By Walter Mayr
The situation changed overnight in Peshawar. The villas in the posh suburb of Hayatabad, hidden behind acacias, palms and oleander bushes, are now directly on the front line. The Pakistani security forces have declared war on the Muslim fundamentalists who are said to have taken up positions in the immediate vicinity.
Taliban execute a villager just 26 kilometers outside of Peshawar, Pakistan.
But where is the enemy? Outside the city, in the direction of the Khyber Pass, the sound of exploding heavy artillery rounds can be heard every few seconds.
Roger Sarfaraz listens as the monotonous recurrence of muffled detonations keeps breaking the silence of an oppressively hot summer day. He is standing on the edge of Hayatabad and looks like someone who could tell you right down to the last decimal point what this war is costing him. This smart-looking, athletically-built man wearing a Playboy t-shirt is a real estate agent.
The Empire of the Taliban
Now, in addition to the wall, three Pashtuns from the paramilitary Frontier Corps stand guard on the demarcation line with Chinese-made grenade launchers shouldered and ready to fire. But like the concrete wall and the barbed wire, they won't be able to do much to stem the tide of onrushing Taliban forces. The fighters from the tribal areas have no need to climb over the wall. They simply drive their SUVs and pickups in on the main road -- direct from the empire of the Taliban.
What the inhabitants of Hayatabad know about the world that exists just a stone's throw away from them is what they read in the newspapers or are told on television: that black-bearded, kaftaned mullahs preach to their disciples the need to wage war to defend the strict moral code of Islamic fundamentalism or that "spies" are beheaded with butcher knives, tribal elders shot, and infidels persecuted barbarically.
Still, the Pakistani government didn't get around to ordering troops into Peshawar to counteract the threat until the very end of June. By then, the rich suburb of Hayatabad had long since become a testing ground for the Islamists' advance. Last November a suicide bomber blew himself up outside the home of former Political Affairs Minister Amir Muqam on being stopped at the gate by security personnel. Four people were killed in the attack -- and since then the settlement has been on the alert.
Real estate agent Roger Sarafaz's brother was abducted by the Taliban just a few days ago. Together with sixteen other hostages, all of them members of Pakistan's Christian minority, he was dragged off to the tribal areas where he was beaten with rifle butts until he was unconscious. He was released only after massive pressure was brought to bear on the Taliban, not least of all by Western players. Since then the Pakistani government has been carrying out a military operation aimed at putting a stop to brazen attacks of this kind by the ethnic Pashtun fundamentalists who are at home in the regions along the border close to the Khyber Pass.
Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province has a population of 21 million. It's the country's Achilles' heel and one of the burdens left behind by British colonial rule. In 1893 the British drew the Durand Line dividing what was then British India from Afghanistan. Since 1947, the line has been the internationally recognized border between Afghanistan and Pakistan -- but it also goes right through the middle of the Pashtun tribal areas. East of the Khyber Pass up to the outskirts of the city of Peshawar the effects of the British Raj live on -- Pakistani law is not recognized in the "ilaka ghair," or the "land of the lawless" as the tribal areas are known.
For centuries decisions on right and wrong have been made here by a "jirga," a council of tribal elders -- an institution that is today monitored by a "political agent" appointed by the Pakistani government. At least that was the case until the Taliban began seeking refuge in Pakistan in 2001. Mehmood Shah, Pakistan's former security chief in the tribal areas, refers to this as the "human fallout" of the war against Afghanistan.
The radical Islamic militants who fled across the border found everything they needed for a new beginning -- brothers in arms from the time when they were allied against the Soviet regime in Afghanistan, a large supply of madrasa students who were now without jobs and a small group of "Maliks," tribal elders who were paid for their loyalty to the military regime of General Pervez Musharraf. The Taliban cut into the traditional structures of Pashtun society like a sharp ax into soft wood.
The fact that the backward region between the Khyber Pass and the banks of the Indus has become a focus of worldwide attention has to do with the fact that the Pakistani government has finally started its military operations there. And with the growing impatience of the US administration, given its conviction that the al-Qaida leadership is holed up somewhere in the tribal areas. The trail Osama Bin Laden and his accomplices have left behind in the service of jihad reaches all the way to Hayatabad.
The One-Armed Sheikh
Take the case of Algerian-born Sheikh Abu Suleiman al-Jaziri for instance. The May 14 death of this key strategist for al-Qaida missions around the world went largely unnoticed. He died on Pakistani soil along with 13 others in the rubble of a house that belonged to a former Taliban minister. A US drone fired the missiles that took them out.
The one-armed sheikh had been known to the authorities in Peshawar for a long time. According to the Pakistani secret service Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) a house registered in his name in Hayatabad was occupied in 1986 by an inconspicuous but very wealthy guest from Saudi Arabia -- Osama Bin Laden. It was during a time when an international Islamic resistance force was gathering to fight the godless Soviets in neighboring Afghanistan.
It was also in Peshawar, on August 11, 1988 that al-Qaida was established.
Stay informed with our free news services:
|All news from SPIEGEL International||Twitter | RSS|
|All news from World section||RSS|
© SPIEGEL ONLINE 2008
All Rights Reserved
Reproduction only allowed with the permission of SPIEGELnet GmbH