The Downward Spiral Pakistan Consumed by Violence as Taliban Power Grows

By and Sohail Nasir

Part 3: A Beautiful Death


Mohammed Ullah is maybe 14, 15 at the most, when he records his farewell video. He has pale skin and a thin nose, and he and two friends sit, arm-in-arm, on a bench. All three have volunteered as suicide bombers. When the video is complete, they place Mohammed on a pedestal surrounded by bouquets of flowers. One after another, they embrace Mohammed, kiss him and speak a few words. Several masked men, apparently higher-ranking Taliban, are also in attendance. They sing a farewell song -- a beautiful song for a beautiful death. Mohammed tries to smile.

Then he poses in front of the camera once again, this time holding a Kalashnikov that is almost as big as he is. A large radio device is inserted in the packed explosive vest. Mohammed reads the last words of his speech, and he says that he, as a "fedaï," a martyr, wishes to fulfill the mission of Baitullah Mehsud. The house in the Swat Valley where the farewell ceremony is being held is decorated with chandeliers and furnished with heavy English upholstered furniture.

At dawn, they drive Mohammed Ullah to Charsadda, a city in the west of the North West Frontier Province. His mission is to kill a well-known young politician, Sikandar Sherpao, the 33-year-old son of former Interior Minister Aftab Sherpao, a large landowner who holds liberal views and embodies the old, feudal Pakistan.

The Taliban is intent on destroying the country's traditional order and marginalizing tribal leaders and politicians, landlords and mullahs. It is motivated, not by religion or faith, but by the desire to dominate the region

On April 3, 2009, vigilant policemen noticed Mohammed Ullah in Charsadda and shot him before he could approach the young Sherpao. A few days later, the police found Ullah's farewell video in a car being driven by a team of two other suicide bombers, come to take revenge for Mohammed Ullah.

Everything Is Wrong

How much longer can Pakistan endure? Will there ever be Sufi conferences and floral wreaths in Dera Ismail Khan again?

When asked these questions, the Pakistani intelligence agency officer merely shakes his head. His office in Islamabad is furnished with a glass table and a modern, expensive leather couch. The general, who prefers to remain anonymous, says that everything was wrong -- the Americans coming to Afghanistan and Pakistan, the military offensives, "all wrong."

No one knows the Taliban better than the Pakistani intelligence agency. It was the Taliban's mentor for years, and perhaps it still is today. Pakistan has consistently viewed the Taliban as an auxiliary army that gives it influence in Kabul. A weak, dependent Afghanistan is more important to Pakistan than democracy there, or the Americans' goal of decimating the Islamic fundamentalists.

The relationship between the Pakistani intelligence agency, a division of the army, and the US armed forces is quite poor at the moment. They disagree on the strategy and objectives of the war in northwestern Pakistan. The Americans are increasing their combat forces and attacking the Taliban in a major ground offensive in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, they use drones to attack al-Qaida leaders and the Taliban on Pakistani soil. Their goal is to win the war.

If the Pakistani government and army had its way, it would rather come to terms with the Taliban in the northwest, and work out another deal and a cease-fire. But why?

The intelligence agency general narrows his eyes and leans forward. He says that he wants to tell us a story to make his position clear. It happened in South Waziristan, five years ago, in a village called Kalusha, the epicenter of al-Qaida operations, as the army was launching a massive offensive in the Pashtun tribal areas. The general fought against, and defeated, Baitullah Mehsud. Then the two men sat down together, the victor and the vanquished. "We treated each other with respect," he says. "But the Americans don't understand that." The general is a Pashtun, like Mehsud.

At that time, says the general, the intelligence agency saw Mehsud as a known quantity, someone whose behavior they could predict. "We would have dealt with him our way, just as we deal with everyone, one way or another," says the officer.

All that, the general says, has changed since the US military turned Mehsud into a "larger-than-life" figure by declaring him their public enemy No. 1 among the Taliban. According to the general, the "America" factor can now be seen everywhere and in all issues. But it is a factor, he says, that only aggravates Pakistan's problems and makes them impossible to solve.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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