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.