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The Most Dangerous Place

A reporter explores Pakistan’s border region and argues that it holds the key to a peaceful resolution in Afghanistan.

By / June 10, 2010

The Most Dangerous Place Pakistan’s Lawless Frontier By Imtiaz Gul Penguin 320 pp., $26.95

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On May 21, a drone attack killed Al Qaeda’s No. 3 leader and top Afghanistan commander, Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, at his hiding place in Pakistan’s tribal areas, Three weeks earlier, an American citizen parked his Nissan Pathfinder in New York City and, with bombmaking training learned during his time in Pakistan’s tribal areas, attempted to blow up Times Square.

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Their connection, of course, is an area the size of Massachusetts in western Pakistan that is formally called the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). It is where the Taliban, Al Qaeda, and other militant groups are believed to be based.

“For the American people, this border region has become the most dangerous place in the world,” President Obama said on March 27, 2009.

That America helped turn this region into the hotbed it is today, and that Pakistan’s own spy agency has for the past decade allowed it to remain a source of terror, is addressed in a new book, The Most Dangerous Place: Pakistan’s Lawless Frontier, by Imtiaz Gul, head of the Center for Research and Security Studies in Islamabad.

Gul has reported on the region for 25 years, and he is periodically sourced in the Monitor as an expert on militants. His contacts within the Pakistan military, including Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, give the book credibility and insight. As a Pashtun born in Peshawar in what used to be called Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province, he knows the language and customs of the Pashtun tribes that comprise the Afghan Taliban and Pakistani Taliban.

For the lay reader, this probably isn’t the first book to read on the subject. At times, Gul’s book feels more like list of dates and deaths than a narrative. He sometimes leaves the lay reader behind because he knows his subject too well, breezing through names and acronyms without explaining exactly who belongs to various insurgency groups such as TTP, JeM, LeT, SSP, and LJ. Of aid is a 35-page encyclopedic rundown of every major militant and militant organization in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

For those seeking greater depth in this area, however, Gul can be trusted as a skilled and informative guide.

He argues that Afghanistan’s war, and to an extent global jihad, won’t be resolved without Islamabad’s help in eradicating jihad in Pakistan. His argument is strengthened by a recent RAND report, “How Insurgencies End,” which argues that the Achilles heel for the Taliban is the loss of their Pakistani sanctuary.

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