A Talib is a male student who is attending or who has graduated from a madrassa and can recite the Koran in Arabic by heart. To learn Arabic and use the language of the prophet to recite in rhythmic tones the entire Koran’s 114 chapters and 6,236 verses takes about 10 years. By the time a Talib graduates at 16, he knows little else, except that the Earth is flat as a rug or a bed (mentioned many times in the holy book with one exception when it is described as egg-shaped). Most important in a Talib’s one-dimensional education is the firm belief that America, India and Israel are mortal enemies of Islam.
The original spark plug for Pakistan’s 12,500 madrassas originated during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s. The idea, warmly endorsed by the United States and Saudi Arabia, was the erection of an ideological barrier against communist ideology. As the United States turned against Pakistan for its secret nuclear weapons program in the 1990s, the Taliban’s Afghan branch, the brainchild of ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence service, was spun off to put an end to civil war in Afghanistan and seize power. It then ruled for four years, imposing a cruel Islamist dictatorship where music, TV and girl schools were banned. Public floggings and executions were the only public spectacles allowed. In May 2001 Pakistan’s Baluchistan soccer team returned from a non-match in Kandahar. The Taliban didn’t allow the players to wear shorts; only long baggy sweat pants were permitted.
The Taliban was defeated by the United States in October 2001 for hosting Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida terrorists. But, funded partly by Afghanistan’s multibillion-dollar illicit opium-to-heroin narcotics trade and by clandestine benefactors in the Gulf, the Taliban has staged a dramatic comeback. Even the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, says unless President Obama authorizes 40,000 additional U.S. troops, bringing the total U.S. force to 105,000, the possibility of another Vietnam-type defeat looms large. Training an indigenous Afghan army from an illiterate manpower pool and increasing its strength from 80,000 to 250,000 will take another four or five years. Meanwhile, a majority of Americans have turned against the war.
The Taliban’s privileged sanctuaries in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas made the war unwinnable. Under constant U.S. prodding, Pakistan finally moved troops from the Indian border to take on Taliban in FATA in the mid-2000s. Badly mauled by Taliban insurgents (1,400 killed, 4,000 wounded), the Pakistani army stood down. Emboldened, the Pakistani branch of the Taliban launched an offensive that swallowed the scenic Swat Valley and pushed to within 60 miles of Islamabad. Pride stung again, the army counter-attacked and took back Swat, and the Taliban launched terrorist attacks. Suicide bombers struck repeatedly in Pakistan’s major cities, even boldly penetrated Pakistan’s Pentagon. Inside General Headquarters in Rawalpindi, insurgents armed with AK-47s, grenades and rocket launchers held their own for 22 hours, killing a one-star general and a colonel. Two dozen hostages were taken and saved when a suicide bomber was killed before he could detonate his vest.
The Taliban even came back to Swat, where they attacked a military convoy, killing 40. Some 8,000 Pakistanis have lost their lives in 129 terrorist attacks since former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated two years ago.
The GHQ attack finally prodded the military to take on the Taliban in FATA’s Waziristan tribal areas, where they are deeply entrenched and heavily armed, along with Uzbek guerrillas who have been with them since their defeat in Afghanistan’s Tora Bora mountain range in December 2001, when bin Laden made it out unscathed with some 500 al-Qaida fighters. Two-thirds of Pakistanis see the United States as the “enemy,” according to a recent Pew Research Center survey. Most believe Sept. 11, 2001, was a CIA-Mossad conspiracy to provide a pretext for a crusade against Islamist militancy. Pakistan’s anti-U.S. feelings were rubbed raw when the “insulting” Kerry-Lugar bill authorized $1.5 billion a year for five years only to be spent on items approved by the United States — peanuts next to the trillion-dollar war in Iraq and the $230 billion war in Afghanistan, now in its ninth year. The cost of keeping a single U.S. soldier behind the Hindu Kush is $1 million a year. And each gallon of gasoline in the Afghan theater runs the U.S. taxpayer $400, including transportation across a couple of continents.
Former President Farooq Leghari (1993-97) blasted the Pakistan Enduring Assistance and Cooperation Enhancement Act of 2009, commonly known as the Kerry-Lugar Bill, as a “supreme example of the servility and shamelessness of our top-most leadership who secretly aided and acquiesced in the unbearable presumptions, language and conditionalities that leave Pakistan in the dock of a country whose armed forces and ISI stand accused and ‘proven guilty’ of initiating, aiding and abetting terrorism … of a country to be held hostage to accusations of terrorist activity by India and Afghanistan, a country whose entire social, religious, educational and economic direction would be determined by U.S. congressional committees and their government, whose defense forces senior positions will be in the oversight and final endorsement of that government, whose entire nuclear program and its personnel will be accessible to that government and whose federal and provincial departments and local authorities and favored NGOs will be directly beholden to that government.”
Never publicly, concluded Leghari in an article e-mailed to this reporter, has even a “banana republic” succumbed to such conditionalities. He pinned the blame squarely on “corrupt rulers” who stole billions of dollars and hid their “ill-gotten wealth with the help of international money-laundering consultants in one shell company after another in foreign countries, obfuscating their criminal past by massive bribery through a corrupt judicial system.” Were all this fraud to be brought back, Leghari concluded, “Pakistan would have more dollars than the Kerry-Lugar dispensation and whatever else we seek with begging bowls in our hands.”
The new Taliban leader for Pakistan, “Emir” Hakimullah Mehsud, who replaced his brother Baitullah after he was killed by a U.S. drone strike, held a news conference last week for Pakistani reporters, in which he spelled out the insurgents’ two key objectives: 1) getting Pakistan to abandon “the company of America” and 2) enforcing Islamic Shariah law. Judging from Pakistan’s unanimously hostile reaction to Kerry-Lugar and the Taliban’s attack against GHQ, the country’s nuclear arsenal may not be impregnable forever.
Arnaud de Borchgrave, a member of the Atlantic Council, is editor-at-large at UPI and the Washington Times. This essay was previously published as “Civl war in nuke power” by UPI.