Sunday, September 7, 2008

Taliban still seems to get a lot of support from Pakistan's military and authorities

Dexter Filkins has a very detailed article about the Taliban in tribal Pakistan (and Afghanistan) on p. 52 of today’s New York Times Magazine, titled “Right at the Edge”, link here. The article suggests that, especially in this time when Pakistan’s government is in turmoil with Musharraf’s departure, the Pakastani military and authorities are contacting “Islamists” and helping the Taliban hide out for several pragmatic reasons. One has to do with the longstanding “struggle” with India (which actually has the world’s second largest Muslim population). A second reason is the increasingly religious streak among military officers. Another reason, the author says, has to do with Pakistani army “competence.”

And there is simply too much temptation to play on tribal emotions, which feed on blood loyalty (by taking action against other family members of men) and recruit young men, even for suicide missions. (You can see those family tension in the movie “The Kite Runner”, along with the controversy over its release.) There is the issue of the “old order” of the maliks, apparently the Taliban have been seen as playing Robin Hood to give some collectivist dignity to the poor. The article talks about the area around the White Mountains, where somehow Osama bin Laden “escaped” in late 2001. I’ve never felt convinced that he is anywhere near there now.

The magazine cover has a curious detailed black-and-white photo (with the text “Talibanistan”) of two young tribal men, both with mustaches, one with a beard, with the mustache-only man appearing, from the visible pores, to have his forearm shaved, as if that were the result of some religious ritual. The photo also appears online. There are more black-and-white scapes inside, and seven sections in this very long article.

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