq, led a coup.
It was Zia who released the
fundamentalist genie: though moderate himself, he allied the military with Sunni
radicals in order to win support for his new regime. After his death, in 1988 in
an air crash that has yet to be explained, democracy returned with the election
of Bhutto's daughter, Benazir, as Prime Minister. Though educated at Harvard,
Benazir had no political or administrative experience and had made what by all
accounts was a disastrous marriage to Asif Ali Zardari, who later became her
Investment Minister. Zardari's large-scale theft of public funds undermined his
wife's government. Elections next brought the Punjabi businessman Nawaz Sharif
to power. Together with his brother, Shabaz, Sharif ran Pakistan as a family
enterprise; the brothers' reputation for taking huge kickbacks and other
financial malfeasance outdid even that of Benazir's cabinet. By his second term,
reportedly, Sharif was amassing so much money that it was feared that he could
perpetually buy off the members of the National Assembly and create a virtual
dictatorship. The Sharif and Bhutto governments stand accused of stealing $2
billion in public money, part of some $30 billion smuggled out of the country
during democratic rule.
When, last October, General Musharraf
toppled Sharif's government in a bloodless coup, the West saw it as a turn for
the worse. However, Pakistanis saw the accession of General Musharraf as a rare
positive development in a country where almost all trends are bad. The local
media are (at least for now) freer under the military than they were under
Sharif, whose aides frequently intimidated journalists. Musharraf has initiated
no extensive personality cult. He has said more to promote human rights than
have the officials of recent democratic governments, working to end such
abhorrent tribal and religious practices as "honor killings" and
"blasphemy laws" (though radical clerics have forced him to back down
on these issues). Mehnaz Akbar, of the private Asia Foundation, in Islamabad,
says, "This is the most liberal time ever in Pakistan."
Musharraf, an admirer of Mustafa
Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish Republic, is a like-minded
modernizer. He shakes hands with women in full public view, and one of the first
pictures taken of him after he assumed power shows him holding his two poodles,
even though dogs are considered unclean by traditional Muslims. Most important,
as one Pakistani journalist told me, "Musharraf speaks with conviction and
people believe him, whereas Benazir, though an intellectual, was never
believed." [Sic: What
President Bill Clinton's visit to
Pakistan in March was not a public-relations success. Clinton, who was opposed
to the military take-over, refused to shake hands with Musharraf for the
television cameras. A day later Pakistanis saw Clinton, on television in Geneva,
clasping the hands of the Syrian dictator Hafez al-Assad -- whose regime, they
knew, was far more repressive than that of any Pakistani military ruler since
the founding of their state.
Musharraf is characterized in the
West as a dictator who supports fundamentalist terrorists in Afghanistan and
Kashmir and who is not moving fast enough to restore democracy. The truth is
somewhat different. Musharraf, one of the last British-style aristocratic
officers in the Pakistani army, is a man in the middle. The West demands that he
stop supporting Islamic militants; his fellow generals, who carried out the coup
in his name, are Islamic hardliners, capable of staging another coup if
Musharraf puts too much distance between himself and the Taliban and the Muslim
fighters in Kashmir. Moreover, some analysts in Islamabad worry that Musharraf
might be moving too fast on too many fronts in his drive to reform Pakistan. In
addition to promoting human rights, a free press, and local elections that
threaten tribal mafias, he has challenged the smugglers throughout Baluchistan
and the North-West Frontier. As the gun battle I saw in Quetta demonstrated,
Musharraf has struck hard against various ethnic nationalists and criminal
groups. Unlike previous anti-corruption drives in Pakistan's history,
Musharraf's has indiscriminately targeted officials from all political parties
and ethnic groups. And Musharraf has not relied on fundamentalist organizations
like the Maududi-influenced Jama'at-I-Islami ("Islamic Society") for
support, as Zia did. He has in fact alienated many vested interests, who have
the will and the means to fight back -- which is why, despite his liberal
instincts, Musharraf may yet declare martial law.
Even if Musharraf's reformist plans
succeed, one crucial element will remain: the military itself, which with its
own factories, agribusinesses, road-construction firms, schools, hotels, and so
on, constitutes a parallel state. No less than the civilian sector, the military
is mired in corruption, and yet it is exempt from investigations by the courts.
Tanvir Ahmad Khan, a former Foreign Secretary, told me that Pakistan's only hope
may be "a genuine hybrid system in which the army accepts responsibility
for poverty and illiteracy in return for limited political power." A
successful hybrid system, he went on, would "democratize the army."
Rifaat Hussain, who chairs the Department of Defense and Strategic Studies at
Quaid-Azam University, in Islamabad, agrees: "I will not rule out a formal
constitution on the Turkish model in order to create a national-security council
and give the army constitutional privileges. We must find a way to legally
stabilize civil-military relations."
PAKISTANI politics have been a
circular tale of passion in which one group of people imprisons or persecutes
another, only to be imprisoned or persecuted itself once political fortunes
change. Consider the story of Farouk Adam Khan. In 1973, as a
thirty-three-year-old army major, Adam led a coup against the elected Prime
Minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. The coup failed when one of the officers deeply
involved lost his nerve and reported the details to the Prime Minister himself.
Adam spent five years in prison, including, as he puts it, "thirteen
months, two days, and six hours" at Attock Fort, fifty miles west of
Islamabad, overlooking the Indus River, which was built by the Moguls in 1581 to
guard the Afghan frontier. Adam went on to become a lawyer in his native
Peshawar, where I met him in 1987. He is now the prosecutor-general of
Musharraf's National Accountability Bureau. I saw him again in May, back at
Attock Fort, where he was to arraign the former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on
After the proceedings in a
whitewashed barracks hall -- where fans whirred overhead and flies hovered and
the unfortunate Sharif pleaded for better food -- Adam pointed out the room
where he had read The Federalist Papers and John Stuart Mill's On Liberty in the semi-darkness of solitary confinement. "Those
books confirmed my judgment that I was absolutely justified to attempt a
coup," he told me. "Every single ingredient that the authors of those
books say is required for a civil society -- education, a moral code, a sense of
nationhood: you name it, we haven't got it! Just look at our history. It sounds
authoritarian, but we need someone who will not compromise in order to build a
state. It is not a matter of democracy but of willpower."
Adam's interpretation of Mill and the
Founding Fathers is certainly questionable. Yet fifty-three years after
independence only about one percent of Pakistanis pay any taxes at all: one can
empathize with his yearning for a functioning state. But I fear that Adam's
dreams may be impossible to realize, under either democracy or the
semi-authoritarian conditions he recommends. Musharraf may be better respected
by his countrymen than any other Pakistani leader in decades, but there is just
too much poverty and ignorance, too many ethnic and sectarian rivalries, too
many pan-Islamic influences, too many weapons filtering back from Afghanistan,
and too many tribal and smugglers' mafias able to challenge the military. As the
Shia leader in Karachi told me, Musharraf may simply be a good man who arrived
too late. Atatürk had decades to build Turkey -- time Musharraf doesn't have.
From the mottled-ocher battlements of
Attock Fort, I gazed down on the Indus River, which marks the geographic divide
between the Subcontinent and the marchlands of Central Asia. Mogul, Sikh, and
British conquerors, and then the new state of Pakistan, had all rearranged
borders, but the river still expressed a certain inexorable logic -- evinced by
the resentment that the Pashtoons of the North-West Frontier on one bank felt
for the more settled Punjabis on the other. Here, at this broad and majestic
crossing, is where India truly begins, I thought. A forty-five-minute drive east
of Attock lay Taxila, where amid the enervating heat and dust are the ruins of
Persian, Greek, Buddhist, and ancient Indian civilizations: a lesson in
history's transmutations, with one culture blending with and overturning
another. If there is any common thread, it is that India has always been invaded
from the northwest, from the direction of Afghanistan and Central Asia -- by
Muslim hordes like the Moguls, the builders of the Taj Mahal. And given the
turbulence within Islam itself, it is hard to believe that this region has seen
the last of its transformations -- or that Pakistan constitutes history's last
word in this unstable zone between mountains and plains.
At the end of my visit to Pakistan, I
sat with a group of journalists trying to fathom why Nawaz Sharif, when still
Prime Minister, had reportedly turned down an offer of several billion dollars
in aid from the United States in return for agreeing not to test nuclear
weapons. A Pakistani friend supplied the simple answer: "India had tested
them, so we had to. It would not have mattered who was Prime Minister or what
America offered. We have never defined
ourselves in our own right -- only in relation to India. That is our
The feebler the state becomes, the
more that nuclear weapons are needed to prove otherwise. At major intersections
in the main cities of Pakistan are fiberglass monuments to a rock that was
severed in 1998 by underground nuclear tests in the Baluchistan desert --
celebrating the achievement of nuclear power. Do
not expect Pakistan to pass quietly from history.
Copyright © 2000 by The Atlantic
Monthly Company. All rights reserved.
[TOP OF THE PAGE] [HOME] [CONTENTS]
In a Pakistani religious school called the Haqqania madrasa, Osama bin Laden is a hero, the Taliban's leaders are famous alumni and the next generation of mujahedeen is being militantly groomed.
About two hours east of the Khyber Pass, in the North-West Frontier
Province of Pakistan, alongside the Grand Trunk Road, sits a school called the
Haqqania madrasa. A madrasa is a Muslim religious seminary, and Haqqania is one
of the bigger madrasas in Pakistan: its mosques and classrooms and dormitories
are spread over eight weed-covered acres, and the school currently enrolls more
than 2,800 students. Tuition, room and board are free; the students are, in the
main, drawn from the dire poor, and the madrasa raises its funds from wealthy
Pakistanis, as well as from devout, and politically minded, Muslims in the
countries of the Persian Gulf.
The students range in age
from 8 and 9 to 30, sometimes to 35. The youngest boys spend much of their days
seated cross-legged on the floors of airless classrooms, memorizing the Koran.
This is a process that takes between six months and three years, and it is made
even more difficult than it sounds by the fact that the Koran they study is in
the original Arabic. These boys tend to know only Pashto, the language of the
Pathan ethnic group that dominates this region of Pakistan, as well as much of
nearby Afghanistan. In a typical class, the teachers sit on the floor with the
boys, reading to them in Arabic, and the boys repeat what the teachers say. This
can go on between four and eight hours each day.
What Westerners would think of as high-school-age and college-age
students are enrolled in an eight-year course of study that focuses on
interpretation of the Koran and of the Hadith, the sayings of the Prophet
Muhammad. These students also study Islamic jurisprudence and Islamic history.
The oldest of those attending Haqqania -- the postgraduates, if you will -- are
enrolled in the "mufti course." A mufti, in Islam, is a cleric who is
allowed to issue fatwas, or religious rulings, on matters ranging from family
law to the rules governing the waging of jihad, or "holy war." (One
room in the school's administration building houses upward of 100,000 fatwas
issued by the madrasa over the years.) There are about 600 students in the mufti
Very few of the students at the Haqqania madrasa study anything but
Islamic subjects. There are no world history courses, or math courses, or
computer rooms or science labs at the madrasa. The
Haqqania madrasa is, in fact, a jihad factory. This does not make it unique
in Pakistan. There are one million students studying in the country's 10,000 or
so madrasas, and militant Islam is at the core of most of these schools. Many
madrasas are village affairs, with student bodies of 25 or 50. Some of the
madrasas are sponsored by Pakistan's religious parties, and some are affiliated
with the mujahedeen groups waging jihad against India in the disputed province
Haqqania is notable not only because of its size, but also because it has
graduated more leaders of the Taliban, Afghanistan's ruling faction, than any
other school in the world, including any school in Afghanistan. The Taliban is
today known the world over for its harsh interpretation of Islamic law, its
cruelty to women and its kindness to terrorists -- the most notable one being
Osama bin Laden, the 42-year-old Saudi exile who the American government
believes was behind the bombings two years ago of the United States Embassies in
Kenya and Tanzania. The Taliban also seems to harbor a deep belief in the notion
of a never-ending jihad, which makes the Haqqania madrasa a focus of intense
interest in such capitals as Washington and Moscow and New Delhi and Jerusalem,
where the experts are trying to understand just what it is the Taliban and its
sympathizers want. At any given time, there are several hundred Afghan students
at the madrasa, along with dozens from such former Soviet republics as
Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, and a handful from Chechnya too. To those
who see wars like the one in Chechnya as expressions not only of nationalist
aspirations but of pan-Islamic ones as well -- to those who see a new Islamic
revolution on the horizon, a Sunni revolution a generation after the Shia
revolution that shook the world --
the foreign presence at Haqqania is not comforting.
The majority of Haqqania
students come from Pakistan itself, a fact that also worries officials in
Washington and Moscow and New Delhi and Jerusalem. Pakistan's Islamists are
becoming more and more radicalized -- Talibanized," some call it -- thanks
in part to madrasas like Haqqania, and Pakistan
is showing early signs of coming apart at the seams. Pakistan also happens
to be in possession of nuclear weapons. Many Muslim radicals say they believe
these weapons should become part of the arsenal of jihad. It turns out that many
of the Haqqania students, under careful tutelage, now believe it, too.
It is for all these reasons that on a hazy morning in March, I presented
myself at the office of the chancellor of the madrasa, a mullah named Samiul Haq,
in order to enroll myself in his school. My goal was simple: I wanted to see
from the inside just what this jihad factory was producing. Maulana Haq --
maulana means "our master" -- is a well-known Islamist with pronounced
anti-American views. He is a Deobandist, a follower of an Islamic movement born
in India in the days of the British Raj; it was a movement devoted to
anti-colonialism, and its outlook is not dissimilar to that of Wahhabism, the
austere, anti-modernist Saudi variant of Islamic fundamentalism embraced by
Osama bin Laden. The chancellor is a friend and supporter of bin Laden, and he
has granted an honorary degree -- the first and only in his school's history --
to Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader. Samiul Haq is also a politician, a former
senator who today leads a faction of the Jamiat-Ulema-Islami, the J.U.I., a
radical Islamic party seeking to impose Shariah, or Islamic law, in Pakistan.
The maulana, it is said, would like to see Pakistan become more like the
Afghanistan of his Taliban disciples.
Because of his views -- and because he is said to have endorsed a 1998
fatwa issued by bin Laden that called on Muslims to kill Americans wherever they
may be found -- I was not sure how well we would get along.
(When they got used to me, most of the students expressed interest in
talking about sex. I was asked whether American men were allowed by law to keep
boyfriends and girlfriends at the same time.)
I was made to wait outside his office for 20 minutes. Students would pass
by, shooting me looks ranging from the quizzical to the hostile. Eventually, I
was invited in by two of the maulana's sons, Hamed, who is 31, and Rashid, who
is 27 and in charge of designing the madrasa's Web page. We were joined by
several of the madrasa's teachers and students, and we made small talk while we
waited. One student, surprisingly, mentioned that my last name is the same as
that of a star of World Championship Wrestling.
The maulana came into the room in a rush, and sat down right beside me.
He is a man of 65. He was barefoot, and his toenails looked as if they were
covered with rust. He had a long beard dyed a kind of fluorescent brown, and a
loosely wrapped turban sat on his head. He has two wives and eight children, he
told me, and he seemed, right from the start, a very happy man. He dispensed
with small talk almost immediately, in order to let me know that I should feel
problem," he told me, through an interpreter, "is not between us
Muslims and Christians."
I knew where
this was going, but stayed silent.
only enemy Islam and Christianity have is the Jews," he said. "It was
the Jews who crucified Christ, you know. The Jews are using America to fight
Islam. Clinton is a good man, but he's surrounded by Jews. Madeleine Albright's
father was the founder of Zionism."
Jewish," I told him.
There was a
you are most welcome here," he said.
And so I was.
The maulana made me an offer: I could spend as much time as I wanted at
the madrasa, go wherever I wanted, talk to anybody I chose, even study the Koran
with him. He had a point he wanted to make, of course: his madrasa might be
Taliban U., but it was not a training camp for terrorists. Strictly speaking,
Haq was right: I never saw a weapon at the Haqqania madrasa. The closest guns
could be found across the Grand Trunk Road, at the Khyber Pass Armaments
Company, a gun store that sells shotguns for $40 and AK-47's for $70. And I
never heard a lecture about bomb making or marksmanship.
On the other hand, when the Taliban was faring badly not long ago in
battle against the northern alliance -- the holdout foe of the Taliban in
Afghanistan's seemingly endless civil war -- Haq closed down his school and sent
the students to the front. (He would not tell me how many never came back from
the front.) Classrooms were full when I visited Haqqania this spring. For a
cramped campus housing so many students, it was, most of the time, unusually
quiet. The hustle and energy of town life never seemed to intrude, and what
noise there was mostly came from the Grand Trunk Road, just outside the gates of
the school, where the horn and not the brake is the driver's primary defense
against accident, and buses and trucks compete for space with donkey carts and
the occasional camel train.
There were no TV's, no radios that I could see. The students woke up
before dawn, to pray in the madrasa's mosque. The dormitories were threadbare
and filthy, and there was no cafeteria, per se: students lined up at the kitchen
with their plates and spoons and were fed rice and curries and nan, the flat
Afghan bread. Suffice it to say, the students at the madrasa almost never see
women. There were no female teachers, no female cafeteria workers, no female
presence whatsoever at the madrasa. There is no such thing as parents' day, or
family day, when mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers come to visit. To
be sure, I did see, on occasion, a facsimile of what we in the West call student
life: like all Pakistanis, the young students are cricket fanatics, and in the
late afternoon, they would play on a dirt field across the road from the school.
There was a dusty patch and a net for volleyball too. But most of the day was
devoted to Islam.
Daily routine: All Islam, all
The youngest students interested me particularly. They had not yet been
armored in the hard-casing of jihadist ideology, and yet they seemed to
incorporate the politics of the madrasa into their play. Two 11-year-old boys,
both Afghan refugees who came to the school from Peshawar, would follow me
around wherever I went. They wore pots on their heads, and their version of
hide-and-seek was to jump out from behind a tree or some other hiding place,
scream "Osama!" and pretend to shoot me.
They were also fascinated by my shoes. Shoes weren't worn in class; they
were left outside the rooms. So for reasons of poverty as well as convenience,
most students owned a single pair of slippers. My Timberlands, then, were a
source of conversation, and I once caught my two 11-year-old pursuers trying on
my shoes. I tried to learn what I could about these boys, but they were
reticent. And my minders -- there was usually someone from Samiul Haq's office
with me, listening in on my conversations -- didn't want me probing too deeply
into how boys came to be students at the madrasa.
The youngest boys were kept under lock and key, in a three-story
dormitory guarded by older students, and I wasn't allowed to see how they lived.
The two 11-year-olds were refugees, I eventually learned. One of them lost his
father in Afghanistan. Their mothers spend their days gathering firewood. They
are as poor as poor can be. Compared to a refugee camp, the madrasa is a palace,
and they are blessed to be here, where they eat food every single day. No one
else -- certainly not the government of Pakistan -- would provide them with an
education, room and board.
school day, I would make a special point of auditing classes in which the Hadith
was studied, because so much of Islamic thought is found in the Hadith, and also
because the Hadith has traditionally been understood to be a text open to
interpretation, argument and rigorous intellectual inquiry. But such is not the
case at the Haqqania madrasa. In the classes I attended, even the high-level
classes of the mufti course, the pattern was generally the same: a teacher,
generally an ancient, white-bearded mullah, would read straight from a text, and
the students would listen. There was no back and forth. It seemed as if rote
learning was the madrasa's only style of learning. During one particularly
dreary class, I abandoned my interpreter and left the room. In the hallway
outside, a poster was stapled to the wall. On it was a picture of a split-open
watermelon whose flesh was veined in an unusual way. The caption read: "A
miracle of Allah: this watermelon contains the name of Almighty Allah."
After a time, I began to be asked questions during classes, questions
about America and about my views. One day, in a class devoted to passages in the
Hadith concerning zakat, or charity, I was asked my views about Osama bin Laden.
Why did America have it in for him? It is unsettling, to say the least, to be
seated in a class being held in a mosque, led by a mullah, and attended by some
200 barefoot and turbaned students, and be asked such a question.
I began by saying that bin Laden's program violates a basic tenet of
Islam, which holds that even in a jihad the lives of innocent people must be
spared. A jihad is a war against combatants, not women and children. I read to
them an appropriate saying of the Prophet Muhammad (I came armed with the Hadith):
"It is narrated by Ibn Umar that a woman was found killed in one of these
battles, so the Messenger of Allah, may peace be upon him, forbade the killing
of women and children."
They did not
like the idea of me quoting the Prophet to them, and they began chanting, "Osama,
Osama, Osama." When they calmed down, they took turns defending bin Laden.
"Osama bin Laden is a great Muslim," a student named Wali said.
"The West is afraid of strong Muslims, so they made him their enemy."
I was curious to know how Wali came to admire Osama bin Laden so
ardently. After all, there was no course at the madrasa -- at least so far as I
could tell -- titled "The Sayings of the Great Muslim Osama bin
"Osama wants to keep Islam pure from the pollution of the
infidels," he said. "He believes Islam is the way for all the world.
He wants to bring Islam to all the world."
I answered that the Koran states that "there is no compulsion in
religion." This is the Koranic saying frequently quoted by those who
believe that, at its core, Islam is moderate and tolerant of others. Wali:
"There is no compulsion. But the West compels Muslims to live under the
control of infidels, like in Chechnya."
Jihad and the atom bomb
When I asked Sayid, whose brother is a Taliban judge, how his parents
felt about his being at the madrasa, knowing there is a chance he might one day
fight and die as a mujahed, he replied, 'They would be so proud.'
students had turned this day's class into a political seminar of sorts, I
decided to ask a question of my own. I brought up the subject of Pakistan's
nuclear bomb. The Islamists in Pakistan have been the most vociferous proponents
of Pakistan's nuclear program. The leading religious party, the Jamiat Islami,
has in fact led the campaign to persuade the government not to sign the
Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. I asked the students if they thought it would be
permissible, by the law of Islam, to use a nuclear bomb during the prosecution
of a jihad.
"All things come from
Allah," one student said. "The atomic bomb comes from Allah, so it
should be used." I then asked: Who wants to see Osama bin Laden armed with
nuclear weapons? Every hand in the room shot up. The students laughed, and some
But, I said, innocent people would inevitably die if the bomb was used.
Even if the West, or Russia, is subjugating Muslims, does that give bin Laden
and his supporters the right to kill innocent people? "Osama has never
killed anybody innocent," one student, whose name was Ghazi, answered.
"What if you were shown proof that he did?"
"The Americans say they have proof, but they don't give it to the
I then presented a hypothetical scenario. "What if," I asked,
"you were shown a video in which Osama bin Laden was actually seen
murdering a woman. What then?"
There was a pause. A student named Fazlur Razaq stood up: "The
Americans have all the tricks of the media. They can put Osama's head on the
body of someone else, and make it seem like he's killing when he's not doing
I then took from my notebook my secret weapon: the 1998 fatwa issued by
bin Laden's organization -- the International Islamic Front for Jihad Against
Jews and Crusaders -- concerning the presence of American troops in Saudi
Arabia. I read them a passage, the English translation of which reads as
follows: "The ruling to kill the Americans and their allies -- civilians
and military -- is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any
country in which it is possible to do it, in order to liberate the Al Aksa
Mosque and the holy mosque from their grip, and in order for their armies to
move out of all the lands of Islam, defeated and unable to threaten any
Here it is, I said, in black and white: bin Laden calling for the death
of all Americans, civilian and military.
"Osama didn't write that," one student yelled, and the others
cheered. "That's a forgery of the Americans." I asked one final
question, more out of self-interest than anything else: What would you do if you
learned that the C.I.A. had captured bin Laden and was taking him to America to
A student who gave his name as Muhammad stood up: "We would
sacrifice our lives for Osama. We would kill Americans."
kind of Americans?”
As I left the mosque, Muhammad and a group of his friends approached me.
"We'd like you to embrace Islam," he said. "We love you. We want
you to have Islam."
Later that day, I met with a small group of students I had grown to like,
hoping that, away from their teachers, they would talk a different talk. Meeting
students out of class had already made for a number of interesting moments: I
had, for example, been asked for sex, as had Laurent Van Der Stockt, the
photographer with me. Sometimes the propositions were intimated; sometimes they
were unusually blunt, especially given the Taliban's official position on
homosexuals, which is that they should be killed. Those few students who knew a
bit of English seemed most interested in talking about sex. Many of them were
convinced that all Americans are bisexual, and that Westerners engage in sex
with anything, anywhere, all the time. I was asked to describe the dominant
masturbation style of Americans, and whether American men were allowed by law to
keep boyfriends and girlfriends at the same time.
Among the young men I spoke with after the Osama colloquy there was no
talk of sex. One, a bright and personable student from a village near Kabul, had
told me his name was Sayid. His brother, a Taliban judge, had also attended the
madrasa. When I had asked Sayid for his last name, he'd said he would be known
as Sayid Haqqani upon graduation. Many of the students take Haqqani as their
last name when they leave the madrasa. I asked him on this afternoon how his
parents felt to have him at the madrasa, knowing that there is a chance he would
choose to be a mujahed -- against the northern alliance, or perhaps against
India, in Kashmir.
"They support the jihad," he said.
"How would they feel if you were killed?"
"They would be very happy," he said. "They would be so
proud. Any father would want his son to die as shaheed," or martyr.
“If you fought against the northern alliance, you would be killing
Muslims,” I said.
"They're Muslims, but they're crazy," Sayid replied.
A couple of days later, I saw the maulana, and I told him I thought some
of his students believed that terrorism, under certain circumstances, was
Koranically acceptable. "Then you don't understand what we are
teaching," he said, frowning just for a moment. “There is a great
difference between jihad and terrorism."
He invited me
to eat with him, to discuss my inability to comprehend the distinction, but I
begged off. I was due in Islamabad, the capital, for a birthday party, and I had
promised I would go.
It was quite a party. A big cake, lots of speeches, lots of dignitaries,
including Gen. Pervez Musharraf, the "chief executive" of Pakistan,
which is the title he took when the Pakistani Army overthrew the elected
government in October and installed him as maximum leader.
The cake was actually quite good. It was a vanilla sheet cake, and
written in lemon frosting across the length of it were the words, "Second
Anniversary Celebrations of Youm-e-Takbeer." Youm-e-Takbeer can be
translated as "the day of God's greatness," and in Pakistan it refers
to May 28, 1998, the day Pakistan first exploded a nuclear bomb. The birthday
party, under the auspices of Pakistan's military leader, was a birthday party
for the bomb.
"We bow our heads to Allah almighty for restoring greatness to
Pakistan on May 28, 1998," proclaimed the science minister of Pakistan,
Atta-ur-Rahman, at the outset of the official program.
Mealtime at Haqqania. ''Very few of these schools are engaged in any kind
of militancy,'' says Gen. Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's ruler.
Pakistan has fetishized the bomb. In the traffic circles of every sizable
city in the country, a full-scale model of the country's
home-grown long-range missile stands proud. In Muzaffarabad, the capital
of Pakistani Kashmir, a model of a
missile is aimed at India. In three cities in Pakistan I visited there stand
30-foot-high models of the Chagai Hills, the site where Pakistan exploded its
test bombs, and in Islamabad, the monument lights up from the inside at night --
all fiery orange -- to simulate the effect of a nuclear explosion. Parents dress
up their children and photograph them standing before it.
A couple of
days after the party, I went to Rawalpindi, next door to Islamabad, because I'd
been given the chance to talk with General Musharraf. We met one morning at Army
House, the residence of the Pakistani Army's chief of staff. (General Musharraf
has chosen not to take up residence in the prime minister's house, even though
he has functioned as prime minister since October.) During our conversation, I
asked General Musharraf if the West should worry that fundamentalist Muslims, in
or out of the army, might get hold of Pakistan's nuclear weapons. (In
Pentagon exercises, American war-gamers have mapped out a scenario in which
Taliban-like extremists gain control of Pakistan's atomic arsenal during a
violent break-up of the country.)
"Absolutely implausible," General Musharaff said. "There
is no question of that happening. There is no question of nuclear material
falling into the hands of irresponsible people at all."
I made mention of the religious overtones of the Youm-e-Takbeer
celebration, particularly the science minister's remarks, saying that Westerners
are discomforted by the belief that God is the founder of Pakistan's nuclear
"Yes, we do use the term 'Allah's will,' "he said. "We do
consider God to be the supreme sovereign, and we do consider ourselves to be his
representatives on earth. We being his representatives on earth, whatever has to
be done is according to the teaching of Allah. But when we say 'the will of
God,' that doesn't mean we aren't using our brains, that we are trigger-happy
General Musharraf is not thought of as an Islamic fundamentalist. He is
known to have progressive views on the rights of women, for example. And yet he
can sound very much like an Islamic fundamentalist at times, like when he began
parsing the words "jihad" and "terrorism" for me.
"There is no question that terrorism and jihad are absolutely
different," he told me. "You in the West are allergic to the term
'jihad,' but jihad is a tolerant concept."
I asked the general if he believed bin Laden to be a terrorist. "If
at all he's involved in planning or conducting bombings or hijackings, he's a
I then asked him if he doubted American claims that bin Laden is a
"The Taliban has a stand on this subject. They say they need proof,
which has not been given to them. We have asked for proof from the U.S. and we
are in the process of getting this. From the legal point of view, I haven't seen
General Musharraf says he
needs the pro-Taliban Pathans on his side. The religious parties, though never
terribly successful at the polls, have street power, and when it comes to
Kashmir, broad sympathy. Kashmir used to be spoken of in secular terms, as a
national liberation struggle against a neocolonial oppressor. But today, that
same fight is spoken of matter-of-factly as a jihad. It is almost as if the end
of the jihad against the Soviets in Afghanistan forced the professional
jihadists in the region to find a new cause to adopt.
General Musharraf himself calls
the struggle against India a jihad, and the English-language newspapers in
Pakistan use the language of jihad when talking about the fight: one otherwise
dry-as-bones news story I read stated that seven "mujahedeen" had
"embraced shahadat" in a fight against the Indian Army. Shahadat is
martyrdom, and "embraced shahadat" means that they were killed.
The jihad in Kashmir is of great political help to General Musharraf. In
a fractious country like Pakistan, the jihad in Kashmir unifies people the way
no other issue does. And so the military junta has given wide berth to the jihad
groups training on Pakistani soil. Two weeks after we met in Rawalpindi, General
Musharraf's government announced that it would curb the power of militant groups
within Pakistan, and bring the madrasa network into conformity with national
educational standards, two steps the Americans have been asking him to take
nearly from the moment the army seized power. But in our pleasant, early-morning
conversation at Army House, the general did not seem overly concerned about the
power of the madrasas. "Very few of these schools are engaged in any kind
of militancy," he said. "Most of them are very humanitarian. They give
food and lodging to these poor boys."
He also defended the activities of groups the State Department has
labeled terrorist, particularly the Harkat ul-mujahedeen of Fazlur Rahman Khalil,
which is waging a violent jihad against India; it is believed to be behind the
hijacking last December of an Indian airliner. The State Department has labeled
the HUM, as it is known, a terrorist organization. The group keeps training
bases in Afghanistan, but Khalil, its leader, has an office in Rawalpindi, not
far from General Musharraf's house, and he moves freely through Pakistan.
"These people are not terrorists," General Musharraf said.
"They are fighting a jihad."
Two days after my interview with the general, I talked to Khalil in
Rawalpindi. We met late at night, in a dingy office near a bus station, and sat
shoeless on the floor under a poster depicting the word "Allah"
spelled out in bullets. Khalil, bearded and preternaturally calm, told me he is
sorry his group is thought as of terrorists. "We feel very bad about
this," he said. He denied his group was behind the hijacking of the Indian
airliner -- a "breakaway faction" was to blame, he said -- and he
denied that his group has ever killed civilians in its war in Kashmir.
"No one should worry about us," he said. "Only the
oppressors of Islam."
I asked Khalil: Would you use nuclear weapons against your enemies if you
"We don't have nuclear weapons," he said, smiling. "We
wish we had nuclear weapons. If we had them, we would use them as necessary. But
they're very expensive."
Khalil, I was told, would be going to Afghanistan the following day, to
Jalalabad, for a meeting with leaders of the other Islamic extremist groups
given shelter by the Taliban. Pakistani news reports the day before our meeting
stated that Osama bin Laden was replacing his bodyguards with men from Khalil's
group; they were true believers, the report said, who would keep bin Laden safe.
One day, I drove across the border of Pakistan to the Afghan city of
Kandahar, in the Taliban heartland, where many of the students at the Haqqania
madrasa will end up. The Taliban burst out of Kandahar in 1994 on their quick
march to Kabul. Along the way, they closed down girls' schools and fired female
doctors and murdered homosexuals and staged public amputations and generally
gave a bad name to the Prophet in whose name they claimed to act. It was a long
drive, through the Baluchistan desert, over the Khojak Pass and through miles
and miles of Afghanistan wasteland. On the approach to Kandahar, near the
airport, is one of bin Laden's houses, but the Taliban wouldn't let me anywhere
near it. We drove a bit farther, past the market square where wrestling matches
are staged each Sunday. If you time it right, you might be able to catch a
glimpse of Mullah Omar, the supreme leader of the Taliban, who will sometimes
stop by in his black Pajero S.U.V. with the tinted windows to catch a couple of
matches. If he's in a good mood, he'll even send his bodyguards to challenge the
We continued on, past the Chechen Embassy, and soon enough approached the
compound of the Shrine of the Respectable Cloak of Muhammad, from which the
Taliban derive so much of their legitimacy among Afghan believers. The cloak of
Muhammad is kept locked in a marble vault that is housed inside an elegant,
one-story shrine in the center of town. The people of Kandahar believe that the
Prophet Muhammad wore the cloak, and so they believe that proximity to the cloak
will cure the sick and heal the lame. They also believe it lends its current
custodians the mantle of Islamic legitimacy. At the Haqqania madrasa, they
talked a lot about the cloak. The cloak has only been removed from its vault
three times in the 250 or so years since it was brought to Kandahar by followers
of the Afghan king Ahmed Shah Durrani. The last time it came out of its vault
was in 1994, when Mullah Omar wore it to a rally of his followers. His decision to wear the
cloak could have easily been seen as blasphemous, but things broke his way, and
it was on that day that he solidified his reputation as the commander of the
It is not easy to get inside the compound that houses the shrine. For one
thing, the Taliban minder assigned to me, a mullah named Haji Muhammad, resisted
my pleas for help. Mullah Muhammad -- actually, he admitted, he was not yet a
mullah, having not yet passed his final examinations -- was a short, taciturn
fellow who couldn't for the life of him understand why I wanted to see the
Respectable Cloak Shrine.
The other problem: the men of the Committee for the Propagation of Virtue
and the Suppression of Vice, who wear black turbans and black eyeliner (to make
themselves appear fierce), were patrolling the entrance to the shrine, and they
are terrible xenophobes. The first time I tried to see the shrine, I was
accompanied by a photographer, Nina Berman. In accordance with local custom,
Nina was dressed like Mrs. Khomeini at a wake, but to the men of the Taliban,
she might as well have been Jennifer Lopez. We were rudely denied entrance. We
did, however, get to touch the toothache tree.
When the people of Kandahar feel the beginnings of a toothache, they come
to this dead tree outside the shrine and hammer in a nail. Thousands of
nailheads cover every inch of tree trunk. The interpreter who accompanied us
explained that the tree actually worked as advertised. He once had a toothache
and so banged a nail into the tree. One-two-three, his teeth felt fine. I looked
inside his mouth. He didn't have any teeth in the Western sense of the word
"teeth," just yellow stumps of bone that in poor, superstitious
backwaters like Kandahar pass for teeth. After six years in power, the Taliban
is good at waging jihad, but not good at all at providing medical care to the
people of Afghanistan.
Later that same day, I returned with the interpreter in the hope of
getting a better look at the shrine. But he wouldn't go with me.
better if we sit in the car," he said, and then I realized how frightened
he was. He was frightened of the Taliban, and he was frightened by Mullah
Muhammad, who only grudgingly accompanied me back to the compound. We made it
all the way to the front entrance of the shrine, but standing there were 15 or
so young guards, thick wooden sticks in their hands. I turned around to ask
Muhammad to intercede on my behalf, but he had made himself disappear. The young
guards were angry, and they called me a "kaffir," an infidel. Then
they ran me out of the compound.
I made it to the car, and we sped off. "It's better to wait in the
car," my interpreter said wearily.
I asked Mullah Muhammad if we could see Osama bin Laden's house; he said
no. What about Mullah Omar's house? No. But I knew he would turn down these
requests. I was surprised, however, when he wouldn't allow me near the Jihadi
madrasa. The Jihadi madrasa is Muhammad's alma mater, and it is one of the
biggest in Kandahar. "Non-Muslims aren't allowed into a madrasa," he
said. "It's against the Koran."
Which is nonsense, of course. Nothing in the Koran or in the Hadith bars
infidels from school buildings, and I said so. He asked me how I knew this.
"Because I read the Koran," I answered.
"No, in English."
"The Koran comes in English?" he asked, utterly sincerely.
The next day, frustrated to the point of paralysis, I complained to the
Taliban foreign minister about Mullah Muhammad and his strange ideas.
"This is the fault of the Clinton administration," Wakil Ahmed
Muttawakil, the foreign minister, said. The foreign minister is a man completely
lacking in charm, and he has a beard that has crawled up to within an inch of
his eyes. He is touted as one of the sophisticates of the Taliban, a new face of
moderation. He is not an easy small-talker, and so to thaw him out, I asked him
how many children he has. "I have four boys and one girl," he said,
and then offered, with no prompting: "The girl is my most beloved of
all." Even the Taliban engages in spin.
Muttawakil understood my frustration with Muhammad. "The attitude is
regrettable," he continued, "but many of our young people feel very
badly about America because of the missile attacks and because of these unfair
accusations about Osama bin Laden, and so they aren't open to Americans."
In other words, Taliban paranoia is an American creation? "Yes. We
have done nothing to you, but you insist on treating us as an enemy."
Muttawakil is no fan of America. "In America, parents do not show
love to their children," he informed me -- but he said the average Afghan
doesn't necessarily share his feelings. They may feel warmly about America,
because of the help it gave to the mujahedeen during the struggle against the
Soviets. Mullah Muhammad feels no such warmth, however. A couple of days after
seeing the foreign minister, I asked Muhammad what he thought of America.
"America is the place that wants to kill Osama," he said.
"Osama is a great hero of the Muslims."
Does anything good come out of America?
about that one for a while. "Candy," he answered finally. "Candy
comes from America. I like candy."
Did I mention that Mullah Muhammad is 17 years old?
Because he seemed to have a lot in common with madrasa students in
Pakistan -- and having no expectation that I would be allowed to plumb the
mysteries of Taliban spirituality -- I began to ask Muhammad about his life. He
was born in Kandahar, he said, but lived for a while near Quetta, one of the
Pakistani cities that absorbed millions of refugees during the Afghan wars. He
has attended madrasas all his life. He has never studied math or science or
English or computers or history. He had learned the Koran, by heart, by the time
he was 9. But he learned it in Arabic, and he speaks Pashto. All he learned were
I asked him if he has read any books beside the Koran.
"Yes," he answered. "A book of Hadith."
"Are you interested in reading other books? "
I asked him if he knew any women.
His sisters, he responded.
Any women not his relatives?
I learned that he hasn't hugged his mother since he reached puberty. He
listens to no music; he has never seen a movie. I asked him what the future held
for him. He said he has already fought once with the mujahedeen against the
northern alliance, and might do so again.
And if you're not martyred in that fight?
"I will return to my job."
Why do you want to work at the Information Ministry?
"This is not my regular job," he said, meaning baby-sitting for
Where do you work, then?
"I'm a teacher."
teaches the Koran to 9-year-old boys. This is what Maulana Samiul Haq imparts to
his 9-year-old boys, and everyone else enrolled at his madrasa: America, he told
me in one of our many conversations, was controlled by the Jews, who were in
turn controlled by Satan. His is a worldview shaped by his understanding of the
teachings of the Prophet Muhammad, but it is a worldview moderate Muslims might
say is shaped by something else.
For Samiul Haq, the world is divided into two separate and mutually
hostile domains: the dar-al-harb and the dar-al-Islam. The dar-al-harb is the
"abode of war." The dar-al-Islam is the "abode of peace."
The dar-al-Islam is the Ummah, the worldwide community of Muslims. The
dar-al-harb is everything else. In the 1980's, the Soviet Union epitomized, for
fundamentalist-minded Muslims, the abode of war. Today, it is the U.S. that
symbolizes the dar-al-harb. [Sic: It
is not just America, but the whole non-Islamic world — especially India —
that is dar-al-Harb. Samiul Haq was just repeating the orthodox Muslim
How this came to pass, how America, which supported -- created, some
would say -- the jihad movement against the Soviets, came to become the No. 1
enemy of hard-core Islamists is one of the more vexing questions facing American
policy makers and the leaders of a dozen Muslim countries today.
One school of thought, Samiul Haq's school, says it's the Americans'
fault: American imperialism and the export of American social and sexual mores
are to blame. The other school of thought holds that Islam, by its very nature,
is in permanent competition with other civilizations. This is the theory
expounded by the Harvard political scientist Samuel Huntington, who coined the
term "Islam's bloody borders" -- a reference to the fact that wherever
Islam rubs up against other civilizations -- Jewish, Christian, Hindu -- wars
seem to break out.
Men like Samiul Haq deride this view, and yet, in their black-and-white
world, Islam stands alone against the world's infidels: Christians (or
"Crusaders," in the fundamentalist parlance) to be sure, but Jews and
Hindus especially. Haq, like many Pakistanis, even some Pakistanis of secular
bent, say they believe that America's policy toward Muslims is directed by a
Jewish-Hindu conspiracy. (A former chief of Pakistan's intelligence service
sympathetic to the Islamists, Gen. Hamid Ghul, told me that Aipac, the
pro-Israel lobby, sets America's policy toward Pakistan.
and the Brahmins have a lot in common," he said, referring to high-caste
Hindus. "Like what?" I asked. "Usury," he responded, rubbing
his hands together in the Shylockian manner. [Brahmins are not
engaged in moneylending to any significant degree. He is clearly confusing
Brahmin with Bania.]
In Samiul Haq's view, the West is implacably hostile to the message of
Islam, and so the need to prepare for jihad is never-ending. "Jihad"
is a concept widely misunderstood in the West. It does not mean only "holy
war." It essentially means "struggle," and according to the
traditional understanding of Islam, there are two types of jihad: greater and
lesser. "Greater Jihad," is the struggle within the soul of a person
to be better, more righteous -- the fight against the devil within. "Lesser
Jihad" is the fight against the devil without: the military struggle
against those who subjugate Muslims.
meet a Muslim fundamentalist, I ask them the same stupid-sounding question:
Which is more important to Islam, greater jihad or lesser jihad? The answer,
usually accompanied by an indulgent look, is usually something like, "They
don't call it 'greater jihad' for nothing." The struggle against the
external oppressor waxes and wanes, but the fight to suppress the evil
inclinations within is perpetual. But in my conversations with Haq, and with
mullahs across Pakistan and Afghanistan, I kept getting a different answer.
"They are of equal importance," Haq said. "Jihad against the
oppressor of Muslims is an absolute duty. Islam is a religion that defends
itself." Jihad against the devil without has assumed a place of permanent,
even overriding importance in the way these mullahs look at the world. This was
surprising to me, because not even the leaders of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, or
sympathizers of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, ever answered the question this
(The thinking of Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader, is in line
with Haq's. Mullah Omar has refused to meet face to face with non-Muslims, a
policy ungrounded in the Koran or in the Hadith, but when I submitted a written
question to him about the nature of jihad, he wrote in response: "Both the
jihads have their own importance. In one, one struggles to amend his inner self,
and in another he defends his religion.")
When I asked Samiul Haq to explain why he placed so much emphasis on
lesser jihad, he said: "Islam is a religion of limits. There are four
pillars of Islam. Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca, you must make once, only if you
have the means. There is a limit to how much charity you must give. In prayer,
we only pray five times a day. And fasting, we fast for only one month, Ramadan.
But for jihad, there are no limits. Jihad must be fought without limits. There
is no compromise in jihad."
So where is the jihad being fought today? Against India?
"Yes. The liberation of Kashmir is a holy struggle."
He then said that jihad today should be waged against Serbia and Russia
and Israel, and against the northern alliance, the Taliban's foe in Afghanistan.
I asked him question after question about the Taliban -- why do they do the
things they do? Finally he had enough: "Listen, if you Americans don't stop
pestering us about the Taliban, we'll give them the nuclear bomb. How would you
He also said it was necessary to wage jihad against America, for
"occupying" Saudi Arabia. This jihad is the particular obsession of
the Saudi exile Osama bin Laden: the struggle to evict American troops from
Saudi Arabia, who are there at the invitation of the Saudi king. Samiul Haq says
he believes that these troops are polluting holy soil. A jihad, then, is
compulsory. And in a jihad, he said, these American troops are targets.
I asked him if this is what he is teaching his thousands of students.
"My students are taught Islam. This isn't a military school."
was not that the Haqqania madrasa is a training camp for terrorists. And the
secret of the Taliban -- the secret of Talibanism -- is not found inside the
Shrine of the Cloak of Muhammad. The secret is embodied in the two 11-year-olds
cocking their fingers at me, and in the taunts of the students in the mosque who
raised their hands for Osama bin Laden, and in the person of Mullah Haji
Muhammad, my 17-year-old minder in Kandahar who has no interest in any book but
the Koran, and in the hundreds of thousands of young men like him at madrasas
across Pakistan and Afghanistan. These are poor and impressionable boys kept
entirely ignorant of the world and, for that matter, largely ignorant of all but
one interpretation of Islam.
They are the perfect jihad
Jeffrey Goldberg is a contributing writer for the New York Times magazine. He wrote a cover article in February about King Abdullah II of Jordan.
[TOP OF THE PAGE] [HOME] [CONTENTS]