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Hamid Mir: The Resurgence of Al-Qaeda and Taliban in Pakistan

By Geoffrey Cook, MMNS

San Francisco– April 1st–Hamid Mir, who is one of the most prominent journalists in the world, is also the Executive Editor of Pakistan’s Geo News.  He is best known for interviewing Osama bin Ladan both before and after the September 11th attacks, and he told us that he has been commissioned to write Osama’s authorized biography!  He is probably the most prominent investigative journalists in a country where that has been lacking.  He is both hated and loved in South Asia.  His critics accuse him of being the media mouthpiece of the Taliban, the CIA, or even an Indian agent.

Mir began his history of modern Pakistan with the hanging of Zulfikar Bhutto which for our journalist was the beginning of the turning point for Pakistan.   At that moment, the religious parties started their partnership with the Army with full American blessing.  He made the accusation that the hanging was a conspiracy by the Army, along with the religious parties, and various foreign forces.  While waiting for the execution Bhutto claimed that if he was killed, that would open the door to international monsters, and that is what happened when worldwide extremists came in to fight the Soviets in the Hindu Kush.  

After the Soviet War, the Americans deserted the region, leaving Al Qaeda to form in 1988 in the midst of the ensuing anarchy.

Zulifikar’s daughter, Benezir, during her first Prime Ministership, wished to repress the Muhajideen in Pakistan, but it was the late Saddam Hussein, of all people, who gave her encouragement to proceed.  Therefore Rawalpindi’s ISI (Inter Services Intelligence) asked for help from Osama bin Laden to dislodge her regime.  Al-Qaeda financed a campaign to overthrow her, as Hussein from Iraq was subsidizing an operation to overthrow the Arabs in the Kush.   After the pressure Al-Qaeda and later the (proceeding the American invasion) the Taliban found a “safe haven” in Pakistan’s Northwest Provinces (NWP).

Despite the criticism one hears in the West, Pak’s national media has paid a high price in lives and injuries in covering the War being waged in the Mountains by the Army against the insurgents.  The Pakistani Army, who considers the Forth Estate to be too nosey and critical of them, will not guarantee their safety while the irregular combatants in opposition consider them prime targets.  “To report from this sector is difficult” as it is, further, it is even hard to do over the other Provinces of the nation.  Thus, 95% of the War correspondents in the Tribal arena have left in fear for their lives.

The day before our talk (Mar. 31st) forty people had died within a mosque, butchered by a suicide bomber.  He said about this, with righteous  anger, “Any attack upon a mosque is an attack upon Islam.”  He explained that the extremists’ rationale for such appalling actions is due to the fact that often those who regularly attend (Friday) prayers are antagonistic to Al-Qaeda and the Taliban (on religio-moral grounds).

The Security Forces, unfortunately, are responsible for civilian deaths on the land, too, while their Air Force has bombed innocent villages, also. 

As far as the terror problem, it is coming from a few valleys along the Durand Line where five million people live—making up 2% of the total Pakistani population.  Yet they are brewing hell within and without the nation, creating a danger for the rest (98%) of the populace.  As for the fear of the total Talibanization over the whole of Pakistan, Mr. Mir responded that “It is not impossible to defeat the Taliban and Al-Qaeda since they are [still] in such a small area.”  Curiously, it is now, furthermore, being described as a Pushtoon Nationalist Movement.  At the same time under the democratic system of the nation – including the NWP, the Awami League dominates the Provincial Government in Peshawar.  Yet, neither the NWP Government nor Islamabad controls the minute mountainous district from where the troubles emanates.  To describe it as lawless is not totally accurate because it is administered through both a primitive understanding of Islamic directives and tribal customs, but the State at either the Center or the Periphery will not intervene within this expanse.  This nominal independence and isolation has cost the residents of the zone dearly, as well.  It is the most underdeveloped sector of Pakistan.  The Army did enter this high territory in 2003.  It did so because the Bush Administration in Washington demanded military operations against the militants embedded amongst the clans there.  Islamabad made promises of development to the elders, but when the Capital betrayed them the populace rebelled.  This section has become an immense quandary since  “…the situation has deteriorated …with the Al-Qaeda and the Taliban[-inspired] attacks against Mumbai,” forcing the Army to shift significant forces eastward to defend against any Indian assault.

Going back to the Durand region, Hamid Mir stated that the Afghanistani-Pakistan frontier is poorly demarked. The Pushtoons on both sides of the boundary have relatives on the other.  The line is porous, and the only profession that needs a visa to cross into the Afghani State is a journalist!  “Without well established …proper borders…Mr. Obama can’t solve this mess.”

Mir strongly disagrees with the U.S. tactic of employing drone aircraft there.   With the inaccuracies of the pilotless planes, many in the Tribal belt are being driven towards the Taliban.  Influential people are endorsing the Talibani struggle.  The citizens  are becoming ever further opposed to America; and, moreover, are becoming radicalized.  “[Former President] Musharraf was trying to fool Mr. Bush,” it does not seem to be working out in the long run, though.   Additionally,  the heightened Indo-Pakistani tensions due to  the Mumbai confrontation have to be lessened.  Development in the Tribal districts has to be expanded—besides.  “This area needs enlightenment;” i.e., education.

The regional poppy cultivation “Shouldn’t be put on the shoulders of [the Afghan President] Karzai” because of the insecurity of the borders.  Regional co-operation is important.  Hamid believes Afghanistan should be respected as a neutral space.  Unfortunately, numerous countries are fighting secretive conflicts within Afghanistan.

Regrettably, they deem their tribal traditions of the Hindu Kush to be in fact Islam!  Consequently, too, they believe they are resisting a War against Islam itself. 

Yes, democracy might be a cure, but how can there be democracy when there is the lack of education that would be required for its foundation?


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