RISKY BUSINESS: Crossing the barricades on the Silk Road proved far easier than Philip Smucker had expected. Hundreds of Pashtun villagers had gathered behind several large boulders. There wasn't a gun in sight. "A small, hunchbacked man, smiling gleefully, asked if I'd like to meet the pro-Taliban rebels. He led my translator through a terraced gorge at dusk. As we approached the village, a cable car whipped past overhead. It looked more like Switzerland than Pakistan," says Phil.
Farther up into the mountains, and then down into a clearing surrounded by pine trees, Phil and his translator were treated to a nightly ritual, which began when militants seized their own portion of the Silk Road. "As a welcome to us, the rebels filled the drizzling sky in several directions with machine-gun fire. Several tracer bullets arched out in the darkness in the direction of the last Pakistani police post some five miles away," says Phil.
Abedu Rehman, the spiritual leader of some 40 rebels gathered in Shingliballa, offered his own political insight amid the staccato machine-gun fire: "President Musharraf is supporting America's terrorist war on Afghanistan. We don't respect his policies, and we won't bargain with his lackeys."
Mr. Rehman insisted that each of his fighters shake hands with their first outside guest. None of them suspected that the stranger is an American. Phil's interpreter, for his safety, told the rebels that Phil was a Bosnian Muslim reporter from Sarajevo. Aside from the ethical problems of lying, the ruse was risky, and almost backfired. Later, one of the fighters started quizzing Phil about life in Sarajevo, and key passages in the Koran that any good Muslim would know. "I pretended that I was more familiar with the passages in Serbo-Croatian, and was confused by the translation. It was a tense few moments."
By David Clark Scott
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