[Reader-list] THE PASHTUN CODE

Harsh Kapoor aiindex at mnet.fr
Wed Dec 12 22:41:14 IST 2001

The New Yorker
December 3, 2001

How a long-ungovernable tribe may determine the future of Afghanistan.


I arrived in Pakistan on a warm afternoon in October, and several days
later I set out by car, heading northwest, from the
  capital, Islamabad, toward the borderlands with Afghanistan and the
land of the Pashtun. The American bombing raids had
  begun a few days before, and from Afghanistan came murky television
images, along with messages of fear and despair from
  civilians and of defiance from the leaders of the Taliban, who were,
unbeknownst to most of us at the time, entering a violent
  endgame. Here, along the border, another drama was being played out, in
the passions and politics of the Pashtun people, men
  and women whose tortured loyalties reflected a mystical attachment to a
land that they believed was theirs. Not every Pashtun
  is an Afghani-a citizen of Afghanistan-but every Pashtun considers
himself an Afghan, and the Pashtun have always regarded
  themselves as the country's natural rulers. Not only were they prepared
to die in support of their claim but many were
  prepared to do so in the name of a brutal and repressive regime, that
of the Taliban. About sixty miles from Islamabad, I
  found myself on a bridge, on the Grand Trunk Road to Peshawar.
Downstream was the Attock Fort, a spectacular structure
  with crenellated ochre walls, built in 1581 by the Moghuls, India's
Muslim dynasty, to fortify the Afghan frontier. Upstream
  was a confluence of two great rivers: the Kabul, which had travelled
some two hundred and fifty miles from its source, in the
  mountains west of the Afghan capital; and the Indus, one of the
legendary rivers of Asia, which begins high in the Tibetan
  Himalayas. The two rivers grudgingly accommodated each other. The Kabul
was a sludgy burnt-sugar color, the Indus a
  brilliant blue-green, like a child's painting of a mountain stream.
Below the confluence, the two colors remained clearly
  visible, one river with two distinct streams, as though geography as
well as history wished to make a point about this place
  and the boundary that it marks-between the land of the Pashtun and the
Punjab, the heartland of Pakistan.

  The Pashtun have never taken kindly to boundaries, and even less to
boundaries imposed by others. Today, there are thought
  to be at least twenty million Pashtun, and their territory straddles
the borders that the British drew, in the eighteen-nineties,
  through some of the wildest and least governable terrain on earth. For
the British, this area-sometimes referred to as
  Pashtunistan-represented the extreme edge of the Raj, their greatest
colonial territory. Beyond was the kingdom of
  Afghanistan, a mosaic of ethnic groups which, since 1747, had been
ruled by Pashtun kings. As the British expanded their
  empire into northwest India, they clashed with, but never subjugated,
the tribal Pashtun. Twice, they invaded Afghanistan, in
  1839 and 1878. Both excursions ended in defeat. By 1893, the British
had finally come to see that although they would never
  conquer the region, it could be made to serve as a convenient buffer
between the Raj and the Russian empire.

  The job of delineating a border was entrusted to Sir Mortimer Durand,
the foreign secretary of the colonial government of
  India. Durand wrestled with the difficulties of marshalling the
unconquerable and disorderly Pashtun on an orderly imperial
  map. His solution was to cut through their territories, dividing them
between the Raj and the kingdom of Afghanistan, in the
  hope that the Pashtun on his side of the line would go along with the
division and allow themselves to be absorbed into the
  Raj. They did not. In 1901, several uprisings later, the British again
admitted defeat.

  Their next solution was to treat the Pashtun lands as a second, inner
frontier. If they could not be conquered, they could at
  least be a prickly hedge against intruders. The British sliced off a
new province from the settled plains of the Punjab-which
  they named the North-West Frontier Province-and left the Pashtun tribal
belt largely unaccounted for, a loosely administered
  territory where, all sides acknowledged, the colonial rulers would not
attempt to impose their law. The tribal belt exists to
  this day and remains an ungoverned land. Formally part of Pakistan, in
reality it is a spongy no-go area between Pakistan and
  Afghanistan, a land of fierce and complicated tribal loyalties and
equally ferocious tribal feuds, of gunrunning, drug dealing,
  and smuggling, where a nighttime traveller must move in armed convoy
and where the only law that prevails is
  Pashtunwali-the code of the Pashtun. Although history, and outsiders,
have tried to divide the Pashtun, they have failed to
  break the emotional, cultural, and social ties that bind Pashtun
communities across this troubled frontier. Roughly half in
  Pakistan, half in Afghanistan, the Pashtun are as troublesome today to
anyone in search of a neat political order as they were
  when the British contended with this last unsubdued corner of the
empire. Their loyalties have never been more in doubt or
  more important. Are the Pashtun loyal to the Taliban? (The majority of
the Taliban are Pashtun.) Are they loyal to Pakistan?
  Or are they loyal only to themselves? As the battle for Afghanistan
makes its way into Pashtun territories, the Pashtun have
  begun to demand what they see as their historic role-the right to rule
Afghanistan. How that demand is answered will help to
  determine not just the future of the country but the stability of the
entire region.

  Peshawar, until 1893 the winter capital of Afghanistan, is now a
frontier outpost in Pakistan. No longer the small town that
  served for centuries as a gateway between Afghanistan and Southeast
Asia, today it is a noisy, choking, overcrowded city of
  more than a million people. In its public face, it's a city of men,
heavily bearded and dressed in the loose overshirt and baggy
  trousers of the traditional shalwar kameez. Variations in color-pale
blue, pale green, white, and occasionally light brown-do
  nothing to dispel the sense of uniformity. Men throng the potholed
streets and lounge in doorways while boys hurry alongside
  the traffic, delivering glasses of green tea on brass trays. Bicycles
and donkeys compete for space with tightly packed
  minibuses, whose last-minute passengers spill onto the roof or hang
recklessly off the back. Women are anonymous to the
  point of invisibility-blue-robed ghosts, threading their way through
the bazaar or crouched by the roadside, their children in
  their laps.

  The Pashtun tribal lands around Peshawar are now out of bounds to
foreigners. Getting into them has always required a
  permit, and none are being issued. "It is not safe," a courteous but
implacable Peshawar official told me. "And if we catch
  you trying to get in," he added with a friendly smile, "you will be
arrested." The ban had been imposed in the name of
  security, when the bombing began: tribal emotions were running high,
and a foreigner might be attacked on sight. But the
  controls to the south of Peshawar, I had heard, were not too effective,
and I wanted to visit the village of Darra Adam Khel,
  which is notorious for the small workshops where, since the eighties,
tribal gunsmiths have been turning out perfect copies of
  anything from an M16 to a rocket launcher.

  Getting there was going to require a little subterfuge. I bought a
woman's version of the shalwar kameez and wound the wide
  scarf that comes with it around my head and shoulders, hiding my hair
and the lower part of my face. The effect was to render
  me as anonymous as the women I passed on the street.

  With a driver and a guide, I set off south. A few miles out of town,
some trucks were stopped at a police post. "Keep your
  head covered," the guide said, "and don't look out of the window." The
police waved us through. We drove along a wide,
  barren valley, through a landscape dotted with square windowless
forts-brick structures with defensive walls more than
  twenty feet high. They looked medieval, like ancient military towers,
but they were family homes-a contemporary architecture
  of tribal violence. There were slogans painted on the walls. "Jihad is
an obligation, like prayer," one read. "Victory or
  martyrdom," another said. "Telephone now for military training." A
number was provided.

  At first sight, Darra Adam Khel seemed an unremarkable village-a string
of ramshackle single-story houses and one-room
  shops on a main street. We drove along slowly, not stopping, for fear
of my being detected. I scanned the shopwindows, and
  my guide pointed to small plastic bags containing a blackish substance.
"Opium paste," he said. Crammed into other
  storefronts was an astonishing range of military hardware-automatic
weapons, rifles, shotguns, land mines, even a few rocket
  launchers. I counted thirty gun shops before my guide warned that I was
attracting attention.

  We pulled up beside an imposing fortified house-a watchtower was built
in one corner-where we saw a young man sitting
  under a tree, chatting with an elder. My guide exchanged a few words
with the man. I kept my face covered. Pashtun
  hospitality prevailed. He smiled and nodded and approached the car.
Like many Pashtun, he had blue eyes and light-brown
  hair. His name was Wazir Afridi-a name that identified him as a member
of the Afridi, one of the most powerful of the
  Pashtun tribes. He said he was "about thirty." He was happy to talk
about the skills of the local gunsmiths.

  "In the bazaar, you can get copies of the most sophisticated weapons,"
he said. "You can get copies of a Kalashnikov here-a
  gun that costs eighty thousand rupees-for twenty thousand," or a little
more than three hundred dollars. But the gunsmiths had
  stopped making really heavy weapons, he told me. "Five years ago, we
decided not to make any more rocket launchers. Now
  there's a five-hundred-thousand-rupee fine if anyone disobeys."

  Even before the present crisis, Pakistan's President, General Pervez
Musharraf, had been trying to rid the country of one of
  the dangerous legacies of the last Afghan war: the staggering
quantities of military hardware left over in the tribal belt. The
  arrival of modern weaponry in the nineteen-eighties, when there was an
abundance of American support for the jihad against
  the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, had had an alarming effect on
traditional Pashtun tribal feuds. Instead of attacking their
  local rivals with clubs or flintlock rifles, the Pashtun fought one
another with automatic weapons. Carrying automatic
  weapons was now banned in Peshawar (although I saw dozens, mostly slung
over the shoulders of bodyguards), and a strict
  practice of licensing had been implemented to discourage the
manufacture of new ones. As a result, the gun trade in Darra
  Adam Khel was depressed.

  "This is our business," Wazir Afridi said. "No government has had any
say here since 1901. This is a tribal area. We have
  our own traditions and laws. The business was flourishing until
Musharraf imposed his ban."

  Wasn't it dangerous, I asked, to have so many weapons? Wazir Afridi
shook his head. "We have the lowest rate of
  gun-related deaths here. Now we negotiate disputes in the jirga"-the
ad-hoc Pashtun tribal council that operates on every
  social level, from the village to the nation.

  In Peshawar, I had met a Pashtun tribal leader named Lateef Afridi, who
told me that his father, two of his brothers, and two
  of his cousins had been killed in tribal disputes. "When the Pashtun
have a family feud, they now blast each other with land
  mines," Lateef Afridi said. (After his father died, Afridi discovered
that he'd inherited some missiles-"Apparently, my father
  had bought them, but I've never bothered to pick them up.") These
disputes are part of Pashtun life, but they disappear in the
  face of an external threat. The Pashtun have a saying: "Me against my
brother, my brother and me against our cousins, we and
  our cousins against the enemy." It was a common enemy, I was told
repeatedly, that accounted, in part, for the Pashtun support
  of the Taliban. The Pashtun had fought the Soviet Union when it
occupied Afghanistan. They had fought for control among
  themselves and with warlords of other ethnic groups after the Soviet
troops left. When the Taliban came to power, in the
  mid-nineties, the Pashtun acknowledged them as tribal brothers. And,
now that the United States had attacked them, the
  Pashtun were rallying to their defense. I saw evidence of this
everywhere in Peshawar: there were Pashtun roadside stalls for
  collecting money and blood for the Taliban, and I was regularly
harangued in the street by Pashtun men who proclaimed
  themselves ready to join the jihad against the United States. According
to Wazir Afridi, fifty thousand men from his district
  had said they were willing to fight. The whole area, he told me, is
backing the Taliban, "their Pashtun and Muslim brothers."

  At the time-the bombing was in its seventh day-no one I spoke to in
Peshawar could imagine that the Taliban would lose. The
  United States was seen as just another foreign aggressor, and, like the
Soviet Union, it, too, would be chased off. Now, with
  the Taliban in collapse, tribal interests are again paramount. The
Pashtun are determined to reestablish their rule-in whatever
  form it may take.

  Violence in Pashtun society, the American anthropologist Cherry
Lindholm has argued, is learned in infancy. Lindholm spent
  nine months living in the female quarters of a Pashtun household in
Swat, in northern Pakistan. Hers is a rare study of life
  behind a family compound's walls, and her descriptions of the domestic
culture, published in the collection "Frontier
  Perspectives," are hair-raising. Pashtun family members, she writes,
are engaged in a permanent and often violent struggle for
  power in which only two human types are recognized-the weak and the
strong. "The strong survive, take power, and gain
  prestige," Lindholm writes, because they learn from their earliest
years the value of "aggression, egotism, pride, and
  fearlessness," and must be "adept at the art of manipulation and
intrigue, and above all trust no one." Domestic violence is
  regarded as the main entertainment of village life, and women routinely
display bruises and scars they have received at the
  hands of their husbands. (The term for a husband who does not beat his
wife is "a man with no penis.")

  Adam Nayyar, a fifty-two-year-old former nuclear chemical engineer, who
abandoned his career when Pakistan began trying
  to build the bomb, in the mid-seventies, is now an ethnomusicologist
and an expert on Pashtun culture. I spoke with him at his
  apartment in Islamabad. "Pashto is the only language I know in which
the word for 'cousin' is the same as the word for
  'enemy,' " he said. I had asked him to explain Pashtunwali-the code
that has regulated Pashtun society for centuries and which,
  I had been told, was one of the components of the Taliban philosophy.

  Pashtunwali, Nayyar said, is based on the absolute obligations of
hospitality, sanctuary, and revenge. The Pashtun draw their
  identity from Islam-they believe they are direct descendants of Qais, a
companion of Muhammad- but their interpretation of
  Islamic law arises out of their own tribal code. "Under Muslim law, for
instance, girls can inherit," Nayyar said. "But women
  never get anything from the Pashtun." In tribal Pashtun society, he
told me, three things are essential. "They all begin with 'z'
  in Pashto: zan, zar, and zamin-women, gold, and land. Possessing them
is essential to Pashtunness-to doing Pashtun as
  opposed to being Pashtun. And if you lose them-if you lose your land,
or your women are dishonored-you're out. There is no
  caste system, so there is no reentry further down the social scale. You
are just out. You end up as a night watchman in
  Karachi or something."

  Nayyar recalled witnessing a marital dispute being settled by a local
jirga in the early seventies. A soldier had discovered
  that his wife was having an affair with a tailor and had called for a
tribal council to impose punishment for the injury to his
  honor. The jirga ordered that the tailor and the errant wife be tied to
a tree and shot. Everyone went to watch. "I remarked
  afterward to a Pashtun friend that it had been horrible," Nayyar
recalled. "He agreed. It was a shame for the tree, he said."

  The Taliban took Pashtunwali to extremes far beyond the tribal norm.
Culturally, they were Pashtun, but their ideology was
  more fundamentalist: they were uncompromising in their aim to return
society to the purity of the seventh century, the era of
  Muhammad. Their approach to women was fanatically severe. Purdah was
the traditional Pashtun practice, but the Taliban
  policy of publicly beating women who were deemed to walk too noisily
was not.

  Islam is, of course, fundamental to Pakistan's identity. The Muslim
faith was the reason that Pakistan came into being as a
  country, separate from India, with its Hindu majority, when the British
left in 1947. Partition-the painful separation from
  India of its former province of Sind, along with the Muslim districts
of Punjab and Bengal, the North-West Frontier Province,
  and Baluchistan-precipitated savage communal violence on both sides of
what was to become the border; millions of
  Muslims poured into Pakistan as Hindus fled in the other direction. It
was a chaotic and unpromising beginning for a state that
  was already riven with social and ethnic divisions. Pakistan was not a
state that most of the Pashtun wanted to join. Like the
  Baluchis and the Sindhis, they were fearful of losing their identity in
this new country dominated by the Punjabis, who made
  up more than half the population. The Pashtun resisted, as they had
resisted the British. The story of that resistance is one that
  successive Pakistani governments have tried to erase, but which, I
discovered, has lived on in the Pashtun nationalism of the

  Badsha Khan was a Pashtun leader in the twenties who promoted Pashtun
nationalism. He doesn't feature in many history
  books. I learned of him from photographs I saw in offices and homes
around Peshawar. He founded a political movement, the
  Khudai Khidmatgars, to fight for independence from the British. The
movement's popular name-the Red Shirts-came from the
  members' uniforms, which were dyed with red brick dust. Like Mahatma
Gandhi, Badsha Khan believed that nonviolence
  was the most effective weapon against colonial rule, and although he
was a devout Muslim, he mistrusted the political
  influence of the maulanas, or Islamic scholars. The reforms he
promoted-education, sanitation, road building-were secular.

  Despite the Pashtun propensity for violence, Badsha Khan's message took
hold. Thousands of followers joined his nonviolent
  movement, campaigning to get rid of the British and win autonomy for
Pashtunistan within the Indian state. But, when the
  British left, an independent Pashtunistan was not on offer. In 1947, a
referendum proposed a choice only between India and
  Pakistan. Badsha Khan called for a boycott, and just seven per cent of
the population of the North-West Frontier Province
  voted. Nevertheless, the Pakistan option was deemed to have been
approved. The Red Shirts were branded traitors, the
  movement was banned, and their long fight against the colonizers was
all but eradicated from the public record.

  One evening, I went to uncover the traces of the Red Shirts' movement.
In a mansion two hours' drive from Peshawar, I sat on
  a deep veranda, as servants offered tea and cakes, and chatted with
Begum Nasim Wali Khan, Badsha Khan's

  Badsha Khan and his son, Abdul Wali Khan, she told me, had paid a price
for their resistance: they had spent many years in
  prison. But this did little to persuade them to abandon their Pashtun
identity. As Wali Khan once put it, "I have been a Pashtun
  for six thousand years, a Muslim for thirteen hundred years, and a
Pakistani for twenty-five." When Badsha Khan died, in
  1988, hostilities between the Soviets and the mujahideen in southern
Afghanistan ceased for a day so that his funeral cortege
  could travel safely to Jalalabad. In the mid-eighties, Wali Khan had
founded a political party, the Awami National Party,
  which campaigned for a secular democracy. Now he was an old man, too
sick on the evening I called to meet with visitors.
  He was not too sick, though, to have enraged local religious leaders
and their Pashtun warrior faithful by declaring his
  support for the United States' war against the Taliban.

  The people of the tribal belt, his wife told me, were sympathetic to
their fellow-Afghans-their Pashtun brothers. But that did
  not necessarily mean that they supported the Taliban. There was, not
surprisingly, a division within the Pashtun. There were
  those who, stirred by a small group of religious parties that were
promoting hard-line Islamism, wished to fight alongside the
  Taliban and had denounced her husband as a traitor. And there were
those who, like Wali Kahn, argued for the separation of
  politics and religion. It had been the same in the eighties, she said,
when the Awami National Party had criticized the holy
  war against the Russians. The Party followers had seen it as a war
between superpowers-between the Soviets and the
  Americans-and not as an Islamic cause. "We were called kafirs," she
said. "Nonbelievers. Indian agents, Russian agents."
  She shrugged. "But this is the way we think."

  The military has ruled Pakistan for twenty-six of its fifty-four years,
alternating power with a series of corrupt and inept
  civilian governments. It ruled the country during the war against the
Soviets, in the rather sinister person of General Zia
  ul-Haq. And it rules the country now, in the person of General
Musharraf. On a mundane level, Pakistan does not look like a
  militarized society: except when demonstrations are anticipated, you do
not see soldiers on every corner. Nevertheless, the
  country is shaped and dominated by military concerns.

  Chief among these concerns is a preoccupation with Kashmir. Pakistanis
believe that Kashmir, a majority Muslim state,
  should have become part of their country at Partition. Pakistan and
India have fought two inconclusive wars over Kashmir
  since then, and in the last decade, Pakistan claims, seventy thousand
Kashmiris have died in rebellion against what they
  describe as an Indian occupation. It is an open secret that Pakistan's
powerful military intelligence wing-the Inter-Services
  Intelligence (I.S.I.)-has sponsored armed groups in Kashmir to support
the long-running popular resistance. It is also well
  established that the I.S.I. was a backer of the holy war against the
Soviets in Afghanistan. For Musharraf-who, after
  September 11th, aligned himself with the United States against the
Taliban-the unwanted repercussions of the I.S.I.'s
  involvement in both regions derive directly from policies pursued by
General Zia ul-Haq.

  General Zia seized power in 1977 and soon thereafter the man he had
overthrown, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, was hanged. In April,
  1979, during the Carter Presidency, the United States suspended
economic and military aid to Pakistan and introduced a
  number of sanctions. Eight months later, the Soviet Union invaded
Afghanistan, in an attempt to save its tottering Communist
  regime. Zia now saw enemies on all sides: to the west, a militant
Shiite revolution in Iran; to the south and east, India; and
  now, next door, in Afghanistan, India's ally the Soviet Union. Pakistan
needed to have a friendly government in Afghanistan,
  Zia decided. Islam was the flag he raised to rally resistance against
the Soviets.

  Suddenly, Zia's fortunes were transformed. Ronald Reagan was now in
office, and the sanctions fell away. The Reagan
  Administration provided $3.2 billion in cash and arms, despite Zia's
nuclear program and human-rights abuses, and Peshawar
  became the hub of the anti-Soviet jihad, awash with money, spies,
refugees, and arms.

  In the recruiting grounds for the jihad-the Afghan refugee camps, which
were rapidly spreading around Peshawar-young men
  whose tribal links had been ruptured became ready targets for a
fundamentalist message. In that decade of easy money,
  hundreds of madrasahs-the all-male religious schools that teach a
particularly severe and absolutist version of Islam-were set
  up in the North-West Frontier Province, offering Afghan refugees and
Pakistani militants free education, food, and military
  training. The jihad also attracted thousands of international
recruits-including young Saudi fighters such as Osama bin
  Laden-who moved to Peshawar and brought with them more men, more money,
and an even more militant form of Islam,

  Asfundiyar Khan, the grandson of the Pashtun leader Badsha Khan, whom I
met in Islamabad ten days after the United States
  began bombing, described to me what the time of the anti-Soviet jihad
was like. Asfundiyar, who is fifty, is the president of
  the Awami National Party. He was first arrested at a political meeting
when he was thirteen, and has been in and out of
  prison ever since.

  "The Afghans have never accepted foreign domination," Asfundiyar told
me. "But their resistance had always been in the
  cause of nationalism. Zia changed that. Backed by the United States and
its millions of dollars and its Stinger missiles, Zia
  based a war against Soviet intervention on religion." There had been,
until then, an acknowledged division between mosque
  and state, between the maulanas and political power. Civilian
politicians paid homage to religious ideas, but there were so
  many versions of Islam that any attempt to elevate a single dogma to a
prime political position led to conflict with rival
  followers of the Prophet. Politicians had learned to tread carefully.
But, when Zia seized power, that changed. "Every Afghan
  refugee fleeing the war had to go to one of the fundamentalist groups
for tents, food, weapons," Asfundiyar said. "People
  were pushed into the arms of the fundamentalists." The Awami National
Party, he pointed out, is secular, liberal, and
  democratic. "You can't imagine what we went through, trying to keep it
going, as the United States was funding the jihad. I
  remember sitting with a cousin in a bank when a man came in to cash a
check for twelve and a half million dollars. This was
  the kind of man you would never have shaken hands with. How could I
fight that kind of money?"

  He recalled how marginal figures were changed overnight into powerful
politicians. "Like Gulbuddin Hekmatyar," he said.
  Hekmatyar was a radical Afghan Islamist who was picked by Zia's I.S.I.
agents, and the C.I.A., to help lead the new holy
  war. "When Hekmatyar was made a leader, he had scarcely one bicycle and
one bedroom to his name," Asfundiyar said. He
  mentioned Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, another mujahideen patronized by the
I.S.I. "Sayyaf used to sell socks out of a basket in the
  bazaar. Suddenly, he and all these other leaders had Land Cruisers and
Pajeros. None of them had a political organization
  inside Afghanistan. They had private armies, built in Peshawar with
American dollars."

  Asfundiyar's recollections reminded me of a question posed by Zbigniew
Brzezinski, the former national-security adviser.
  "What was more important in the world view of history?" he asked. "The
Taliban or the fall of the Soviet Empire? A few
  stirred-up Muslims or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of
the Cold War?"

  "We used to be a moderate Muslim society," Sarfraz Khan, a Pashtun
professor of Central Asian history, whom I met at the
  University of Peshawar, told me. "In 1978, when there were moves in
Afghanistan toward land reform, literacy campaigns,
  the emancipation of women, some of the Pashtun here in Peshawar, in the
intelligentsia, thought it a good thing. But
  others-who mattered-were afraid it might happen here, too." He recalled
a time when Afghani girls went to school, when
  women were seen without the veil, when television was a normal part of
life. "Then the fundamentalists were promoted in
  every sphere. There was persecution-careers were blighted, businesses
ruined, people were killed." Many liberal Afghan
  exiles who opposed the jihad were murdered in Peshawar. He grimaced. "I
was pushed out of my job in 1984," he said.
  "People like me-who criticized the jihad, hundreds, thousands of
us-were persecuted. You had to go into hiding. Our state
  was doing it, and you, the West, were pumping money in."

  Zia had hoped that his holy war would lead to a government in
Afghanistan that was friendly to Pakistan. But he never saw
  the outcome: he died in a mysterious plane crash, on August 17, 1988.
Six months later, the Russians conceded defeat and
  withdrew, and the Americans lost interest. The money stopped. And, with
the Russian enemy gone, the mujahideen fought
  among themselves. By the following year, twenty-five thousand Afghanis
had died, and the country sank into a civil war that
  lasted six years.

  The Taliban movement came to prominence in the southern city of
Kandahar, in 1994, when its members-former madrasah
  students-gained control of an important trade route that had been
subject to interference from local bandits, warlords, and
  fighting tribes. A grateful Benazir Bhutto, then Prime Minister of
Pakistan, abandoned the former mujahideen and rewarded
  the Taliban with her support. The Taliban went on to conquer most of
the country. Only in the north did the resistance prevail,
  under the leadership of a Tajik commander, Ahmed Shah Massoud. By 1996,
most of the warlords were in exile. By then,
  Pakistan, too, was harboring its own radical Islamic movement-one that
had flowered in the hothouse of the Afghan war.

  Lieutenant General Hamid Gul was the most influential figure in the
I.S.I. in the eighties, and for a time its director. He was
  responsible for the military doctrine that reinforced Zia's policy
toward Afghanistan. Called "strategic depth," the theory was
  that, in the event of an invasion by India, Pakistan would need
Afghanistan as a military hinterland, a place of retreat and
  continued resistance. This doctrine may have been, as a former
colleague of Gul's put it, "hoax and humbug," but that didn't
  much matter: for Gul, it was enough to justify a decade's worth of
meddling and military intervention.

  I met General Gul, who is now retired, in his house in a military
district of Rawalpindi, near Islamabad, where he lives in
  spacious comfort. I was shown into a reception room, and I sat on a
sofa waiting for the General to appear. Beside me, on a
  low table, a piece of the Berlin Wall was on display-a gift, it seemed,
from the West German foreign-intelligence service.
  The engraving read, "With deepest respect to Lt. General Hamid Gul who
helped deliver the first blow."

  General Gul, I'd been told, believed that he had set in motion the
events that destroyed the Soviet Union. He was, it appeared,
  not entirely alone in that view. He was a key proponent of the policy
of fighting the Soviet invasion as a holy war, rather than
  as a national struggle. He had boasted of how he recruited radicals
from all over the Muslim world-an Islamic international
  brigade, as he saw it-and had financed and encouraged the powerful
Islamic militants who were now on the streets crying for
  Musharraf's downfall.

  The General bustled into the room. He is a small man with a neat gray
mustache, and was dressed in a shalwar kameez. He
  spoke rapidly, in long rhetorical bursts, and was eager to describe his
strategic vision. He appeared to have no regrets, or
  doubts, about the legacy of his encouragement of Islamist extremists.
If things had recently taken a dangerous turn, he argued,
  it was because the United States had made a critical mistake by
neglecting the Taliban in the nineties and by attacking them

  "The nation that gifted you your superpower status today-that nation is
being ravaged and destroyed once again," he said. "I
  am very much a supporter of the Taliban, because they have brought to
Afghanistan what it needed most-central authority, law
  and order, elimination of poppy cultivation, de-weaponization, all
those things. It was like a miracle. I never thought they
  could do it in such a short time, but I saw it with my own eyes. Now
you have destabilized a society that had stabilized. It's a
  great tragedy. A great cruelty, I would say. A great inhuman act."

  The Taliban, he told me, had been pushed into a corner. If the United
States had tried a different approach, things would have
  been different.

  "And you could have got everything you wanted from the Taliban," he
said, with the exasperated manner of a schoolmaster
  explaining an obvious point to a particularly obtuse pupil. "They would
have been eating out of your hands. But you never
  talked to them, because you thought that they were not honorable. You
thought you could pick up bin Laden like you picked up
  Noriega from Panama. But Afghanistan is not Panama."

  General Gul resented the United States' relationship with India and its
lack of support for Pakistan over Kashmir. He
  resented, too, the military sanctions that were imposed after Pakistan
exploded six nuclear devices, in 1998. For him, the
  United States' decision to attack the Taliban and Al Qaeda was the
beginning of the apocalypse. "The jihad call has been
  given," he told me. "It will bring the Muslim masses out of their
slumber. You cannot say that it's not a war against Islam, that
  it's a war against terrorism, nameless, faceless terrorism. Who are the
terrorists? All the people who took part in this great
  tragedy are still hiding in America. I can't believe that it's just
those nineteen people and they all got killed and that's that.
  There must be a very elaborate command-and-communications system, a
logistics system, people who provided the safe
  haven as well as the training. And it is simply not possible that
someone got six months' training flying the aircraft. You can't
  fly a jumbo jet like that. It's all bunkum. There had to be somebody
manipulating the air traffic-control, somebody who
  switched off the warning system for the Pentagon. Somebody who asked
the Air Force not to scramble for seventy-four
  minutes. Those people are still inside America."

  The September 11th attack was, he said, part of a much bigger
conspiracy, an attempted coup against the White House. I
  asked him who was behind it, anticipating as I put the question the
answer that would come.

  "Ariel Sharon," he replied. The Israeli Prime Minister, he said, had
been enraged by George W. Bush's being in the White
  House. Al Gore was the man who would have done Israel's bidding.
General Gul then listed what he claimed were Israel's
  demands: the destruction of Pakistan's nuclear program, the disarming
of its Arab neighbors, the recognition of Jerusalem as
  Israel's "headquarters," and a definitive "no" to a Palestinian state.
These, he concluded, were the real objectives of the
  September 11th attacks. "No wonder that Henry Kissinger and Shimon
Peres and Netanyahu-all of them!-are saying,
  'America, you have the might! Do it now! Destroy them! Finish them
off!' It's a crusade against the Cross and the Crescent,
  both. And the inspiration? The same people who inspired the medieval
crusades. The Jews."

  The people of Pakistan, General Gul insisted, shared his view, except,
he admitted, for what he called "a handful of
  intellectuals who occupy Islamabad. But what's Islamabad?" he went on.
"Only an island in the sea called Pakistan. And a
  storm rising out of Pakistan will submerge Islamabad. General Musharraf
seems to think that this storm is a small thing, that
  we are a tiny minority. He says that it's no more than ten or fifteen
per cent of the people, without realizing that, even going by
  his figures-though they are not correct-ten per cent means fourteen
million activists and fifteen per cent means twenty-one
  million. And these activists are the ready-to-die types. If they rise
against the government, the government will not be able to
  stand up to them." He added, "The Army has been known to join the

  General Gul's version of events was widely shared. I encountered it
among government officials and intellectuals, in
  newspapers, and, every Friday, in demonstrations in Islamabad and
Peshawar. The demonstrations followed the
  Friday-afternoon prayers. As a woman, I was barred from the mosques,
but I listened to the speeches of the maulanas relayed
  on tinny loudspeakers to the streets outside, and the religious leaders
I spoke to reiterated the same themes.

  On the day following my meeting with General Gul-a Friday, he
predicted, that would see tens of thousands on the streets-I
  went to see what was expected to be a large rally near some government
offices in Islamabad. Many of the demonstrators
  were young madrasah students who repeated the line they had been taught
by the maulanas-the same one that General Gul had
  laid out for me. From a loudspeaker truck, a group of bearded maulanas
was haranguing the crowd. Bored members of
  television crews were foraging for action, and there was a momentary
lifting of their spirits when a group burned an
  American flag. A blow-up plastic alien dangled from a tree. "It's
President Bush," a demonstrator explained.

  But the demonstrators numbered barely a thousand-fewer, it seemed, than
the riot police who were lined up with shields and
  batons. I had by then attended several demonstrations and found that
most of them were small, lacklustre affairs. General Gul
  had articulated a vision of steadily growing protests that could tear
Pakistan apart, but, despite the efforts of the maulanas,
  there was little sign of that yet. This seemed to bear out what I had
been told about the true position of the radical religious
  parties in Pakistan. The Pakistani people showed them a certain respect
but did not seem to want them in power. They had
  never succeeded in elections and would have remained on the political
fringes had they not secured the patronage of the I.S.I.
  The influence of Islamic extremists was felt more in the armed forces
and in key appointments in the civil service, which
  many of them now occupied-again, thanks in part to General Gul's
efforts. Musharraf was trying to dislodge these people.
  Several religious leaders had been put under house arrest, and
Musharraf had reshuffled his Army command and the top
  echelon of the I.S.I. in order to rid them of fundamentalists who could
form a covert opposition to his policies. Even so, there
  was a widespread feeling that the purge had not gone far enough. And it
was possible that the maulanas preaching an
  inflammatory message in the mosques would eventually have a greater
effect on their captive audience.

  When the bombing began, Pakistan tried to close the border: thousands
of Pashtun tribesmen had reportedly crossed into
  Afghanistan to fight for the Taliban, and, in the other direction,
thousands of refugees, destitute already after two years of
  drought, were fleeing the war. The government ruled that no refugees
would be admitted, and that any who entered illegally
  would, if discovered, be arrested and deported. In fact, refugees did
come, bribing their way across the border or crossing at
  night along wilder, more dangerous routes. Then they vanished. Those
who had relatives stayed with them. Others were
  forced to find a place in existing camps. None of them could declare
their presence without risk of deportation. Officially,
  there were, therefore, no refugees.

  When the war began, there were forty-eight camps in the North-West
Frontier Province, providing a temporary home to some
  two million people. According to Lateef Afridi, the Pashtun leader,
there have been two million refugees in this part of the
  world for twenty-two years, and now the problem will only worsen. "Two
million people without an education, without
  homes, the agonizing victims of war," he said. "For these people, human
rights and bloodshed have no meaning. Most of them
  are uneducated and addicted to fundamentalist ideas. Iran, Pakistan,
the West-the world deserted them. They need a
  development package, infrastructure, they need a government."

  A visit to one of these camps entails a bureaucratic obstacle course:
one requires stamped letters of permission and,
  depending on the state of tension, an armed escort. The most notorious
camp, Jalozai, a squalid plastic city just outside
  Peshawar where only the most destitute go, remains off limits. Others,
like Kacha Gari, one of the largest camps in the
  Peshawar area, can be visited if one secures permission.

  Kacha Gari is a bleak place, built on a strip of desert on the
outskirts of the city in 1980. Before September 11th, it housed
  around seventy thousand people; the numbers have increased since then.
To get there, you bounce along a dirt road through a
  moonscape created by the excavation of clay soil to make bricks. As I
drove by, bricks were stacked in the sun to dry, and
  tall chimneys belched foul black smoke, from old tires being burned as
fuel. When I appeared on the edge of the camp, I was
  surrounded by children with open sores on their arms. A man on crutches
tugged my sleeve and led me along a rough sandy
  track to his house, a single mud-brick room, where a group of relations
had gathered-an uncle and his five children, newly
  arrived from Afghanistan. They had been farmers, the uncle explained.
Fifteen days ago, they sold their last cow to raise the
  money to come here. Their possessions were stacked in plastic bags in
the corner. "I have lost everything," the old man said.
  "Here I am, a refugee."

  Zahir Khan, the welfare officer for this section of the camp, gestured
hopelessly at the miserable accommodation: "These
  were people who had a good life in our own country." Every day, he
said, there are deaths, among the old and the children.

  Finally, on November 7th, the Pakistani government agreed to open
eleven new camps in the tribal areas. By then, according
  to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, the newest group of
refugees numbered about a hundred and thirty-five

  In Islamabad, I met Sahar Shaba, a twenty-eight-year-old Afghan
Pashtun, who is a member of the clandestine Revolutionary
  Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA). A small woman, she was
wearing a shalwar kameez, her scarf draped
  across her shoulders, and short dark hair loose around her face.

  Shaba was born near Jalalabad, and, following Pashtun tradition, lived
in an extended family of some thirty members. Had
  she stayed there, she said, she would have become a conventional
Pashtun wife after an arranged marriage at fifteen. But her
  family fled to Pakistan as refugees from the Soviet Army. The camps,
she confirmed, were dominated by fundamentalists.
  They banned music and television, as well as secondary education for
girls, so when she heard of an underground girls'
  school in Quetta she begged her father to send her there. The school
was run by RAWA. The organization, which is dedicated
  to the liberation of Afghan women, has a number of schools for girls.
(It was founded by a young Afghan called Meena, who
  was murdered in 1987, at the age of thirty. The assassins, her
followers believe, were members of the Afghan secret service.)

  Shaba arranged for me to visit a camp near Peshawar where RAWA
operates. The name of the camp, she insisted, must be
  kept secret. At an appointed time, a young Afghan man appeared at my
hotel. I noticed with a jolt that he was wearing jeans
  and a shirt. I had grown used to a country in which the women were all
but invisible and the men were uniformly dressed in
  shalwar kameez. His name, he said, was Nazeem and he was seventeen. We
climbed into an ambulance and set off.

  "When I was young," he said, "my father used to tell me that one day
there would be peace and freedom. Now he is dead, and
  I am seventeen and there is still no peace. Gulbuddin Hekmatyar
murdered my father because he was broad-minded, because
  he wanted democracy. I wish I had been born in any other poor miserable
country except Afghanistan."

  The camp we were going to, he told me, held some six thousand people
and had been set up in the eighties by a liberal
  Pashtun leader. The camp was, he felt, the way Afghanistan used to be.
"We have jirgas," he said, "and we all live
  together-Tajiks, Pashtun, Uzbeks. And you can wear what you like. In
other camps, people throw stones at you if you dress
  like this."

  We were driving through a landscape of neat sugarcane fields. About
twenty miles outside Peshawar, we turned onto a dirt
  road in another desert of brick fields. On the other side rose a
mud-brick settlement. We stopped in front of a door, and I
  stepped into a courtyard shaded by young trees. I spent the evening and
the night in the camp. This was the first time, in more
  than two weeks in Peshawar, that I had been in the company of unveiled
Afghan women. Night fell, and, as I was led to small
  houses set in secluded courtyards, I felt as though I were visiting a
peaceful rural village. Sitting cross-legged on thin rugs
  laid out on hard earth floors, the women told me their stories. Under
the Russians, they said, women had been forced to
  abandon the veil. Under the jihadis, they had been forced to wear it
again. Under the Taliban, they had been forced to wear
  the burka and were confined to their homes. And, even now, with the
Taliban gone, most women had not abandoned their
  bur-kas. They were afraid of what was next.

  Fatima, a tall, attractive woman from Kandahar, had fled to Pakistan
with her four children three days earlier, after her
  husband was seized by the Taliban. He had once been a doctor and she a
teacher, but under the Taliban she stayed at home
  and he sold vegetables.

  She glared at me. "What will you do for us?" she asked. "The Americans
are killing people. I have no food for my children,
  and I at least am lucky that I crossed the border. I hate the Taliban,"
she continued. "I don't hate them for obeying the laws of
  Islam. I hate them because of the poverty, the fact that there are no
jobs, the fact that if a woman is sick she can't go to the
  doctor." Her youngest son, a fierce two-year-old, sat on the floor and
began to eat a flower that was crushed in his fist. He
  grimaced and spat it out. His mother began to cry.

  Another mother, surrounded by her six children, described how her
husband, too, had been taken by the Taliban. A former
  teacher, he had run a shoe shop where he secretly taught his youngest
son. Six days earlier, the child had come running home,
  the keys to the shop clutched in his hand. His father had been taken
away. The woman fled with her children. "I have very
  little hope that my husband is alive," she said. "People in Afghanistan
have no tears left. We have seen our sons grow up and
  be shot." She told me stories of the Taliban's cruelty-the cutting off
of hands and feet and the slitting of throats.

  That night, I joined a group of RAWA activists for a meal of eggplant
and meat served with rice. Two RAWA teachers talked
  about the children in their classes- the little girl haunted by the
murder of twelve members of her family, the boy who wept
  when the bombing began, convinced that his remaining relatives would be
killed. One day, they told me, there will be another
  Afghanistan, another government. "Then we can return to teach in our
own country."

  Women like Sahar Shaba and her fellow-refugees are consumed by another
battle raging in Pashtun society, a battle between
  tribal tradition and modernity. For them, a future Afghanistan must
have a place for women outside the confines of purdah,
  free of the restrictions of both fundamentalism and Pashtun custom.

  The next morning, I left the camp just after dawn and drove back to
Peshawar, a city where the maulanas were preaching the
  message of holy war and the women were invisible under their blue
burkas. At a traffic light, a woman with a baby in her
  arms came to the van's window to beg. The camp, with its hopes of
education for girls, of democracy and peace, its faded
  memories of a time in Afghanistan when teachers taught in schools and
doctors attended to their patients, seemed like a
  dream. Nazeem shook my hand as we parted. "When we go back to
Afghanistan," he said, "I will invite you to the public
  hanging of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar."

  In Peshawar, I witnessed the first attempt to rally broad support for
convening a Loya Jirga in Afghanistan-the highest form of
  jirga, it would be a temporary national council that could decide on
the country's new political structure without resorting to
  violence. It was organized by Pir Sayeed Ahmed Gailani, a Pashtun
religious leader who was being backed, I was told, by
  the Pakistani government-an affiliation that had probably doomed the
meeting before it began. It was held in a modern
  conference center and attended by a thousand men from all the tribal
areas and from Afghanistan, as well as by a number of
  familiar Peshawar faces.

  Pir Gailani swept onto a platform, a magisterial figure in black robes
and a white turban. He seemed to be already
  auditioning for the office of Afghan Prime Minister. Local reporters
scanned the rows of bearded faces, looking for figures of
  authority who would indicate how serious this attempt at organizing a
viable alternative to the Taliban would be. They were
  disappointed. As speaker after speaker called for the return of the
king, Muhammad Zahir Shah, to convene the Loya Jirga, it
  was finally noted that the King had sent no representative. Nor was
there any senior figure from the Northern Alliance.

  Many of the Pashtun's rivals in Afghanistan feel that a Loya Jirga
would be simply a device to restore the Pashtun to
  power-an aim that traditional Pashtun certainly hope to achieve. Even
among the Pashtun, though, authority has been eroded
  by twenty years of war and the rise of radical Islamism, which has
become the focus for many in the refugee generations.

  Some convoys have set off from the refugee camps, returning ragged
families to what remains of their Afghan homes. But
  most refugees are holding back. They remember, Sahar Shaba, the RAWA
activist told me, the last time that the Northern
  Alliance held power. "We would be deceiving ourselves," she said, "if
we thought this was a real peace." What she sees,
  from her vantage point, is another version of a familiar
story-warlords, in different guises, jockeying for positions of power.
  "The situation is getting worse day by day," an aide to Pir Gailani
told me, "and there is no sign either of the Loya Jirga or of
  the broad-based government we proposed a month ago. If the United
Nations does not act, the warlords will simply seize

  On November 15th, exiled mujahideen crossed the border from Peshawar
and swept into Jalalabad to haggle with rival
  commanders for control of the city. In Kabul, Burhanuddin Rabbani, the
Tajik leader of the Northern Alliance, who was
  President of Afghanistan before the Taliban took power, also returned,
on November 17th, apparently, with the intention of
  resuming his old job. And in the Pashtun heartland many local figures
have emerged, positioning themselves to claim their
  historic right to rule Afghanistan. But their ethnic solidarity does
not disguise their lack of a united leadership or their
  conflicting positions. Some are willing to strike a deal with the
deserting Taliban commanders. Others see them as an
  obstacle to the greater purpose: the reunion of the Pashtun under the
tenuous authority of Afghanistan's former king-a figure
  who carries no weight with the Northern Alliance. The political
leadership of the Pashtun has been systematically
  undermined by the likes of Zia and General Gul, the I.S.I.'s veteran
holy warrior, by the refugee camps and the madrasahs, by
  the maulanas in the mosques, and by Pakistan's calculated effort to
strip the Pashtun of their political identity. For many
  Pashtun, radical Islam is their new allegiance: that's what this
generation knows.

  This allegiance was at the front of General Gul's mind. "I asked myself
why the Taliban waited so long to retreat," he told me
  when I spoke to him several days after the Taliban had abandoned Kabul.
"But now I understand. They held on to give
  themselves time to evacuate their Scud missiles and their anti-aircraft
guns before they took to the hills. Withdrawal is the
  most difficult military operation. It requires command and control and
meticulous planning. This they have achieved. Ask
  your intelligence where the Scud missiles are. They had two hundred and
fifty of them." There is now, the General said, a
  Russian-backed government in Kabul. "Putin has played a very clever
card. But the Pashtun will resist, of course. And who
  will lead that resistance? The Taliban." And their foot soldiers, he
insisted, would be the Pashtun tribesmen. "They don't like
  bombing," General Gul added. "But a long-drawn-out conflict in the
mountains-that's the thing they enjoy the most."

  I found the General's predictions dubious, and yet there was no denying
that few parties are eagerly inviting the Pashtun to
  form a government. Once again, Afghanistan's neighbors-India, Russia,
and Iran-are entertaining alternatives. The Pashtun are
  not in a good position to bargain. For now, the only hope they have is
to win, with force, enough territory to make them too
  strong to ignore, to become a power without which no peace can come to
Afghanistan. If nothing comes of negotiation, they
  will fight. (c)

Copyright 2001 The Conde Nast Publications, Inc.

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