Fertile soil for terrorism

During the cold war, America sowed deadly seed in Pakistan

For those who think that that other war - the one in Afghanistan - is over and done, think again. The characters and currents responsible for triggering the war on terror are as dedicated as they were a year ago, but the more likely battleground for years to come will be next door - in Pakistan, where much of the problem began.

That is one of the most important theses colorfully presented by Mary Anne Weaver in "Pakistan: In the Shadow of Jihad and Afghanistan." Drawing on 20 years of reporting excursions in Pakistan and Afghanistan for The New Yorker and other publications, Weaver leads us on an illuminating journey that spans lawless tribal territory and presidential palaces alike. What we see when we look through her lens is a Pakistan more deeply troubled, more closely tied to the Taliban, and more rife with anti-American sentiment than anyone would like to admit.

But lest we let ourselves believe that this is all Pakistan's fault, Weaver fleshes out a historical footnote to Al Qaeda that Washington would just as soon forget. Osama bin Laden and friends attracted Islamic militants from around the world and gave them training in Afghanistan with America's help during the cold war. One of "the most startling ironies of today's militant Islamist movement, not just in Pakistan but across the Muslim world," she points out, "is that the great majority of its leaders were funded, armed, and trained - with the same enthusiasm with which they [are] now being pursued - by the United States."

Of all the rogues who benefited from Washington's patronage, Weaver says that the one who fared best was Gulbadin Hekmatyar, today considered perhaps the greatest threat to the transitional Afghan government led by Hamid Karzai. During the jihad years, Hekmatyar "received roughly 50 percent of the CIA's arms," Weaver writes, be- cause he was the darling of the ISI - Pakistan's intelligence agency - and the man who ruled Pakistan from the day he seized power in a military coup in 1977 until his mysterious death in a 1988 plane crash: Zia ul-Haq.

For readers to whom Zia is a familiar name and for those to whom it is not, Weaver provides a revealing profile of the man who changed the face of Pakistan, and tells us why we should care. It was Zia who claimed to be resurrecting the unrealized dreams of founding father Mohammed Ali Jinnah by "Islamicizing" Pakistan and encouraging the growth of all-Islam, all-the-time education in the madrassahs. He wanted all of Pakistan's laws to conform to the Koran, even if many penalties would not be enforced. And he prioritized the development of Pakistan's then-nascent nuclear weapons program.

In this, Weaver also helps us understand why Pakistan's fate is so tied up, for better or worse, with Afghanistan's. Zia - as well as Zulfikar Ali Bhutto before him and every leader of Pakistan - lives in fear that ethnic Pashtuns throughout northwestern Afghanistan will take up arms and demand their own separate country, a so-called united Pashtunistan.

Some 30 years ago, when Pashtun leader Sardar Mohammed Daoud called on Pashtuns in Pakistan to join up with their brothers in Afghanistan, Bhutto invited about 5,000 fundamentalist Afghan Pashtuns to come to Pakistan. Bhutto armed and trained them, and sent them back to fight against Daoud in Afghanistan. "Six years before the Soviets invaded Afghanistan," Weaver writes, "the mujahideen had been born." There is also a strong argument to be made, Weaver later shows, that Zia, the CIA, and the ISI turned what would have been a nationalist struggle into a holy war. The same can be said of Kashmir today.

"Pakistan" is full of similarly surprising analysis that make even regular watchers of Central and South Asia want to consider things in a different light. Some of the information Weaver chooses in forming her narrative is perhaps common knowledge among people familiar with the region, but she fits the pieces together in a way that makes the greater puzzle far more thought-provoking and comprehensive.

Weaver also offers her readers exclusive glimpses into the enigmatic life of Benazir Bhutto, and interesting vignettes from the special relationship Pakistan has developed with Saudi Arabia. Weaver describes in droll detail how members of the royal family and elites from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Dubai, and Bahrain arrive in Pakistan each winter to hunt the houbara bustard, an endangered desert bird, with falcons. The sheikhs pay "between $10 and $20 million for a typical royal hunt," she reports, and later eat the birds for their supposed aphrodisiac qualities.

Weaver's book does not end on a tidy note. She analyzes the state of Al Qaeda, which looks more amorphous than ever before, more inspired by bin Laden than under his direction. One Islamic source considers bin Laden as much a hero as Abraham Lincoln, while a State Department official tells Weaver that Al Qaeda is more like a clearinghouse of logistical support than a central organization sending out orders for mayhem.

Most of Al Qaeda's leaders are still at large, and President Pervez Musharraf rejects reports that they and wanted Taliban fugitives have settled in Pakistan. The general who seized power in 1999 stands torn between a public that is swinging towards pro-Taliban Islamic parties and a military that is not pleased with the amount of room he has given to American forces.

Looking through Weaver's window, the war is not nearly over. Its guerrillas are just regrouping. Afghanistan may be prelude to a more volatile mix next door.

Ilene R. Prusher writes for the Monitor from Istanbul.

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