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Imtiaz Gul “The Most Dangerous Place” (Viking)

By AARON HOWARD

Herald Voice, September 02, 2010

Following recent floods that left up to three million people homeless, Reuters and British television news reported that charity organizations tied to the Pakistani Taliban have set up at least 13 camps for displaced Pakistanis. Where was the Pakistani government? Obviously not providing food and shelter where and when the Pakistani people needed them.

So, here’s the basic situation in Pakistan: an ineffective government, a military and secret service that is deeply engaged with jihadi forces, foreign and Pakistani militants so entrenched in parts of Pakistan that they have supplanted the government, a Pakistani intellectual community that is against U.S.-Pakistani cooperation, media that feed on conspiracy theories instead of doing real reporting, widespread anti-U.S. sentiment among the population, a militant jihadi force that is increasingly successful in creating fear and undermining the Pakistani government and a country that possesses nuclear weapons.

In his book, “The Most Dangerous Place,” CNN and Al-Jazeera reporter Imtiaz Gul does an admirable job of explaining how Pakistan arrived at this point, especially in the six border “frontier” areas of the country. In South Waziristan, the largest of the frontier regions, Gul describes a population of about 425,00 divided along tribal lines: the Wazirs and the Mehsud. When the Taliban began moving in, the people split along tribal lines; both tribes were committed to jihad against foreign troops in Afghanistan. In 2007, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan emerged out of their Mehsud base, defeated the Pakistani army in a key battle and formed a central shura comprising representatives from all the frontier areas. With this new ability to transcend tribal divisions, the TPP announced their goals were to drive all foreign troops out of Afghanistan, end all Pakistani cooperation with the U.S. and NATO and replace the existing Pakistani legal system with a strict sharia law. “What Pakistan faces today is not a ragtag army comprised of just a few thousand religious zealots and criminal thugs,” says Gul. “Beyond a doubt, the TTP is out to destroy the entire Pakistani security establishment.”

One feels a bit dazed after reading Gul’s book. Even if the U.S. were to completely clear out of Afghanistan tomorrow, we’d be looking at the plausible possibility of a Taliban-style rule in Pakistan. Perhaps most of the leadership of the Pakistani army and the Inter-Services Intelligence agency has undergone a real transformation in outlook and approach, as Gul suggests. The U.S. must assist in cultivating this change in mindset, without appearing to exert what Pakistanis perceive as “nefarious American designs for the region.” It’s a narrow bridge, because the majority of Pakistanis believe that the U.S. really wants to break up Pakistan, the only nuclear Muslim nation. The U.S. already is deep into Pakistan. And, the stakes involved make Afghanistan look minor league.

(The author heads the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies, Islamabad.

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk