PESHAWAR, NORTH-WEST FRONTIER PROVINCE, OCTOBER 20, 2001. I used to love the city of Peshawar, which lies near the Pakistani-Afghan border and commands the superb approaches to the Khyber Pass. Its name derives from the Sanskrit for "city of flowers," and, combined with its frontiertown status, this conveys a sense of openness and spaciousness: a vast crossroads under a great vault of sky. But this trip was different. In the first few weeks of the "coalition war"-just as it was becoming plain that the war would not be brief-Peshawar felt enclosed, brooding, almost hermetic. It was partly because the frontier was shut to all but a few smugglers and nomads and Taliban infiltrators. It was also because the city was choked with people: exiles and refugees whose camps ringed the city. These huddled masses cook with wood-further denuding Pakistan's already poorly husbanded forestry-and at evening the normally pristine air was heavy with acrid smoke, catching at the tear ducts and the back of the throat. To this element of stifling atmosphere was added another: the air of menace that now accompanies the close of evening prayers. All male crowds, with no outlet for their emotions after listening to inflammatory sermons from the mullahs or the Jamaat-Ulema-i-Islami Party demagogues, spilled out of the mosques and displayed what I can only call an attitude. (In a town once famed for its latitude and tolerance, prudent women are wearing the hideous and enveloping burka in the Afghan neighborhoods.) I chose this devotional moment, one choking evening at dusk, to get out of my car in an Afghan bazaar and approach a vendor of Osama bin Laden T-shirts. I wanted half a dozen for friends, and though I normally will pay rather than haggle, I was not going to part with the 200 rupees that the startled tradesman demanded for each item. Fifty was my limit, and I was prepared to be British about it.
I have never been so swiftly and completely surrounded. It was as if, in this formerly cosmopolitan city, they had never seen a foreigner before. "Why you want these?" Faces right in mine, fingers and hands prodding and pushing me. "You like Osama?" "Of course. He is my brother." "He is your brother?" "All men are my brothers." Much jeering and sneering, and then: "Why you not scared? Why you show money here?" "Why should I be scared? Muslims do not steal from guests." I experienced a peripheral vision of writhing, baffled beards and mustaches. As a rule, I resent reading feverish journalistic accounts of swarthy locations; I avoid usin2 nonhuman terms such as "teeming" or "seething," and I have often been received with exquisite hospitality in the poorest parts of the Islamic world, but this was different. As elsewhere in Pakistan, there was a miasma of self-pity mingled with self-righteousness, It takes hysterical and contradictory forms: thus one is instructed loudly that "evervbody knows" the Jews blew up the Worfd Trade Center-even though bin Laden is praised in the very same heated breath for doing it himself. The mullahs tell people that the Tahban are correct to ban all pictures and photographs and television and film, because the representation of the human form is profane. But the T-shirts displaying bin Ladeins oddly epicene features are on sale right outside the mosque ... In the English-language papers you can read well-written denunciations of this foul and vicious mood, in articles composed by brave Pakistani dissidents and secularists. But the press reaches only a fraction of the population of 145 million, 57 percent of whom are illiterate.
It was a few miles from here, at the border post in Torkham, at the head of the Khyber Pass, that my old friend Ahmed Rashid, Pakistan's best and bravest reporter, actually witnessed the birth moment of our current world crisis. He had just been covering the Soviet, withdrawal from Afghanistan in April 1989 and was lying on a patch of grass waiting for the border post to open when suddenly, along the road behind me, a truck full of Mujaheddin roared up and stopped. But those on board were not Afghans.... The group was made up of Filipino Moros, Uzbeks from Soviet Central Asia, Arabs from Algeria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait and Uighurs from Yinjiang in China.... Under training at a camp near the border they were going on weekend leave to Peshawar.... They had come to fight the jihad with the Mujaheddin and to train in weapons, bomb-making and military tactics so they could take the jihad back home.
That evening, Ahmed met Lieutenant General Hamid Gul, then head of Pakistan's now notorious Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and a dedicated Islamic ideologue. "I asked him if he was not playing with fire by inviting Muslim radicals from Islamic countries, who were ostensibly allies of Pakistan. Would these radicals not create dissension in their own countries, endangering Pakistaws foreign policy?" Gul's reply is worth giving: "We are fighting a jihad and this is the first Islamic international brigade in the modem era. The communists have their international brigades, the West has NATO, why caet the Muslims unite and form a common front?"
I disagree slightly with Ahmed's emphasis; it would be more accurate to say "Muslim reactionaries" than "radicals." (The historic essence of Fascism is the most retrograde people using the most revolutionary rhetoric.) And I wish that those in the West who harbor softhearted illusions about Muslim grievances could see and hear General Gul (rhymes with "ghoul"). He is not an oppressed peasant. He is Pakistans Pinochet: a militaristic and privileged thug, fattened for many years on American subsidies. He was much in evidence around Islamabad during my recent stay, calling for an end to the American intervention in Afghanistan. Too many people, he said, had already died. This must have been the first time in his career that he had expressed the smallest concern about civilian casualties.
But then, there is a certain hypocrisy inscribed in the very origins and nature of "Pakistan".. The name is no more than an acronym, confected in the 1930s at Cambridge University by a NW Muslim propagandist named Chaudhri Rahmat Ali. It stands for Punjab, Afghania, Kashmir, and Indus-Sind, plus the suffix "-stan," meaning "land." In the Urdu tongue, the resulting word means "Land of the Pure." The country is a cobbling together of regional, religious, and ethnic nationalisms, and its founding, in 1947, resulted in Pakistan's becoming, along with Israel, one of the two "faith-based" states to emerge from the partitionist policy of a dying British colonialism. You may notice that there is no b in the acronym, even though for the first two decades of its existence Pa kistan forcibly enclosed East Bengal (now Bangladesh) and still includes the restive and reluctant province of Baluchistan. The P comes first because Pakistan is still the property of the Punjabi military and feudal elite, but the thing might as easily be rendered as "Akpistan" or "Kapistan," depending on whether the battle to take over Afghanistan or Kashmir is to the fore.
Unlike India, which fought tenaciously for independence for many decades (until 1947), Pakistan cannot claim any glorious history of struggle as its birthright. It is the product -of a carve-up, against the wishes of a majority of the subcontinent's population. The carve-up was a hasty improvised.
The carve-up was a hasty improvisation, designed to cover the retreat of the exhausted British, and achieved largely behind closed doors between the last viceroy, Lord Mountbatten, and Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the ambitious exclusivist leader of the subcontinent's Muslim minority. Jinnah is still revered, Eastern European-style, as the great teacher and leader and unquestionable founder of the state. Fifty-four years later, there are almost as many Muslims in India as in Pakistan; the battle over the status of Kashmir is one of the deadliest and most volatile on the planet, and the resulting arms race,which now includes nuclear weaponry, consumes the budgets of two poverty-racked countries. Meanwhile, Pakistan is in a state of perpetual strife among its different regions and their rival Sunni and Shiite Islamic populations, while the 1971 Bangladesh war-in which a Muslim army put a Muslim population to the sword-is still memorable as one of the great horrors of the post 1945 period. Far from being a "Land of the Pure," Pakistan is one of the clearest demonstrations of the futility of defining a nation by religion, and one of the textbook failures of a state and a society. But the fanatics by definition do not learn from their mistakes. (Santayana was correct in describing a fanatic as one who re-doubles his efforts when he has lost sight of his aims.) The battle is now on to mutate Pakistan one stage further, and to set up a totally Muslim state where once there was just a state for Muslims. It is this lethal tussle between Muslims-to impose Koranic, or Shari'a, law by force across the Islamic world-that has already claimed terrible casualties in two major American cities.
The Pakistani capital, Islamabad, is an architectural expression of the state's artificiality. Not even built until after 1947, it is an Asian Brasilia, with wide and impersonal boulevards connecting great palaces of bureaucracy. Its street names are ciphers of numbers and letters. It is also very handy to Rawalpindi, the headquarters garrison town of the Pakistani armed forces. Anyone wanting to mount a coup has only to drive his tanks a few blocks. Pakistan has been a fiefdom of the military for most of its short existence: as was once said of Prussia, it is not a country that has an army but an army that has a country. (On roadsides and at traffic circles, the typical monuments are tanks or fighter planes set in concrete, or replicas of the mountain under which Pakistan's first nuclear device was detonated.) In Rawalpindi itself, the genial regimental atmosphere of the British dayssymbolized by the aptly named Flashmans Hotel-is now somewhat overlaid by the signs of influence from West Point and Langley. The ISI, originally set up in 1948 by a British officer named Major General Cawthorne, who "stayed on" after partition, has more recently become an expensively Americanized apparatus. But the big subject of whispered conversation during my stay was this: Did the United States still call the shots? Who was the client and who was the puppet? What if the shadowy "enemy we can't see" is made up partly of our supposed friends?
The atmosphere of intrigue and bad faith, in the hotel lobbies of Islamabad and in the discreet and luxurious villas of the city's fat cats, was even more nauseating and obfuscating than the hot fumes of Peshawar. An average day in this sterile, furtive town would consist of a morning spent in the Marriott Hotel's corridors (and in its "deniable" rip-off basement bar), followed by a briefing at the Foreign Ministry, the regular farce of the press conference at the Taliban embassy, and then a soiree at some private palazzo (where at least the scotch was free, and imported, rather than emitted from some diesel-engine off-the-record distillery in Quetta. One morning I encountered not just one but two representatives of the muchballyhooed King of Afghanistan, the octogenarian potentate who has not set foot in his country for 29 years and who doesn't really speak its main language. (He pronounces in a Persian dialect favored by the elite.) One of these monarchical envoys, Rahim Sherzoy, gave me a business card inscribed with an address in Fremont, California. His cohort, the oft televised and wordlessly suave Hedayat Amin-Arsala, looked like Sidney Greenstreet with a goatee and exuded all the charm of pre-war Monte Carlo. Bringing the fissile elements of Afghan tribalism together is at the best of times like herding cats (and feral cats too, if I may say so without disrespect). The idea of the tribes rallying to this brace of eight-piece suits seemed like a pipe dream, and a dream from one of those aromatic pipes in Peshawar at that. Serious forces, such as the heroines of FAWA (the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan, which actually defies the Taliban in Kabul and Kandahar), are not encouraged to join the discussion, because the Pakistani Army really, really doesn't like them.
From this Casablanca moment I proceed to the torpid, scrofulous building that still housed the Taliban embassy. Not wishing to be too polite to the bored and turbaned character who oversaw visa requests, I made myself difficult over the application form. Iyt says here , after the space for my name, 'Son of' He confirmed that this was so. "What if I was a daughter? Is there another form for women?" I wish I had a Polaroid of the spite and contempt on his face at hearing this question (to which the answer was "No"). At a later Taliban embassy press conference, their ambassador, Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, was at pains to ridicule Secretary of State Colin Powell's mention of "broad-based" and "moderate" Taliban elements. There were, said this sneering envoy, no broad-based people in his party's ranks. 1, for one, was ready to believe him. The Taliban were asking for large cash bribes to take reporters on shepherded tours across to Kandahar, and I didn't feel like paying up that day. So it was off to the Foreign Ministry briefing, given by a sharkskin smoothy named Riaz Mohammad Khan, who, I must say, had better English than his daily-briefing counterparts in Washington. I had a rude question for him too. That morning's Dawn newspaper had carried a small item about wounded Taliban fighters' being brought across the Pakistani frontier for medical treatment a-nd then returned fit for duty. Was this the act of an ally, and if they could cross, why could not journalists cross as well, rather than have to depend on the Taliban's purchased hospitality? Mr. Khan would not be drawn out on part two of my question, but he replied to the first part, saying that Pakistan had always recognized whatever government was in power in Kabul, even the one installed by the Red Army. Yes, but Pakistan hadn't invited wounded Russian soldiers for medical treatment and then sent them tenderly back to the front line ... Later that week, Maulvi Jalaluddin Haqqani, one of the Taliban's military commandersappeared in Islamabad honored and unmolested, and announced matter-of-factly that his "guest" Osama bin Laden was still "living in complete safety." He met with high Pakistani officials and repeated his assertion, and then returned home contentedly. If the United States Embassy felt impotent while watching this insufferable display, it was at pains to conceal the fact. In the evening, at a sumptuous dinner in the home of a local tycoon, I met the even smoother if not ultimately smooth Shaukat Aziz, who is Pakistan's finance minister and a longtime grandfromage at Citibank. He was newly returned from Washington, where it did not hurt that as a friend of Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill's he could effectively negotiate Pakistan's enormous foreign debt out of existence. Mr. Aziz is used to this kind of thing-he was on hand for former prime minister Benazir Bhutto at a time when her husband was convicted of stuffing Swiss banks with chunks of the Pakistani treasury-but, even so, he must have felt on this occasion that all his birthdays had come at once. In the 1980s, Pakistan got a blank check from the U.S. to combat the Russians, and spent much of the check in building up the Taliban. Now it is getting another check and a brand-new interest-free mortgage in order to pretend that the Taliban are its enemy. It just doesn't get any better than this.
I think the roots of the all-pervasive anti-Americanism spring exactly from this mendicant's-begging-bowl arrangement. Pakistanis know that they are bought and paid for, and so the way to assert.pride is to spit in the face of those who have owned and used them. (Something of the same pathology applies in the case of our former Afghan mercenaries.) Thus to selfrighteousness and self-pity is added the third charm of self-hatred. An especially toxic example of this degraded relationship was the subtext of conversation at the very Ěsame dinner. For years during the Cold War, the United States had pretended in public that Pakistan had not manufactured its own nuclear weapons. This had permitted a lavish military-aid budget to continue to be approved by Congress. But now we know all about the Pakistani nuclear arsenal. We just don't quite know who controls it. What if the next short march from Rawalpindi to Islamabad were to bring the missiles and the warheads into the itchy hands of General Gul? Nobody at the table was sure that the president, General Pervez Musharraf, had insurance he trusted against this contingency. And, indeed, a few days later I learned that three of Pakistan's top nuclear scientists had been discovered to have quite close connections with the Taliban. The sinister trio-Sultan Bashi-ruddin Mahmood, Mirza Yusuf Baig, and Chaudhry Abdul Majid-were taken in for "questioning." I would dearly like to know what the questions-and the answers-were. This may be the great unintended consequence of Osama bin Laden's world shaking fanaticism. His intense need to something immediate and apocalyptic has quite possibly saved us, at least for now, from the takeover of Pakistan by the cadres of the ISI and its cloneswhich are the Taliban, the Pakistani religious parties, and al-Qaeda. Until a few months ago, these factions stood a sporting chance of winning power, with Musharraf as their front man. But he turned out to be so much of a front man that he is now willing to be stroked and "turned, and to act as a front man for Washington instead. "He's such a simple guy," it we said by the Pakistani elitists at this dinner. "He likes to drink, and he has an eye for the wives of brother officers. The hard-liners thought he was a pliable puppet, and they were right; he's anybody's pliable puppet."
The danger of an al- Qaeda nuke has passed, for now. But if you want to write your congressman about anything, write him and ask what's being done to neutralize that arsenal for good.
Tiring of the provincial and surreptitious mood in the capital, and having already exposed myself to the Afghan, or "Akpistan," frontier, I decided to try to see "Kapistan' as well. You need military permission to visit the Pakistani-held part of Kashmir, and the army eventually agreed to take me to what is the near-certain flash point of a coming war that could well become an Asian Armageddon. (In one of his most recent broadcasts, bin Ladens noisy deputy Sulaiman Abu Ghaith put Kashmir in the top four a]-Qaeda causes, right after Afghanistan, Palestine, and the U.S. presence in the Arabian peninsula. They want a holy war against "the Hindus" as well as the Christians, and the Jews, and the secularists. This is one of the many ways that the gang re-pays years of Pakistani support and protection,)
Look at any atlas and you can see that Kashmir is the keystone in the arch of Indo-Pakistani confrontation. Its frontier is long and arduous, and extends allthe way through the Himalayas, touching Afghanistan and nearly Tajikistan before reaching China. A good stretch of this frontier is known as "the Line of Control" and is a heavily armed militai@y demarcation, drawn at the cease-fire point of the last Indo-Pakistani war. In 1990 there was almost another war, when Pakistan became convinced of an impending attack and readied a nuclear strike to offset New Delhi's vast superiority in men and armor. Officials in Washington who were involved in the crisis still turn pale when they recall that the preemptive strike was aborted with frighteningly little time on the clock. Things have, you will be relieved to know, gotten much, much worse since then. For one thing, the Kashmiri militants who contest Indias rule over a Muslim-majority province have abandoned nationalist rhetoric and tactics and opted instead for jihad. A few days before I arrived-on October 1, to be precise-they had blown up the Kashmiri State Assembly in Srinagar, the capital city of Indian Kashmir, killing almost 40 people in a suicide car-bomb attack. Discovering alQaeda supporters among the plotters, the Indians had responded by shelling Islamist camps across the Line of Control, and so the Pakistani Army was eager to show me the consequences of Indian "aggression."
Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistani Kashmir, is a hill town of surpassing beauty and one of the settings for Paul Scott's marvelous "Raj Quartet." Here one finds that the same Raj still breathes, because the only subject of conversation is the still-unfinished business of the partition of 1947. It isn't resolved yet! It's gone nuclear instead. I cursed the ghost of Lord Mountbatten once again as I sat and interviewed Sardar Sikander Hayat Khan, the Buddha-bellied and white-mustachioed old lion who is prime minister of the Pakistanirun statelet. He, like his father before him, has been at it ever since the waning days of the Empire. The issue was stale when the United Nations was founded. Almost in a trance of repetition, he recited the litany of ancient woes, and pretended not to speak proper English only when he was asked a pointed question. The question he wouldn't answer was whether he knew how the bin Laden forces managed to make their way across the border to India.
This very same topic struck the Pakistani military commander in the sector as a mystery of Elmore Leonard or Agatha Christie proportions. How do these blighters do it? The Pakistani Army has stern and consistent control over the whole area and doesn't allow tourists or joumalists to make unauthorized visits. Martial law is effectively in force. Carrying weapons is forbidden. The terrain is very mountainous and thickly forested and seamed with gullees and ravines. In fact ... ah, yes, that must be it. These unauthorized elements are obviously dragging their rocket launchers and heavy weapons across unmonitored bits of the border at night. That's if they are doing it at all, which is not officially admitted. A problem, sit, indeed. A real enigma. So I am assured, in British-military English, by Brigadier General Muhammad Yaqub, commander of "the Mujahid Battalion," also known as "the Shaheen," or falcons, in the Chakoti sector of the front. He and his men have taken me by jeep as far as a jeep wifl go, and then on foot through some trenches and dugouts that remind me of the Somme, to a position where I can wave at the Indian soldiers who are dug in hard behind embrasures and entrenchments on the opposite hill. Marks of shellfire on the walls of Chakoti tell their own story.
Tea and biscuits are served and I am given a highly tendentious briefing. "Look, in 1970 the Indians helped the Bangladeshis to rebel against Pakistan," Yaqub says. "So we would be morally justified in helping the Kashmiris to revolt against India." Well, are you doing so? "Not exactly; their freedom struggle is internally generated." But no fewer than 64 medals were awarded to Pakistani soldiers after they were found in highly suspicious company on the other side of the Line of Control in May 1999, just after a summit meeting had taken place between India and Pakistan. To this the brigadier prefers to give no reply. And what about bin Laden's infiltrators, who throw acid in the faces of unveiled Kashmiri women and mount suicide attacks in Srinagar? "It is India's responsibility to stop them crossing the frontier, if indeed they do cross it," says Yaqub. (Back in Islamabad, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, Riaz Mohammad Khan, had managed to insinuate that the Indians were actually behind the October I bombings in Srinagar, in an effort to win the sympathy of Colin Powell for their cause.) It's true that India has long been a backer of Afghanistan's Northern Alliance, and it's also the case that Indian policy in Kashmir is semi-colonial, but once again it is Pakistani hypocrisy that is truly breathcatching.
From "Akpistan" to "Kapistan": the Pakistanis tried to make Afghanistan into a province or a colony so they could have "strategic depth," as they called it, for the real confrontation in Kashmir. The result is the near Talibanization of Pakistan and the spillover of the fundamentalists into Kashmir itself. Standing on this remote and lovely hilltop I feel certain that I am getting a curtain-raiser preview of the terrain on which the world's first nuclear exchange will inevitably occur. Every other British-sponsored divide-and-quit partition has led either to another partition or to another war, or both. This will be both, and on a scale of grand opera. It's not a cheerful thought to be taking back to Islamabad. But Islamabad is not a cheerful place to which to return. There was a warning of all this, as far back as 1983, when Salman Rushdie published the best-ever novel about Pakistan, Shame. Many readers remember the dense paragraph in which he tried to delineate a wounded civilization, striving to write about the bandits on the trunk roads who are condemned for doing, as private enterprise, what the government does as public policy; or about genocide in Baluchistan; or about the recent preferential awards of State scholarships, to pay for postgraduate studies abroad, to members of the fanatical. Jamaat party; or about the attempt to declare the sari an obscene garment; or about the extra hangings-the first for twenty years-that were ordered purely to legitimize the execution of Mr. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto or about why Bhutto's hangman has vanished into thin air, just like the many street urchins who are being stolen every day in daylight; or about anti-Semitism, an interesting phenomenon, under whose influence people who have never met a Jew vilify all Jews for the sake of maintaining solidarity with the Arab states which offer Pakistan workers, these days, employment and much-needed foreign exchange; or about smuggling, the boom in heroin exports, military dictators, venal civilians, corrupt civil servants, bought judges ...
In 1989 it was the Pakistani fundamentalist fringe which first shed blood in the streets over the publication of The Satanic Verses, igniting a chain of violence that transmitted the neurotic energy of Muslim fundamentalism from Eastern territories to Western capitals. That, I felt at the time, was also a warning. Now there is another Pakistani Islamist party, even more extreme than its predecessor. There is also the Sepahi-Sahaba militia ("Soldiers of the Companions of the Prophet"), a Sunni Muslim Kalashnikov gang that does battle with its Shiite rival, the Sepah-i-Mohammad ("Soldiers of Mohammad"). As ever with the faithful-rather like the Christians in Northern Ireland-just come see how the believers love one another. One of these goon squads then turned the Kalashnikovs on Pakistan's Christian minority, drowning a whole congregation in blood on October 28. So it goes. An 800-page biography of Pakistan's founder, the aforementioned Mohammed Ali Jinnah, is too careful to make any mention of the way he always spoke with his unveiled sister at mass meetings, or of the fact that his second wife was a non-Muslim. A movie producer who tried to make a feature film stressing the same facts was accused of having Salman Rushdie as his scriptwriter, and was subjected to chilling threats. From a state merely for Muslims to a full-on theocratic state is a bigger change than most Westerners can yet appreciate.
As I was making ready to leave Peshawar, I went along the old Jamrud Road and paid to unlock its Christian cemetery, which is where the dead of British times are interred behind a brick wall and under a canopy of shade trees. The place is much dilapidated, but one can still see the regimental symbols and the sad old grave markers from lost campaigns. I truly wanted to be the first writer to visit Peshawar and not quote Rudyard Kipling, but as I walked alone through the marble memorals I remembered some long-forgotten lines and couldn't help myself: And the end of the fight is a tombstone 'white with the name of the late deceased, And the epitaph drear: "A Fool lies here who tried to hustle the East." And of course from that it's only a step to the imperishable verses of Kipting's "Arithmetic on the Frontier." The gates of memory swung open fully: my father's father had been a soldier in pre-partition India. A scrimmage in a Border Station Canter down some dark defile Two thousand pounds of education Drops to a ten-rupee jezail
With its unconsoling conclusion, about the military proportions between locals and intruders: Strike hard who cares-shoot straight who can- The odds are on the cheaper man. All week, within a few miles of where I was standing, American warplanes had been wheeling and diving over Afghani stan in an effort to disprove that very arithmetic. The equivalents of the old single-shot jezail rifles were powerless against the swift, silvery F-16s. The cheaper men could make no impression on the lancing, laserguided missiles and bombs. And two of the pflots, I learned from a man who had just come to Islamabad from the deck of the U.S.S. Carl Vinson, were females. I felt a momentary need to go to the Taliban embassy and say, "It's your worst nightmare, you *******s. She's ****ed, she's packing, and she's headed for you." But the United States government, in exaggerated deference to its Islamic "allies" in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere, took its time making public boasts about its women fliers. Whereas among the faded British graves there were many affecting headstones recording the deaths of wives and children. The British may have used some Sikhs and other local troops, but they came to stay, and they did a lot of their own fighting and dyiong. What is to become of an empire that relies on relies on mercenaries to take its risks on the ground ?
Still more sobering was the thought: What if some of those hirelings secretly want you to lose? In every silky statement from General Musharraf about the need for a short-in other words: limited-war and in every nuance of the Pakistani official posture, I was sure I detected the local version of Schadenfreude. An American humiliation would preserve the assets built up by General Gul, and keep the pressure off Kashmir. It would also mean further subsidies and debt forgiveness, because an "ally" cannot be abandoned after so many presidential pledges have been made. The tail could wag the dog indefinitely. But the only people I met who really hoped for an American success against the taliban were local secular leftists who had relatives in Britain or America.
As I arrived at Islamabad airport to take my leave, a huge bomb had just on the been found and detonated in the parking lot. Who knows who put it there, or why? On Pakistan International Airlines it is still permitted to smoke, but not to order a drink. And there are now obligatory muslim prayers played on takeoff. So I may have been in a sour mood is I quit the - country. An artificial nation, born out of manipulation and middleman tactics, had. managed to switch sides twice, first to the Taliban and al-Qaeda, and then with undignified haste to the Anglo-American. coalition. In both cases, its oligarchy had - used and misused the money of the too trusting American taxpayer.
At every stage of the counterattack against the Taliban,. General Musharraf had intensified his unhelpful demands: dont fight during Ramadan, don't let the Northerners take Kabul ... Oh, and give us some costly hardware after all we've done for you. (Nobody I spoke to was in any doubt that it was "rogue" Pakistani intelligence agents who had tipped off the Taliban to capture and murder the legendary Abdul Haq, as he slipped across the Afghan border to try and coordinate the resistance.) Meanwhile, the failing Pakistani state had been revived to prosecute another war in Kashmir. Unfortunately, this could not be described as an untended consequence
of the emancipation of Afghanistan. I slumped in my airline seat, uttered a secular prayer for the victory of the
coalition, and realized that we'd all be back here again before long. Christopher Hitchens