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January 3, 2008 

7 killed in Afghanistan suicide attack
By NOOR KHAN Associated Press Thu Jan 3, 8:21 AM ET
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - A suicide bomber attacked Indian road construction workers and their Afghan police escorts Thursday in southwestern Afghanistan, killing seven and wounding 12, an official said.

Afghan police detain 6 Taliban insurgents in S Afghanistan
KABUL, Jan. 3 (Xinhua) -- Police in Afghanistan's southern Kandahar province detained six Taliban insurgents, said a press release of Interior Ministry released here Thursday.

Afghanistan calls on Iran to delay decision on refugees
KABUL, Jan 3, 2008 (AFP) - Afghanistan's government called Thursday on Iran to delay its decision to expel or punish more than a million Afghan refugees living there without proper documents.

Pakistanis seek refuge, relief in southeast
KHOST, 3 January 2008 (IRIN) - Sectarian clashes between Shia and Sunni extremists in Kurram Agency, in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan, have displaced

Afghanistan calls on Iran to delay decision on refugees
KABUL, Jan 3, 2008 (AFP) - Afghanistan's government called Thursday on Iran to delay its decision to expel or punish more than a million Afghan refugees living there without proper documents.

Afghan gov't seeks int'l support to Pakistani refugees
KABUL, Jan. 3 (Xinhua) -- The Afghan government on Thursday asked the international community for assisting Pakistan's tribal people who have recently been seeking refuge in Afghanistan.

Pakistani families fleeing sectarian strife pour into Afghanistan
The Canadian Press
KABUL - Hundreds of Pakistani families have poured across the border into Afghanistan in recent days as they flee sectarian violence in northwestern Pakistan, officials said Thursday.

Giuliani calls for Afghanistan troop "surge"
By Mark Egan
WOLFEBORO, N.H., Jan 2 (Reuters) - Republican presidential contender Rudy Giuliani on Wednesday called for doubling U.S. combat troops in Afghanistan as part of a broader military expansion.

Two Indians killed in Afghanistan; Indian aid to continue
By IANS Thursday January 3, 11:12 PM
Kabul/New Delhi, Jan 3 (IANS) At least two Indians were killed Thursday in a suicide bomb attack on a convoy of India's Border Roads Organization in the south-eastern part of Afghanistan. India, while condemning

A strategy to help Afghanistan kick its habit
By Edmund Phelps and Graciana del Castillo January 3 2008 18:18
The president of France, the prime ministers of the UK, Italy and Australia and the US defence secretary all visited Kabul to meet President Hamid Karzai last month. Deteriorating security was the paramount issue.

200 Taliban rebels killed in Musa Qala operation: Afghan official
Thu Jan 3, 2:11 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - More than 200 militants were killed in last month's major operation to retake the southern Taliban stronghold of Musa Qala, the Afghan defence ministry said Thursday.

More British police flown out to tackle their counterparts' corruption
MICHAEL HOWIE, HOME AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT, The Scotsman
THE battle by British law-enforcement against organised-crime gangs in Afghanistan responsible for almost the entire supply of heroin to Scotland is to be intensified within weeks, The Scotsman has learned.

British on front line of new Afghan Poppy War
By JEROME STARKEY AND MICHAEL HOWIE – The Scotsman 1.3.08
BRITISH troops are to be placed in the front line of efforts to eradicate poppy crops in southern Afghanistan, the soldier in charge of international forces in the country signalled yesterday.

Improved security allows Canadian troops to focus on reconstruction, general says
CanWest News Service Wednesday, January 02, 2008
KANDAHAR AIR FIELD, Afghanistan - The Canadian Forces will follow through with promises this year to pave roads and build new infrastructure in two volatile Kandahar districts, Brig.-Gen. Guy LaRoche said Wednesday.

Three years later, Afghan army gets new Canadian C7 rifle
TOBI COHEN The Canadian Press January 3, 2008
KANDAHAR -- After a frustratingly long three-year wait, the fledging Afghan National Army finally has acquired a new weapon for its arsenal: the Canadian C7 rifle.

Bhutto's elimination a big boost for al-Qa'ida
The Australian - Nathan Gardels | January 04, 2008
BENAZIR Bhutto's assassination is a great victory for al-Qa'ida, whether it carried out the attack directly, through rogue agents in Pakistan's intelligence services or, as Bhutto herself feared before her death, in conspiracy with them.

Military operations in Swat, Fata
Taliban movement gives two-day deadline to govt
By Mushtaq Yusufzai The News International (Pakistan) January 3, 2008
PESHAWAR: The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) (Taliban movement), a conglomerate of all militant groups operating in Fata and settled districts of NWFP, Wednesday gave a two-day deadline to the government to

Next-Gen Taliban
New York Times Magazine January 6, 2008 issue By Nicholas Schmidle
One day last month, I climbed onto a crowded rooftop in Quetta, near Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan, and wedged myself among men wearing thick turbans and rangy beards until I could find a seat.

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7 killed in Afghanistan suicide attack
By NOOR KHAN Associated Press Thu Jan 3, 8:21 AM ET
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - A suicide bomber attacked Indian road construction workers and their Afghan police escorts Thursday in southwestern Afghanistan, killing seven and wounding 12, an official said.

The convoy had been traveling on a main road toward the city of Khash Rod in Nimroz province when it was first hit by a remote-controlled bomb that was planted on a motorcycle, wounding one policeman, said Nimroz Gov. Ghulam Dastagir Azad.

The convoy stopped after the primary explosion, and a suicide bomber set off a secondary attack, killing six policemen and an Indian worker, Azad said. Ten policemen and two Indian workers were wounded.
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Afghan police detain 6 Taliban insurgents in S Afghanistan
KABUL, Jan. 3 (Xinhua) -- Police in Afghanistan's southern Kandahar province detained six Taliban insurgents, said a press release of Interior Ministry released here Thursday.

"Police arrested six insurgents from Kandahar city on Wednesday and recovered two assault rifles from their possession," the press release said.

The arrested men had acted under Taliban commander Mullah Worara in Panjwai district, it added.

Taliban have not made any comment so far.
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Afghanistan calls on Iran to delay decision on refugees
KABUL, Jan 3, 2008 (AFP) - Afghanistan's government called Thursday on Iran to delay its decision to expel or punish more than a million Afghan refugees living there without proper documents.

Tehran has said it has warned one-and-a-half-million Afghan refugees living in Iran without proper papers that they face arrest and detention in camps for up to five years.

Afghan foreign ministry spokesman Sultan Ahmad Baheen said his government was not "formally" told about the move but called on the Iranian authorities to delay their decision.

"We've not formally received what we see in media. But we believe what is being said in media is not inconsistent with what we've agreed over," he said, referring to dialogue between Kabul and Tehran over the issue in recent months.

"We hope that those decisions are not executed at least during the freezing months of the winter," he told a news conference in Kabul.

Baheen said a government delegation would "very soon" travel to Tehran to discuss the topic and other related issues with Iranian officials.

Afghanistan has complained over the speed of the expulsions, saying the country does not have the capacity at the moment to absorb the returning refugees.

More than two million Afghans live in Iran while a similar number remain in eastern Pakistan after they fled war and unrest in their homeland over the past three decades. 
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Pakistanis seek refuge, relief in southeast
KHOST, 3 January 2008 (IRIN) - Sectarian clashes between Shia and Sunni extremists in Kurram Agency, in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan, have displaced hundreds of families to neighbouring Afghanistan, Afghan officials and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said on 3 January.

At least 500 Pakistani families (about 3,000 individuals) have moved to several locations in Khost and Paktia provinces, in southeastern Afghanistan, provincial officials and the office of Afghan President Hamid Karzai confirmed.

Most of the refugees are Pashtoons - elderly people, women and children - who have sought refuge with local people and/or have set up tents in different places, said Din Mohammad Darwish, a government spokesman in Paktia Province.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has instructed provincial officials and other relevant government bodies in Kabul to urgently provide relief to the refugees, according to a press release issued from his media office.

"Afghans should repay the hospitality they received during their long years of migration in Pakistan," President Karzai is quoted in the press release as saying.

Millions of Afghans migrated to Pakistan after their country was invaded by the former Soviet Union in 1979. Over two million Afghans are still registered as refugees in Pakistan, the UNHCR says.

Needs assessment under way

Disaster response committees in Khost and Paktia provinces are currently working to determine the exact number of refugees and assess their urgent needs, officials reported on 3 January.

Shelter, food, blankets and medicine are the major requirements, which should be delivered urgently, according to an official involved in needs assessment operations in Khost Province.

"The weather is very cold and some refugee children have been affected by winter diseases," said Besmillah Gul, head of the provincial refugee affairs department in Khost.

In an urgent response, provincial departments of the Afghan Red Crescent Society distributed over 500 blankets, jerry cans and dozens of tents to some of the most vulnerable refugees.

UN agencies have also promised help.

"UNHCR has dispatched truckloads of non-food items to supplement those stocks that have already been distributed. They will be released as soon as details of needs and locations are finalised and a distribution plan completed in close coordination with other actors," Mohammad Nader Farhar, a UNHCR spokesman in Kabul, told IRIN.

The UNHCR, meanwhile, said it was committed to assisting and protecting refugees, and would help Pakistani refugees through its existing budget for Afghanistan and other resources.

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) will also deliver food aid to vulnerable refugees once assessments are conducted and relief is demanded by provincial authorities, said Ebadullah Ebadi, a WFP spokesman in Kabul.
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Afghanistan calls on Iran to delay decision on refugees
KABUL, Jan 3, 2008 (AFP) - Afghanistan's government called Thursday on Iran to delay its decision to expel or punish more than a million Afghan refugees living there without proper documents.

Tehran has said it has warned one-and-a-half-million Afghan refugees living in Iran without proper papers that they face arrest and detention in camps for up to five years.

Afghan foreign ministry spokesman Sultan Ahmad Baheen said his government was not "formally" told about the move but called on the Iranian authorities to delay their decision.

"We've not formally received what we see in media. But we believe what is being said in media is not inconsistent with what we've agreed over," he said, referring to dialogue between Kabul and Tehran over the issue in recent months.

"We hope that those decisions are not executed at least during the freezing months of the winter," he told a news conference in Kabul.

Baheen said a government delegation would "very soon" travel to Tehran to discuss the topic and other related issues with Iranian officials.

Afghanistan has complained over the speed of the expulsions, saying the country does not have the capacity at the moment to absorb the returning refugees.

More than two million Afghans live in Iran while a similar number remain in eastern Pakistan after they fled war and unrest in their homeland over the past three decades.
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Afghan gov't seeks int'l support to Pakistani refugees
KABUL, Jan. 3 (Xinhua) -- The Afghan government on Thursday asked the international community for assisting Pakistan's tribal people who have recently been seeking refuge in Afghanistan.

"Foreign Ministry has contacted UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) demanding international community's assistance to these refugees," Afghan foreign ministry spokesman Sultan Ahmad Baheen told newsmen at a press briefing.

Some 600 families, or several thousand individuals, from northwestern Pakistan's Kurram and Waziristan tribal areas, according to Afghan sources have migrated to Afghanistan's eastern Khost and Paktia provinces due to sectarian violence and militancy in the semi-autonomous tribal belt close to Afghan border.

Baheen also said that the Afghan government had provided some humanitarian assistance to the newly arrived Pakistani refugees.

Parts of Pakistani tribal areas bordering Afghanistan have been the scene of Taliban-led militancy and conflicts between militants and government troops over the past almost six years since the collapse of Taliban regime in Afghanistan.
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Pakistani families fleeing sectarian strife pour into Afghanistan
The Canadian Press
KABUL - Hundreds of Pakistani families have poured across the border into Afghanistan in recent days as they flee sectarian violence in northwestern Pakistan, officials said Thursday.

Clashes last week between Sunni and Shiite Muslims in Pakistan's Kurram tribal area left at least 21 people dead and authorities imposed a curfew in the troubled area.

Afghan officials said about 900 families - most of them Sunnis - have fled across the border in the last two weeks to the Khost and Paktia provinces. The majority of those fleeing are women and children and most are staying in the homes of friends and acquaintances.

"The situation is under control. There is no serious threat," said Khost Gov. Arsallah Jamal, who noted about 400 to 500 Pakistani families had fled to the province.

"In the past 30 years, we have seen these conflicts between Shia and Sunni in Kurram."

Abdul Rahman Mangal, the deputy governor in neighbouring Paktia province, said about 480 families had come to the border districts there, including about 20 to 30 Afghan families who were living in Pakistan.

The officials said blankets, charcoal, wood and food had been delivered to assist.

Kurram, a semiautonomous region near Afghanistan, is prone to sectarian violence.

In April, fighting sparked by an attack on a Shiite mosque left about 50 people dead. In November, three days of clashes left 91 dead before the warring sides declared a ceasefire.

It was not immediately clear why the ceasefire broke down this week.

A curfew remained in place Thursday in Parachinar, the main town of Kurram, a Pakistani security official said on condition of anonymity.

Security forces, including army troops, were patrolling Parachinar but no fresh violence was reported Thursday, he said.

The Pakistani army said Wednesday tribal elders were meeting with both factions to persuade them to end the violence.

While most members of Shiite and Sunni sects live peacefully with each other in Pakistan, extremists on both sides often target each other's leaders and activists. The Sunni-Shiite schism over the true heir to Islam's Prophet Muhammad dates back to the seventh century. Back to Top

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Giuliani calls for Afghanistan troop "surge"
By Mark Egan
WOLFEBORO, N.H., Jan 2 (Reuters) - Republican presidential contender Rudy Giuliani on Wednesday called for doubling U.S. combat troops in Afghanistan as part of a broader military expansion.

"One of the things we should do ... immediately, we should double the number of our troops, our American-led combat troops in Afghanistan," the former New York mayor said in a speech at a World War Two museum less than a week before New Hampshire holds its nominating primary.

"We need to bring a surge to Afghanistan and make it effective right now," he said, referring to the increase of U.S. troops in Iraq credited with dampening violence there.

The United States has 26,000 troops in Afghanistan. Around half of them serve in a 40,000-strong NATO-led force with the task of stabilizing Afghanistan while the rest perform a range of missions from counter-terrorism to training Afghan soldiers.

Giuliani's proposal stands in marked contrast to the policy of President George W. Bush's Republican administration.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said last month about another 7,500 troops were required in Afghanistan but he has made clear Washington wants other NATO nations to provide the vast majority of those forces.

Giuliani, whose support has dipped nationally and in New Hampshire ahead of Tuesday's primary which will help decide who replaces Bush after November's election, said a troop surge in Afghanistan would help find al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden, rout a resurgent Taliban there and help "stabilize the entire region."

Giuliani also called for a broader increase in the size of the U.S. military.

"We should increase the size of our military, right away. We should increase it by 10 new combat-ready brigades for the Army, that should be done now, and if more troops are necessary, we should do additional increases," he said.

He also said the Air Force should be bolstered with next generation fighter planes, that the Marines should number "at least 200,000" and the Navy should have at least 300 ships.

The Bush administration has already launched a program to increase the size of the Army and Marine Corps.

Under that plan, the Army should add six new combat brigades and eight support brigades and have a total of 547,000 soldiers. The total strength of the Marine Corps should increase to 202,000.

The U.S. Navy currently has about 280 ships.

Giuliani's speech came one day before the first contest to pick the Republican and Democratic presidential nominees takes place in Iowa.

Giuliani has not made a major push in the early voting states, preferring to concentrate on larger states that hold primaries on Feb. 5.

New polls show his lead declining over former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, U.S. Sen. John McCain and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. Polls in New Hampshire show Giuliani running a distant third behind McCain and Romney. (Additional reporting by Andrew Gray in Washington; editing by David Wiessler)
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Two Indians killed in Afghanistan; Indian aid to continue 
By IANS Thursday January 3, 11:12 PM
Kabul/New Delhi, Jan 3 (IANS) At least two Indians were killed Thursday in a suicide bomb attack on a convoy of India's Border Roads Organization in the south-eastern part of Afghanistan. India, while condemning the attack, has stated that it will continue to help in the reconstruction of the war-torn country.

According to reports from Afghanistan, seven people were killed when a suicide bomber blew himself up in Khasrudh district in Nimroz province, targeting a convoy of Indian workers who are constructing the Zaranj-Delaram road leading to the Iranian border. This is reportedly the first suicide bomb attack in Afghanistan this year.

In Delhi, the Indian ministry of external affairs reported that at least two Indian security personnel of the Indo Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) have been killed, and there were fatalities among the accompanying Afghan security men too.

Thirteen people were injured in the attack, including 11 Afghan security men and two Indian engineers.

'The Government of India strongly condemns this act of terrorism aimed against its aid and humanitarian programme in Afghanistan and reiterates its determination to continue to work for the rehabilitation and reconstruction of Afghanistan and the well-being of Afghan people,' said the External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Navtej Sarna.

He said that the Indian ambassador based in Kabul has been in touch with Indian personnel in that part of Afghanistan and was making efforts to airlift the injured to better medical treatment.

'We are contacting the families of the deceased and wounded. Compensation and insurance for the victims will be disbursed immediately,' he said.

Sarna said that India would work with the Afghan government to strengthen security at project sites and other locations where Indian nationals were working. 'A team to review security arrangements and identify additional measures is visiting Afghanistan immediately,' he said.

The spokesperson also added that the Indian government 'deeply regrets the loss of life and offers its heartfelt condolences to the families of the deceased'.

The incident comes only a few days after an Improvised Explosive Device exploded near the Indian consulate in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad on Dec 13. However, at that time, Indian officials had insisted that the consulate had not been specifically targeted.

A resurgent Taliban had been targeting Indian personnel employed for various reconstruction projects in Afghanistan.

In 2006, a driver at BRO, working on the same Zaranj-Delaram road, Ramankutty Maniyappan, was kidnapped and killed by Taliban. Within five months, an Indian telecom engineer working for an Afghan mobile company, K. Suryanarayana, was also found dead after being kidnapped.

In all these cases, the Taliban had demanded that India stop all assistance to the Hamid Karzai government and withdraw all its personnel. India had long suspected Pakistan of using its links with Taliban to target Indian personnel, whose presence in Afghanistan it looks at with great suspicion.

Incidentally, the Indian cabinet had on Dec 13 approved over $180 million for building the strategic Zaranj-Delaram road that would provide India better access to Central Asia and open up an alternate route for the landlocked Afghanistan to an Iranian port and reduce its dependence on Pakistan.

India currently has pledged an assistance of $750 million for various projects, including the construction of an electricity transmission line from Pul-e-Kumri to Kabul, Salma Dam power project in Herat city and setting up a national television network.
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A strategy to help Afghanistan kick its habit
By Edmund Phelps and Graciana del Castillo January 3 2008 18:18
The president of France, the prime ministers of the UK, Italy and Australia and the US defence secretary all visited Kabul to meet President Hamid Karzai last month. Deteriorating security was the paramount issue. The increase in troops and equipment that these leaders pledged, though, will not suffice to stop the Taliban’s resurgence. Afghanistan urgently needs an effective strategy for economic reconstruction.

Lack of productive alternatives has driven farmers to turn to growing poppies. Drug-traffickers support farmers by advancing credit and sharing some of the risks of production. Some farmers can survive only by selling their crops in advance. If the crops fail, they become in debt to the traffickers, creating a vicious circle.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reckons Afghanistan is now growing about 93 per cent of the world’s total poppy production and converting 90 per cent of its 8,000 tonnes of raw opium into heroin.

Since US military intervention and the Bonn agreement of late 2001, government tax revenue has averaged only about 5 per cent of gross domestic product. Warlords have been left to control a large percentage of customs revenues collected at the borders. Furthermore, donors channel a large part of their aid – up to 75 per cent at times – outside the government budget or control. As a result, the Karzai government has been unable to provide basic services and lawful employment. Un­fulfilled expectations of better living conditions and the thriving drug business have put the Taliban back into control of large parts of the territory.

The international community is not helping Afghanistan to stand on its own feet. After three decades of war and several years of severe drought, Afghanistan started the transition to peace with a per capita annual income of about $200. Humanitarian aid was needed to save lives and feed the population but it was not accompanied by sufficient and effectively channelled reconstruction aid. Without reconstruction aid there cannot be the development of businesses, the productivity growth and the sustainable employment that enable people to support themselves and have a meaningful life.

In the transition to peace, countries have an even chance of reverting to war. Avoiding this should be the first and foremost consideration in policymaking. Because of the extra budgetary burden of economic reconstruction, the optimal economic policies of classical theory are often neither immediately attainable nor even desirable.

The independence of the central bank and the “no overdraft” rule for budget financing adopted in Afghanistan – a desirable policy framework for countries in the normal process of development – has proved too restrictive. In the absence of well-funded development banks, the existing framework has deprived the country of any financing flexibility to carry out critical activities that could have contributed to the consolidation of peace.

The main sources of growth in the economy relate directly to the large presence of the international community and indirectly to the illicit drug economy. This does not offer any possibility of genuine economic development, and will never allow the country to get out of its aid dependency.

Is it possible to turn the entre­preneurial spirit of the Afghans away from producing drugs into lawful production such as cotton and textiles? Crop eradication – which often kills subsistence crops and pollutes water at the same time – has proved ineffective in controlling drug cultivation. It has proved to be a way to create huge profits for criminal and armed groups. It is likely to increase the power of the Taliban further.

The replacement of the illicit economy requires viable options. Both the US and the European Union assist their farmers through loan and price support programmes and other incentives. If donors want to “do good”, they should support a two-pronged economic reconstruction strategy.

First, donors should channel reconstruction aid through the budget to enable the government to provide subsidies or other incentives (such as price support programmes) to replace poppies with lawful crops such as cotton, which was produced in the past. The UK government is at present considering price support for Afghan farmers. Other donors should do the same.

Second, once production of lawful crops increases, donors should provide know-how, technical support and credit for the local industrialisation of such crops. At the same time, donors should open their markets through special preferential tariff treatment to light, labour-intensive manufactures from Afghanistan, including textiles.

Such a strategy – or any similar one producing and adding value to fruits, vegetables, grains, lavender or anything else that Afghans can produce – could help the country to stand on its own feet. By increasing dynamism and social inclusion this strategy would create a good economy. It would also be a way of establishing the legitimacy of the Afghan government and decreasing the attractiveness of the Taliban.

Edmund Phelps, the 2006 Nobel laureate in economics, is director of the Center on Capitalism and Society at Columbia and author of the reissued ‘Rewarding Work’. Graciana del Castillo, adjunct professor of economics at Columbia, is author of the forthcoming book ‘Post-Conflict Economic Reconstruction’
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200 Taliban rebels killed in Musa Qala operation: Afghan official
Thu Jan 3, 2:11 AM ET
KABUL (AFP) - More than 200 militants were killed in last month's major operation to retake the southern Taliban stronghold of Musa Qala, the Afghan defence ministry said Thursday.

Seventeen Taliban commanders were among the dead following the military operation to drive out the rebels who had held the small town in volatile Helmand province for 10 months, the ministry said.

"This is an assessed death toll. Now we know that over 200 Taliban were killed within the frame of operation Musa Qala," said senior defence ministry spokesman General Mohammad Zahir Azimi.

"Seventeen of them were Taliban commanders," he added, declining to provide details. At least four civilians were also killed in the fighting, he said.

Afghan military forces backed by the mainly British NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) captured the trouble-torn town in December in what they said was the year's biggest operation.

The ministry had not yet given a precise death toll for the operation, saying it was assessing the number of casualties, although the Afghan army has said "hundreds" of rebels were either killed, wounded or arrested.

Two ISAF soldiers were also killed, the international force has said.

The Taliban stormed Musa Qala 10 months ago, breaking a controversial deal in which British forces pulled out on the request of elders who said they would handle security after months of intense fighting.

The town then became a base for the fighters, whose insurgency is at its bloodiest this year with around 6,000 people dead. The operation to take it back had been long awaited.

Helmand is Afghanistan's main opium-growing area and a stronghold for the Taliban militia who were removed from government in 2001 for harbouring Al-Qaeda leaders after the September 11 attacks on the United States.

Southern Afghanistan, from where the Taliban rose in early 1996, sees the worst of the insurgency violence with regular attacks.
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More British police flown out to tackle their counterparts' corruption
MICHAEL HOWIE, HOME AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT, The Scotsman
THE battle by British law-enforcement against organised-crime gangs in Afghanistan responsible for almost the entire supply of heroin to Scotland is to be intensified within weeks, The Scotsman has learned.

The UK-wide Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) is about to double the number of its officers operating in the country as efforts shift towards tackling the corruption within local police forces that is facilitating the movement of heroin.

SOCA officers have been based in Afghanistan since the agency was established nearly two years ago, principally targeting the gangs producing and trafficking the drug.

But the main focus of the new squad of about 15 officers will be to train and monitor Afghanistan's law-enforcement authorities. Their corruption has been identified as contributing to escalating heroin trafficking.

An estimated 92 per cent of heroin coming into the UK originates from Afghanistan, and the signs are that the amount of the drug arriving on our shores is increasing, with prices falling and purity levels on the rise.

Last year, a record 421 people in Scotland died from drug overdoses. Heroin was involved in 260 of the deaths, 66 more than the previous year.

Earlier this month, it was revealed that the number of drug addicts in Scotland receiving prescriptions for methadone had risen by 35 per cent over the past five years, reflecting a huge increase in people becoming addicted to heroin.

The Class-A drug is currently available for about £30-£100 per gram, depending on quality. Supplies from Afghanistan are flooding the market, leading to more easily available, cheaper "fixes". Across the UK, average prices fell from £70 per gram in 2000 to £54 in 2005.

Heroin addiction is costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of pounds every year, in funding addicts' treatment and also in dealing with crime committed to feed habits.

A SOCA source told The Scotsman that tackling corruption among Afghan authorities would now become a major focus as the agency seeks to cut off more UK-bound heroin.

"There will be a big increase in officers stationed in Afghanistan early in the new year. The main thing they will be focusing on will be monitoring and training of Afghan law-enforcement," said the source.

The scale of the problem is massive. One border police commander in eastern Afghanistan was estimated by counter-narcotics officials to be taking home about £200,000 a month from heroin smuggling.

Last summer, a border police vehicle was stopped outside Kabul and found to be carrying 123.5kg of heroin, worth about £150,000. The five men inside – an officer, three other policemen and a secretary – were under the command of Haji Zahir, formerly the border police commander of Nangarhar province. He was removed from his post, but never charged.

The United Nations has given the Afghan government a list of "Mr Bigs" driving the illegal trade, and the British government has funded a high-security prison for the biggest players.

But progress has been limited, with Gen Khodaidad, the acting minister for counter-narcotics, admitting in the summer their approach to tackling the drugs problem had failed.

The increase in SOCA officers, combined with existing seconded personnel from UK police and customs services, will bring the total number of UK police trainers in Afghanistan above 50, with more than 300 from across the world.

Last night, a Scottish police spokesman said they were working "closer than ever" with law-enforcement groups outside Britain to try to stem the tide of heroin reaching the UK.

Detective Superintendent Willie MacColl, the national drugs co-ordinator for the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency, said: "It's crucial we work with partners at home and abroad to tackle the flow of drugs into the country. The impact of heroin on communities in Scotland is considerable."

POPPY cultivation in Afghanistan has soared out of control since the United States-led invasion of 2001.

Tony Blair volunteered Britain as the lead nation in counter narcotics at the Bonn conference in December that year, but heroin production has continued to rise. Most of it comes from the southern province of Helmand.

There are three main proposals in dealing with the crop, aerial spraying, ground eradication and licensing.

The US supports aerial crop spraying. Its ambassador, dubbed "Chemical Bill" Woods, went to Kabul from Colombia, where he backed similar initiatives against the cocaine crop.

But Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, has forbidden aerial spraying, and Britain supports his position. UK drug officials believe chemical spraying would hand the Taleban a massive propaganda coup, whether or not the chemicals were ever found to be harmful. "It only takes one sick child or a dead goat and they can blame it on spraying," one diplomat said.

Britain favours ground-based eradication – ploughing, pulling up or chopping down poppy plants – by Afghans.

It is dangerous, because farmers can mine their fields, attack the eradicators or bribe them to leave their crop alone.

Last year, the British let local governors choose which poppy fields should be targeted. The result was that poor farmers unable to bribe the governors were hardest hit. Rocky, unfertile fields were targeted – the best land was left alone.

This year, dedicated teams are choosing farmers to target based on whether they have other incomes.

Alternative livelihoods are a key part of the British approach. Counter-narcotics officials say there is no point destroying someone's poppy crop unless you can help them earn a legitimate living. They say that's impossible until the security situation in Helmand improves to the point where it is safe enough for farmers to get their goods to market along roads free from bandits that haven't been damaged or destroyed by war.

The Senlis Council, a Swiss based think tank, has advocated legalising the poppy crop and buying the opiates for medicinal use. Most Afghan experts dismiss this approach. One charity worker described the group as a "passing-thought tank, not a think tank".

Licensed poppy cultivation can work only with an effective police force, capable of implementing the rule of law, which Afghanistan doesn't have.

"Even if you license every grower in Afghanistan and buy up their poppies, there will always be a market for illegal opium, for heroin," one expert said. "The black-market price will be higher than the licensed price and farmers will supply both. All you achieve is a confusing mixed message to farmers."

The full article contains 2103 words and appears in The Scotsman newspaper.
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British on front line of new Afghan Poppy War
By JEROME STARKEY AND MICHAEL HOWIE – The Scotsman 1.3.08
BRITISH troops are to be placed in the front line of efforts to eradicate poppy crops in southern Afghanistan, the soldier in charge of international forces in the country signalled yesterday.

General Dan McNeill, of the United States, predicted good weather would mean "explosive growth" this year in the illegal opium trade, which is centred on Helmand province and accounts for more than 90 per cent of the heroin on Britain's streets.

UK troops, who are in Afghanistan on a security-and-stability mission, have deliberately avoided eradication operations in Helmand because they are unpopular, dangerous and drive farmers into the hands of the Taleban. But that is about to change as NATO and the international community come under increasing pressure to target Afghanistan's massive heroin economy, which bankrolls the Taleban insurgency.

While Gen McNeill, commander of NATO's International Security Assistance Force, failed to spell out precisely the role of British soldiers, it is expected they will be asked to help eliminate growers and dealers with links to the Taleban.

The Scotsman can also reveal that Britain's Serious Organised Crime Agency is to double its presence in Afghanistan. An additional 15 officers will be deployed to train members of the country's law enforcement agencies to root out corruption.

Gen McNeill said he would take NATO's mandate "to the limit" to support operations against poppy farmers in Helmand, where most of Britain's 7,700 troops are based.

It was the clearest signal yet that he would risk British soldiers' lives to support Afghan poppy eradication teams. A total of 86 UK forces personnel have died in Afghanistan since 2001.

There was a 17 per cent boom in poppy cultivation last year: acre for acre, Helmand is the world's biggest opium producer. Gen McNeill said: "I expect to see another year of explosive growth in poppy that will continue to complicate the security sector."

He went on: "There is a NATO mandate as to what I can do, and the secretary general and the Senior Allied Commander, Europe, have told me to take it to the limit, and I will."

He stressed the NATO alliance was not an eradication force, but said British troops would be used against drug traffickers with links to Taleban fighters.

"When I see poppy fields, I see it turning into money that turns into IEDs (roadside bombs] Kalashnikovs and RPGs (rocket propelled grenades] that are used to kill Afghans and members of the international community," he said. "Where there is a link between narcotics and the insurgent, the NATO mandate allows me to operate against that relationship."

Britain has repeatedly resisted US calls to introduce aerial spraying because counter-narcotics officials fear it would hand a propaganda coup to the Taleban.

But ground-based eradication efforts are fraught with danger. Farmers can mine poppy fields and attack eradication teams. And, so far, ground-based eradication efforts have failed to have any significant impact.

Under the new strategy, UK troops will not be asked to tear up poppy fields themselves but they could be ordered to provide "force protection" for Afghans, which could mean having quick-reaction troops on standby nearby, or securing the fields' perimeters while eradication teams set to work.

Gen McNeill said: "Narcotics is a huge challenge for the people of Afghanistan and an equally huge challenge for the NATO alliance. Poppy is a problem that the government of Afghanistan must take on, but it needs help to do it and it will need international help."

UK troops are reluctant to support eradication teams. But without British support, diplomats fear Afghan eradication teams, backed by US contractors, will be slaughtered by angry drug traffickers and Taleban fighters.

Acknowledging he had little hard data to back him up, Gen McNeill estimated that 20 per cent to 30 per cent of Afghanistan's multibillion-dollar illicit drug economy – vastly bigger than the formal economy – was funding the insurgency.

He predicted that, with rising demand, higher prices and long-term weather forecasts suggesting perfect growing conditions this year, both the industry and insurgency would grow unless "pressure, incentives or dissuasion" were significantly increased.

While the hardline Islamic Taleban managed virtually to eradicate poppy cultivation in the year before they were ousted by the US-led force after the 11 September terrorist attacks on the US, the crop has made a remarkable comeback in the years since western-backed President Hamid Karzai took power.

The Taleban, backed by foreign fighters, including al-Qaeda operatives, have made a comeback, too – and, not coincidentally, in the south and east, the heartland of poppy production.

The poppy, which requires water only once every five days while growing, is a perfect crop for Afghanistan's frequently dry summers and where irrigation is generally provided by snow melt from the mountains.

Western-led crop replacement programmes have worked in areas where security has allowed development and construction projects to develop irrigation schemes to sustain them, but in the Taleban "badlands", the poppy is still king.

Poppy production, which is the main source of income for Afghanistan's 28,000 farmers, has increased from 4,000 tonnes in 2005 to more than 8,000 tonnes this year.

Much of it is turned into heroin inside domestic laboratories controlled by a network of organised criminals, many of whom are thought to have close links with the Afghan government.

The growth in production led to Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, the British ambassador to Afghanistan, warning of a decades-long battle to tackle the problem.

"It paints a very serious picture and we are deeply concerned," he said. "The drugs problem is a symptom of a deeper disease and, as we tackle instability, disorder and the insurgency … we will see poppy production go down.

"The overall conclusion is that there are no magic solutions, no silver bullets, and that this requires patience.

"As experience in Pakistan or Thailand shows, it takes 15 or 20 years to squeeze a cancer like this out of a society as debilitated as Afghanistan's is after 30 years of war."
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Improved security allows Canadian troops to focus on reconstruction, general says
CanWest News Service Wednesday, January 02, 2008
KANDAHAR AIR FIELD, Afghanistan - The Canadian Forces will follow through with promises this year to pave roads and build new infrastructure in two volatile Kandahar districts, Brig.-Gen. Guy LaRoche said Wednesday.

Over the next few months, the Canadians plan to hire about 200 Afghans to work on paving about 10 kilometres of roads traversing Zhari and Panjwaii districts. Despite ongoing security concerns in the region, Canadian Forces have recently completed a new causeway connecting the two districts across the Arghandab River and are in the process of building a new police headquarters in the region.

"Road paving is coming," Laroche told journalists. "It's something that we're working on right now. The intention is to hire people who come from the region. That's what we've done with the causeway too.
"I think we see progress and we're going to see a lot more in the coming months and years."

The ability to complete these projects is linked to improved security in the region as a result of a weaker insurgency in these rural districts southwest of Kandahar City, he said. Canadians are focusing their military and reconstruction efforts on Kandahar City and these surrounding districts, since they contain three-quarters of the population base in the province, about 750,000 people, the Canadian contingent commander said.

"If you look at the threat last year, the enemy had a good number of insurgents," Laroche said. "Today we don't see that anymore. You see small groups here and there, but nothing as major as we saw last year."

For coalition forces and civilians overall, 2007 is said to be the bloodiest year on record for coalition forces and civilians in Afghanistan. For example, there were only five suicide attacks between 2001 and 2005, a September United Nations report says. Yet attacks escalated to about 140 in 2007, according to news reports. There were 123 attacks in 2006, the UN study says. While more than two-thirds of suicide missions target coalition and Afghan security forces, victims of the attacks are mostly civilians.

"A total of 183 Afghans - 121 of whom were civilians - were killed in suicide bombings in the first half of 2007," the UN study said.

Laroche denied that the decline in fatalities was linked to insurgents increasingly focusing their attacks on weaker targets, like the poorly trained and poorly equipped Afghan National Police. Laroche said the best way the Canadian Forces can help the Afghan police is to offer them training and military support. For example, older and better-trained Afghan army officers are not targeted as frequently as the police because they work more closely with the coalition officers.

"The police were by themselves, so when they were attacked there was no way for them to defend themselves," he said. "If we do the same thing with police (as with the army), it will be the same. And after awhile they (insurgents) won't have any more targets."
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Three years later, Afghan army gets new Canadian C7 rifle
TOBI COHEN The Canadian Press January 3, 2008
KANDAHAR -- After a frustratingly long three-year wait, the fledging Afghan National Army finally has acquired a new weapon for its arsenal: the Canadian C7 rifle.

Some 42 boxes of surplus weapons arrived at the ANA base just up the road from Kandahar Airfield last week, Brigadier-General Gul Aqa said yesterday. Training is already under way.

Aimed at replacing the Afghan army's old Soviet-era AK-47s in order to bring the force's fire power capabilities in line with that of NATO countries, the Canadian rifles are a welcome addition, Brig.-Gen. Aqa said.

"They're very modern and new weapons and the C7 is a real necessity for the ANA," he said through a translator. He said the AK-47s often jam, leaving soldiers vulnerable to enemy fire.

 The Canadian government announced quietly late last month that it would be donating 2,500 surplus C7 rifles to the Afghan army. Canada is also contributing ammunition and training.

The C7 is a variation of the U.S. M16 rifle.

It takes a smaller but faster and more powerful bullet than the AK-47 and is considered more accurate since there's less recoil, the magazines can carry more rounds and it has a longer range.
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Bhutto's elimination a big boost for al-Qa'ida 
The Australian - Nathan Gardels | January 04, 2008
BENAZIR Bhutto's assassination is a great victory for al-Qa'ida, whether it carried out the attack directly, through rogue agents in Pakistan's intelligence services or, as Bhutto herself feared before her death, in conspiracy with them.

Bhutto's murder is the closest it's come to killing a Western leader; it is al-Qa'ida's most sensational attack since downing the twin towers on 9/11. And it confirms that Pakistan, not Iraq, is the front line in the fight against Islamic jihadists.

The day after 9/11, Bhutto told me she had already received intelligence that she would be al-Qa'ida's next target after the assassination of the Afghan Northern Alliance leader Ahmed Shah Massoud two days before the attacks on New York and Washington. In order to protect al-Qa'ida's position in Afghanistan, he needed to be eliminated.

Once he was gone, the terrorist group feared she was the one popular leader who could rally Pakistanis against al-Qa'ida and the Taliban, even from exile, and spoil Pakistan's support and indulgence of the Taliban's protective rule.

Bhutto recalled: "I shared power with the security apparatus through the president when I was last prime minister. Yet the extremists were on the run. Osama (bin Laden) did not dare go to Kabul until the decision to overthrow me was taken in mid-1996. The Taliban were stuck in southern Afghanistan because of our foreign policy. It was only after my brother was killed in the third week of September 1996 that the Taliban unilaterally went into Kabul.

"Osama first bankrolled the extremists against me way back in 1989," she said. "He gave $10 million for a no-confidence move against me in the parliament.

"Some said he returned to Saudi Arabia after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan but was sucked back into South Asia by extremists in Islamabad. They wanted his financial investment in my overthrow."
Bhutto's advice after 9/11 was straightforward, and not followed. "Islamabad," she said, "is the jugular vein of Kabul. Clean up Islamabad and the Afghan (al-Qa'ida) camps start falling like dominoes."

Instead, the US looked to Pervez Musharraf and accepted at face value his strongman guarantees that he would crack down on extremism.

We bombed Afghanistan, routed some camps, chased bin Laden to the border with Pakistan, then moved on to Iraq - the wrong war against the wrong enemy - leaving the nourishment flowing from Islamabad to the extremists. This was not only Bhutto's view but also that of the French intellectual Bernard-Henri Levy, who wrote a book on the death of Daniel Pearl, and whom I interviewed at the end of November.

Two weeks ago, I got an email from Bhutto thanking me for publishing this interview because it so closely accorded with her views.

"It turns out I was right beyond my most pessimistic analysis at the time when I wrote the book on Daniel Pearl," Levy said. Pakistan was a ticking bomb with nuclear weapons. Now the political bomb is detonating.

"There are three components to this crisis: the jihadist forces are increasing in the border regions with Afghanistan and also in the heartlands; the secret services have been even further infiltrated, not less so, by jihadists than when I wrote my book; and Musharraf is unable to react in any way other than dictatorship, which in itself will fuel a worse crisis. A great eruption awaits, Im afraid."

Levy's hope rested on Bhutto: "In Pakistan, there is a substantial moderating middle class, which Bhutto represents, that is an important force for progress. We must admire, on this score, the personal courage of Benazir Bhutto defying both the forces of tyranny and the jihad. Courage, of course, is always a surprise. But it is not only courage. She also senses part of the opinion is moving. Will it move fast enough? Of this I'm not sure."

In the end, he argues of the West and its allies that "we were all fools rushing off to war into Iraq. The real epicentre of the Islamist danger was Pakistan. Al-Qa'ida's core base is not in Tora Bora or even the tribal areas of Pakistan, but in Karachi and Islamabad, close to the nuclear weapons and close to the headquarters of the (Inter-Services Intelligence). Al-Qa'ida are the proverbial guerilla fish in the sea of Pakistan's major urban population.

"Khalid Sheik Mohammed for instance, who was one of the real brains of al-Qa'ida, who conceived the 9/11 attacks and claimed to have killed Daniel Pearl with his own hands (although I'm not sure), was captured in Rawalpindi, only two miles from the headquarters of the army.

"Of course, Musharraf knows this. He tolerates it to maintain the complicated balance of forces that keeps him in power.

"That is why the only hope for Pakistan is if Bhutto's presence can shift the balance of power so that Musharraf and the military either are overthrown or are really compelled to move in Bhutto's direction, rejecting the modus vivendi with al-Qa'ida and their allies in the ISI."

Now that hope is gone. Tragically, Pakistan suffers a political void at the democratic centre without Bhutto and is at the same time the emergent centre of Islamist fundamentalism globally. As Levy puts it: "There is no question in my mind that the centre of gravity of Islamist fundamentalism is shifting from the Arab world to the Asiatic world.

"As V.S. Naipaul pointed out in his book Beyond Belief: Islamic Excursions Among Converted Peoples, the zeal of converts outside the Arab world is more fervent. Just looking at a map through Osama bin Laden's eyes will tell you that Kashmir is closer to the centre of the Muslim world (than) Palestine. For most of the jihadists, Kashmir is the real Palestine.

"In this sense, the war in Iraq was not only foolish but a moral crime because it diverted focus and resources from the real issue. Not focusing on Pakistan after 9/11, and instead contracting out to Musharraf, was a grave strategic error of the US. It paralleled two other mistakes in dealing with Islamist fundamentalists: first, the indiscriminate and unquestioning support (for) the Afghan resistance against the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s, not distinguishing between the fundamentalist stem cells of al-Qa'ida (Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's groups) and the democratic forces of young commander Massoud's Northern Alliance; and then, America's dangerous tolerance of Saudi Wahhabism in return for oil."

Because of her unique position between East and West, and because she was a woman, Bhutto would have been a key player in starting to unravel this knot that pits the interests of oil and jihadism against human rights and democracy across the Middle East and South Asia.

Her husband and son will now be the figureheads in her party, the Pakistan People's Party. But who can replace her in this role?

Nathan Gardels is editor of Global Viewpoint.
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Military operations in Swat, Fata
Taliban movement gives two-day deadline to govt
By Mushtaq Yusufzai The News International (Pakistan) January 3, 2008
PESHAWAR: The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) (Taliban movement), a conglomerate of all militant groups operating in Fata and settled districts of NWFP, Wednesday gave a two-day deadline to the government to stop military operations in Swat and rest of the tribal areas, else it would re-launch attacks on security forces and government installations.

And in South Waziristan Agency's Ladha subdivision, a tribal jirga succeeded in putting an end to the 2-day clashes between militants and paramilitary forces that erupted with the abduction of four FC soldiers Tuesday.

Maulvi Omar, a spokesman for TTP and Commander Baitullah Mahsud, called The News from an undisclosed location and said the decision to give a deadline to the government was taken in their Shura meeting.

He said senior militant commanders from all the seven tribal agencies, Frontier Regions (FRs) and settled districts of NWFP attended the meeting. Omar said all of them were unanimous on giving the two-day deadline to the government to stop military operations in Swat, North Waziristan and rest of the tribal regions and release all the detained militants.

The deadline started Wednesday and would expire today (Thursday), he explained. "We would definitely launch attacks on security forces and other government installations if our demands are not accepted before the deadline," remarked the militants' spokesman.

When asked about extension of a ceasefire announced by militants in North Waziristan Agency till January 20 to facilitate a tribal jirga negotiate between them and the government to restore peace, Maulvi Omar said: "This issue was thoroughly discussed in the Shura meeting. We are in contact with senior commanders of militants in North Waziristan who assured us of their full cooperation in case of any resistance against the government," he claimed.

Omar said after merging their groups in Tehreek-e-Taliban, all militant commanders have agreed not to hold talks or sign peace accord with the government on their own. He said all the militant groups would take the TTP Shura into confidence prior to any talks or signing peace agreement with the government.

Baitullah Mahsud is the Amir (central leader) of the movement, Maulana Hafiz Gul Bahadur, who is militants' head in North Waziristan, senior Naib Amir and Maulana Faqir Muhammad, militants' commander in Bajaur, as the Naib Amir.

In his televised speech to the nation Wednesday evening, President Gen (R) Pervez Musharraf personally mentioned Baitullah Mahsud and Maulana Fazlullah and blamed them for masterminding the suicide attack on Benazir Bhutto in Rawalpindi.

Baitullah has however already defended his position and denied his hand in the assassination while Fazlullah, who had not been accused earlier by the government, is yet to clarify his position.

Meanwhile, following heavy clashes between the paramilitary Frontier Corps and militants in Ladha subdivision, a tribal jirga has initiated efforts for restoration of peace and ceasefire between the two sides.

A pro-MMA senator from South Waziristan, Maulana Selah Shah told The News that they started efforts to stop the fighting. He said the jirga would sit with both the sides to listen to their viewpoints. There were unconfirmed reports that 20 people were killed in the latest spate of fighting between militants and security forces but officials termed it baseless.
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Next-Gen Taliban
New York Times Magazine January 6, 2008 issue By Nicholas Schmidle
One day last month, I climbed onto a crowded rooftop in Quetta, near Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan, and wedged myself among men wearing thick turbans and rangy beards until I could find a seat. We converged on the rooftop that afternoon to attend the opening ceremony for Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam’s campaign office in this dusty city in the southwestern province of Baluchistan. Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, better known by its abbreviation, J.U.I., is a hard-line Islamist party, widely considered a political front for numerous jihadi organizations, including the Taliban. In the last parliamentary elections here, in 2002, the J.U.I. formed a national coalition with five other Islamist parties and led a campaign that was pro-Taliban, anti-American and spiked with promises to implement Shariah, or Islamic law. The alliance, known as the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, or M.M.A., won more than 10 percent of the popular vote nationwide — the highest share ever for an Islamist bloc in Pakistan. The alliance formed governments in two of the country’s four provinces, including Baluchistan.

A cool breeze blew across the rooftop, and a green kite flew above in the crisp, periwinkle sky. The J.U.I. was gearing up again for national elections, then scheduled for the second week of January, but the message this time was remarkably different from what it was five years ago. One by one, hopefuls for the national and provincial assembly constituencies gave short speeches. Most of them spoke in Pashto, but, knowing Urdu, I could understand enough to realize that they weren’t rehashing the typical J.U.I. rhetoric. No one praised the Taliban. Shariah was mentioned only in passing. Just one person, a first-time candidate in a suede jacket who probably felt obliged to prove his credentials in a party of fundamentalist mullahs, attacked the United States. Afterward, party workers handed out free plates of cookies and cups of tea.

This seemed altogether too gentle. Had the J.U.I. gone soft? Among several firebrands conspicuous by their absence was Maulvi Noor Muhammad, Quetta’s former representative in the National Assembly and an outspoken supporter of the Taliban, so I went to see him at his madrassa. Adolescent students, many wearing the black turbans favored by the Taliban, mingled by the metal entrance gate. Muhammad had told me in the fall of 2006 that the sole reason that the Taliban hadn’t defeated NATO forces in Afghanistan yet was because NATO had B-52’s, and when I reminded him of this, he smiled through a mouthful of missing teeth. “The Taliban have more than made up for that disadvantage now with suicide bombers,” he said.

If the government’s version is correct, radical Islamists pressed their advantage to terrible effect in assassinating Benazir Bhutto during a rally on Dec. 27. Bhutto’s family and her party clearly have no faith in the probity of President Pervez Musharraf’s government, and many - including Nawaz Sharif, Bhutto’s nearest rival in the Pakistani opposition - have accused the government of creating the security situation that led to her murder. Musharraf responded in a nationally televised speech on the evening of Jan. 2 by doubling his insistence that terrorists were responsible: “We need to fight terrorism with full force, and I think that if we don’t succeed in the fight against terrorism, the future of Pakistan will be dark.” Efforts at democratic integration by parties like the J.U.I. have now been overshadowed by the violence of their antidemocratic Islamist colleagues - a network of younger Taliban fighting on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistani border, jihadis pledging loyalty to Al Qaeda and any number of freelancing militants. Disrupting and discrediting democracy may, of course, be the point. The Bhutto assassination could well make moderation impossible, as Islamist radicals savor their disruptive power - and enraged mainstream parties threaten the stability of the government itself. For now, the Bhutto killing has given the opposition a rare unity, and the elections, although delayed to Feb. 18, may well go ahead. The J.U.I. remains determined to continue campaigning. Six weeks, however, could prove to be a very long time in Pakistan’s embattled politics.

In Quetta, Maulvi Noor Muhammad, who is 62, sat on the madrassa’s cold concrete floor wrapped in a wool blanket as he leafed through a newspaper. Speaking in Pashto through an interpreter, he said that Maulana Fazlur Rehman, the J.U.I. chief, had visited three times in the previous few weeks to persuade him to enter the election. Muhammad claimed to have refused each time because he believed the J.U.I. had drifted from its core mission: to lead an aggressive Islamization campaign and provide political support to what he referred to as the mujahedeen, a term for Muslim fighters that can shift in meaning depending on who is speaking. “Participating in this election would amount to treason against the mujahedeen,” he said. I asked about the others in the party who had decided to run for office. Muhammad shook his head in disappointment and explained how, following the government operation against the Red Mosque rebels in Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital city, in July, President Musharraf put religious leaders under tremendous pressure. “Musharraf threatened to raid several madrassas,” Muhammad said. “The political mullahs got scared.”

Maulana Fazlur Rehman is exactly the sort of “political mullah” whom Muhammad portrayed as running scared. In the past year, the J.U.I. chief has tried to disassociate himself from the new generation of Taliban wreaking havoc not only across the border in Afghanistan, as they have for years, but also increasingly in Pakistan. At the same time, Rehman has been trying to persuade foreign ambassadors and establishment politicians here that he is the only one capable of dealing with those same Taliban. (Rehman told me that he never offered Muhammad a chance to enter the election; he even added that the J.U.I. had already expelled the Taliban guru “on disciplinary grounds.” ) In the process, some Islamists maintain that Rehman has sold them out. Last April, a rocket whistled over the sugarcane fields that separate Rehman’s house from the main road before crashing into the veranda of his brother’s home next door. A few months later, Pakistani intelligence agencies discovered a hit list, drafted by the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban, with Rehman’s name on it.

“The religious forces are very divided right now,” I was told by Abdul Hakim Akbari, a childhood friend of Rehman’s and lifelong member of the J.U.I. I met Akbari in Dera Ismail Khan, Rehman’s hometown, which is situated in the North-West Frontier Province. According to this past summer’s U.S. National Intelligence Estimate, approved by all 16 official intelligence agencies, Al Qaeda has regrouped in the Tribal Areas adjoining the province and may be planning an attack on the American homeland. “Everyone is afraid,” Akbari told me. “These mujahedeen don’t respect anyone anymore. They don’t even listen to each other. Maulana Fazlur Rehman is a moderate. He wants dialogue. But the Taliban see him as a hurdle to their ambitions. ”

Rehman doesn’t pretend to be a liberal; he wants to see Pakistan become a truly Islamic state. But the moral vigilantism and the proliferation of Taliban-inspired militias along the border with Afghanistan is not how he saw it happening. The emergence of Taliban-inspired groups in Pakistan has placed immense strain on the country’s Islamist community, a strain that may only increase with the assassination of Bhutto. As the rocket attack on Rehman’s house illustrates, the militant jihadis have even lashed out against the same Islamist parties who have coddled them in the past.

Western audiences might find news about Islamists fighting among themselves rather appealing. But jihadi wars, at least since the expulsion of the Soviets from Afghanistan, have tended to spill over borders, all the more so since Sept. 11, 2001. And within Pakistan, the struggle for supremacy between those Pakistani Islamists who want to gain power democratically and those who want to abolish democracy altogether could well tear the country apart.

The election season got off to a late start, postponed by President Musharraf’s suspension of the constitution and declaration of a state of emergency. In November, when politicians should have been out stumping and rallying support, many were dodging the police. Besides sacking dozens of judges and pulling private television channels off the air, Musharraf arrested thousands of lawyers, students, social activists and political leaders during the 42-day emergency regime, which ended on Dec. 15.

The most damaging result of the emergency, however, may have been the doubt it sowed within the opposition, splitting those advocating participation from others calling for a boycott. The split hit the six-party Islamist M.M.A. alliance hardest of all. While Rehman repeated the J.U.I.’s intention to field candidates, his main partner in the alliance, the Jamaat-e-Islami party, argued that the polls would be rigged and participation would legitimize Musharraf’s regime. Both parties stuck to their positions, and in mid-December, the Islamist alliance fell apart.

Rehman maintained that he could persuade Jamaat-e-Islami supporters to vote for the J.U.I. this time around, but even some of his fellow party members doubted that would work. “In the last election, everything was related to Afghanistan and how innocent Afghans were being killed,” Chaudhry Sharif, a longtime J.U.I. member from Rehman’s district, told me last month. Now Rehman “has to answer his people when they ask him, ‘What happened in our own country?’ ” Despite the M.M.A.’s taking power in the North-West Frontier Province, hundreds of civilians have died in Islamist terrorist attacks. The public’s previous image of mullahs as incorruptible politicians has also been tarnished. Rehman’s chance of attracting swing voters appeared dim.

For now, it is Islamist violence that seems to have the political upper hand rather than the accommodation of Islamist currents within a democratic society. The mainstream parties have addressed Islamic militancy strictly as a security issue. Benazir Bhutto used particularly aggressive rhetoric against militants — her main rival, Nawaz Sharif, has a more religiously conservative base — but all of the main political figures outside the M.M.A. treated jihadi violence within a pro- or anti-Musharraf context, and as an effect of U.S. relations rather than as a problem integral to Pakistan’s political culture. “This election comes down to whether you are pro-Musharraf or anti-Musharraf,” a lawyer at a Pakistan Peoples Party rally told me a few weeks ago. In the North-West Frontier Province, the Awami National Party, a secular, nationalist Pashtun outfit, also stands to gain from the M.M.A.’s decline and will dilute the Islamists’ influence in the provincial assembly.

Jihadis have, of course, increasingly opted to intervene in Pakistan by attacking mainstream politicians and their supporters. Only a week before Bhutto’s assassination, a suicide bomber targeted the former interior minister, leaving more than 50 people dead. It was the second attempt on the minister’s life; the first, in April, killed nearly 30 people. And of course Bhutto’s arrival home in October, after years abroad, was greeted by two suicide bombers who detonated themselves beside her float, killing about 140 people. In the aftermath of her killing, more violence seems inevitable. But the politics of terror and assassination are probably secondary, among jihadis, to the gradual extension of their control over rural and semiurban stretches of western Pakistan — a power base that, at least in the short term, can be disrupted only by the Pakistani military. Baitullah Mehsud, the Taliban commander from South Waziristan who captured about 250 soldiers in August, recently warned a J.U.I. candidate there not to run unless several of his arrested Taliban fighters were released. More ominously, in mid-December, 40 representatives from different Taliban gangs from across the North-West Frontier Province and the Tribal Areas banded together into a single group, Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (the Pakistani Taliban Movement). The movement named Mehsud their leader. He has also been named by Pakistani authorities as a suspect in Bhutto’s murder.

The sound of an explosion punctured an otherwise pleasant evening. I had been sitting under a giant mango tree, drinking Southern Comfort with a group of friends, including a midlevel intelligence officer in the army. It was my first night in Dera Ismail Khan, Rehman’s hometown in the North-West Frontier Province, about 100 miles from the Afghan border. While the blast jerked me upright, no one else seemed too bothered. Locals had grown used to the bangs and booms. The previous night, Pakistani Taliban bombed a music store in the town bazaar. The sound I heard was the explosion from a small grenade targeting the owner of a cable-TV service.

Musharraf’s government says the increasingly frequent bombings are evidence of Talibanization creeping east from the Afghanistan border. The local Taliban militants blast shops selling un-Islamic CDs, cable-TV operators, massage parlors and other sites they consider havens of vice. A newspaper editor in Dera Ismail Khan showed me a letter he received, signed by the Taliban, warning him not to print anything that defamed the mujahedeen. They threatened to blow up his office if he didn’t comply.

Rehman’s critics blame him and his party for facilitating the local Taliban, an allegation he resents. “We are politicians, and we will have to go to our constituencies to get votes in an election,” he told me, as we sat together in the drawing room of his home in Dera Ismail Khan. “If there is a war going on, no one can vote.” Halogen spotlights dotted the ceiling, and soft leather couches lined the walls. Rehman wore a pinstripe waistcoat over a shalwar kameez. The room smelled of strong cologne. He added, in a rare moment of candor, “But even we are now afraid of the young men fighting.”

For many years, few people questioned Rehman’s command over the mujahedeen along the border separating Pakistan from Afghanistan. His father, Maulana Mufti Mahmood, ran the J.U.I. for 20 years. Mahmood helped kick-start the Afghanistan jihad by issuing a fatwa against the Soviet-backed communist government in Kabul. A year later, when Mahmood died from a heart attack, Rehman, a 27-year-old madrassa student with scant political experience, inherited the J.U.I. and his father’s jihadi enterprise. Thousands of Islamic seminaries profess political allegiance to the J.U.I., and thousands of Taliban warriors first imbibed radical theology in Rehman’s madrassas.

Over time, Rehman cultivated his pragmatic side and played power politics in Pakistan’s capital city, Islamabad. He eased his way into the establishment just as the Taliban were taking over Afghanistan. In 1993, Benazir Bhutto, then the prime minister, named him chairman of the National Assembly’s Standing Committee for Foreign Affairs, a post that “enabled him to have influence on foreign policy for the first time,” writes Ahmed Rashid in his book “Taliban.” Rehman still argues that, particularly in the Taliban’s later period of running Afghanistan, he was having a moderating influence on Mullah Omar. “They should,” he told me, “have been given more time.”

During Pakistan’s 2002 election campaign, Rehman played up his links with the Taliban, and the Islamist coalition did well. In retrospect, that may have been his high point. The divide between the pro-Taliban leaders of yesterday and those of today was fully exposed by the insurrection at the Red Mosque in Islamabad, which began last January under the leadership of Abdul Rashid Ghazi and his brother. As the weeks and months passed, the rebels kidnapped a brothel madam, some police officers and, finally, six Chinese masseuses. They made a bonfire of CDs and DVDs and demanded that Musharraf implement Shariah. Defenders paced the outer walls of the mosque holding guns and sharpened garden tools.

Rehman tried to talk the Ghazi brothers out of their reckless adventure, but his influence inside the mosque was limited. “They are simply beyond me,” he said at one point.

Abdul Rashid Ghazi and his entourage of Islamic militants finally clashed with state security forces in early July, but the real rebellion actually occurred in the preceding months, when Ghazi and his brother flouted efforts by Rehman and other religious elders to talk them down. Back in April, when I had asked Ghazi how he felt with the entire old guard turning against him, he looked more amused than worried. “Everywhere you look, you can see youngsters rejecting the old ones because old people do not like change,” he said. “They are rigid.” Before army commandos killed him in July, Ghazi promised that a government assault on the Red Mosque would be a blessing for the mujahedeen. His “martyrdom,” he used to say, would further invigorate the jihadis and expedite an Islamic revolution in Pakistan.

Since Ghazi’s death, hundreds of soldiers and policemen have died in suicide blasts or in gunfights against the Taliban. The capture of the soldiers in South Waziristan has perhaps been the worst of it. (In a Taliban-produced DVD circulating around Dera Ismail Khan, a teenager saws the head off a soldier while, in the background, three of his adolescent peers chant “Allahu akbar.”) But the militants have not spared Pakistan’s top spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (I.S.I.), which orchestrated the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan in the 1990s. In September, twin suicide blasts went off, and one ripped through a bus carrying I.S.I. employees to work in Rawalpindi, the military’s garrison city near Islamabad, killing at least 25 people. The intelligence officer I met in Dera Ismail Khan, whose area of operations included the Taliban-ruled enclave of South Waziristan, maintains that his contacts with the militants were severed long ago. “We can hardly work there anymore,” he told me. “The Taliban suspect everyone of spying. All of our sources have been slaughtered.”

I asked Rehman, who used to refer to the Taliban as “our boys,” if he still considered the Taliban, even those who might be firing rockets at his house, his boys. “Definitely,” he replied. “But because of America’s policies, they have gone to the extreme. I am trying to bring them back into the mainstream. We don’t disagree with the mujahedeen’s cause, but we differ over priorities. They prefer to fight, but I believe in politics.”

Mushahid Hussain, secretary general of the pro-Musharraf faction of the Pakistan Muslim League, told me that no one can negotiate the politics of the North-West Frontier Province better than Rehman. “We know that we need a bearded, turbaned guy out there,” Hussain told me. It is perhaps a measure of how inextricable Islamism and politics have become in Pakistan that even the United States would deal with an anti-American like Rehman. In September, he had the first meeting of his 30-year political career with an American ambassador. What did Rehman and Anne Patterson, the American envoy, discuss? “She urged me to form an electoral alliance with Benazir Bhutto and Musharraf,” he told me a few days after the meeting. “I am not against it. But politically, because of the American presence in Afghanistan and rising extremism, it is a bit hard for us to afford.” Plus, the fact that the Americans thought Bhutto could tackle the Taliban had simply baffled him. “She has no strategy in those areas, and nothing to do with those people,” he said.

When asked if Patterson’s meeting signaled a change in American attitudes, an embassy spokeswoman said it “reflects our approach to democratic politics in Pakistan” and was “part of a process of talking to all those who represent political movements in Pakistan, across the spectrum.” The U.S. has given more than $5 billion to Pakistan in the past few years to fight Islamist militants, but recent reports suggest that the aid has not been effective. Late last month, Congress put restrictions on some military aid and called for the restoration of democratic rights.

Even after the Bhutto assassination, Rehman told me he would stay in the election — although, as he put it, “the reality is that this is complete anarchy, and no one can run a campaign.”

Before his death at the end of the Red Mosque standoff in July, Abdul Rashid Ghazi was allies with a young cleric in the Swat Valley, in the North-West Frontier Province. The cleric’s name is Maulana Fazlullah. For a year, Fazlullah trained his militia and amassed a following. Twice a day, he delivered a radio address, broadcast to tens of thousands of people in Swat, over his illegal station. He preached about the virtues of Shariah, the ills of female education and the honor of jihad and the Taliban. In retaliation for the assault on the Red Mosque, Fazlullah’s militiamen and suicide bombers launched attacks on convoys and police stations throughout the Swat Valley.

When, in October, I asked Rehman if he had any control over Fazlullah, he said the negotiating efforts of the J.U.I. leader there, Qari Abdul Bais, were saving Fazlullah and the Pakistani Army from going to war. But when I met Bais, a septuagenarian with a cane, he offered this estimation of Fazlullah: “He is totally out of control.” Fazlullah created a more difficult situation for Musharraf and the generals — and, in a different way, for local religious leaders — because his ambitions exceeded the mere creation of an Islamic emirate in Swat. In November, his men began conquering territory and taking over police stations in neighboring districts, pulling down Pakistani flags and raising their own. By late November, the Pakistani Army had had enough and mounted an immense offensive against Fazlullah and his men, a bloody battle that continued into late December. I was able to visit Fazlullah’s compound (since destroyed) just before the military attacks began and get a sense of what a Taliban-controlled area in Pakistan would be like.

Fazlullah’s base was a sprawling mosque and madrassa compound in the village of Imam Dehri, located across the Swat River from the city of Mingora. The entire Swat Valley is surrounded by mountains blanketed with pine forests. The river pours from the Hindu Kush Mountains and meanders through the valley, nourishing apple and persimmon orchards. During the summer, thousands of Pakistanis flock here for a break from the heat and humidity choking the lowlands. When I visited Swat in June, for example, still weeks before the Red Mosque assault began in Islamabad, I had trouble getting a room at the exclusive Serena Hotel. By the time I returned in October, I was the only guest. Almost immediately after arriving the second time around, I saw why: at the edge of town, Taliban rode around in flatbed trucks, pointing weapons in the air and ordering motorists to remove the tape decks from their cars. Fazlullah, like his Taliban predecessors in Afghanistan, deemed music — and anything that plays music — un-Islamic.

The following Friday, I went to Imam Dehri, where I met the commander of Fazlullah’s militia, a man with glacier-blue eyes named Sirajuddin. (Fazlullah appeared briefly, but didn’t stay long; he was observing aitekaaf, a meditation period that lasts 10 days at the end of Ramadan.) To get from Mingora to Imam Dehri, my Pashto interpreter and I boarded a small metal tram attached to a zip-line. Six other people piled in. We got a light push to get moving, and then soared over the river. Sirajuddin waited on the other side, and he led us through a crowd of Fazlullah’s supporters. The P.A. system blasted prerecorded jihadi poems while Taliban walked about with assault rifles slung over their shoulders.

“We are struggling for the enforcement of Shariah,” Sirajuddin told me inside a brick shed that was his office. “Twice, in 1994 and 1999, the government said it was committed to enforcing Shariah in this area, but it never did. The people here want Islam to be a way of life.” He added: “We are Muslims, but our legal system is based on English laws. Our movement wants to replace the English system with an Islamic one.”

Four Taliban sat in the room with us, watching me with dark, intent eyes. I asked one of them, a 32-year-old named Abdul Ghafoor, what he was fighting for. Islam? Revenge? “This is not personal revenge; this is our religious obligation,” he told me, speaking Pashto through an interpreter. Ghafoor crouched on a low stool, a Kalashnikov resting on his lap. He said he was a recent graduate from the University of Peshawar with a master’s degree in Islamic theology, and that he earned his living as a schoolteacher. Every day after school, and on holidays, he grabbed his gun and joined Fazlullah. He wore a long beard, a black turban, an ammunition vest stuffed with extra banana clips and pistols and Reebok high-tops with a Velcro strap. Messages crackled over the walkie-talkie attached to the collar of his vest. The Taliban were coordinating their movements.

Later, Ghafoor took me from Sirajuddin’s office to a platform where some supposed criminals were scheduled to be lashed. About 15,000 men and boys, some sitting on picnic blankets, encircled the wooden platform, which was supported on drum barrels and had been erected by Fazlullah’s group as a place for public punishments. The Taliban paraded three men, accused of aiding kidnappers, before the crowd. Fazlullah’s mujahedeen had caught the kidnappers as they were shuttling two women out of Swat. The Taliban sent the women back home and arrested everyone involved with the crime. Now the youngest of the criminals, who appeared to be still in his teens, scaled the steps to the platform. He looked as if he might collapse, legs wobbling with fear, as hundreds of heavily armed Taliban spread out around him. I stood among them, waiting to see the boy receive 15 lashings — the appropriate Islamic punishment, according to Fazlullah.

The boy lay face-down on the platform. Taliban held his arms and legs so he wouldn’t flop around. Another jihadi, clutching a thick, leather whip, roughly two feet long, wore a camouflage shalwar kameez and a ski mask over his face. Every time the whip crashed on the boy’s back, the crowd called out the corresponding number of lashes, as if counting the final seconds of a basketball game. The teenager’s body convulsed under the crack and thud of each lash; when he finally stood up, he was shaking and drenched in tears.

“This punishment is permitted in Islam,” announced one of Fazlullah’s deputies over a P.A. system fixed to a flatbed truck parked beside the platform. Along with the three accused men, who were lashed in turn, a dozen militants also stood on the platform, holding Kalashnikovs and rocket launchers. Another lay on his stomach on the roof of a nearby shed, his eyes lined up behind the sights of an automatic machine gun. Everyone knew that Fazlullah’s decision to take the law into his own hands was in blatant defiance of the government’s writ: the militants’ job was to repel any sudden ambush by the Pakistani Army or paramilitary forces; the deputy on the P.A. system, meanwhile, had to persuade the people that the lashings accorded with Islamic law. “Even if there is no central Islamic government, these punishments are permitted in parts of the country if it contributes to maintaining peace,” the deputy explained, speaking in Pashto. “We have no intention to occupy the government or for any political authority. This is only for peace and security.”

After the lashings, thousands of people lined up to ride the tram back across the river. Ghafoor took us to Mingora by another route, through a cluster of villages loyal to Fazlullah. On the way, I asked Ghafoor what he thought about Maulana Fazlur Rehman. “He and his party deceived the public for votes, all in the name of Islam,” Ghafoor said. Ghafoor voted for the M.M.A. in 2002, hoping that they would enforce Shariah as they had promised. “But Maulana Fazlur Rehman didn’t even implement an Islamic system within himself,” Ghafoor said. “He gets photographed with women, which is against the principles of Islam. And he failed to resolve the Jamia Hafsa crisis. He couldn’t protect all the innocent people who died.” Jamia Hafsa was the women’s madrassa adjoining the Red Mosque.

We got into an S.U.V. and rode on a single-lane dirt road, lined with lush fields of cauliflower, apricot orchards and persimmon trees, their ends tipped with the bright orange fruit. We passed through a village made of mud-brick homes, and on one of the walls someone had chalked “Shariat ya Shahadat” (“Shariah or Martyrdom”). “I will never vote for the M.M.A. again,” Ghafoor said, “and we will totally boycott the next election.” Democracy, he added, was un-Islamic.

The Pakistani Army now claims to have killed hundreds of Taliban, and arrested hundreds more, in its Swat Valley operation. The army also says that local people in Swat greeted them with sweets, and that the homes of some top leaders, including Sirajuddin, had been destroyed. Ghafoor’s phone line has been cut for weeks, as have those of others in the group — although Sirajuddin has made occasional calls to the press, as when he accepted responsibility for a suicide attack in late December.

When I met Rehman in Peshawar in the fall we sat outside on plastic lawn furniture in the shade of a large oak tree. He rubbed a strand of chunky, orange prayer beads, and we discussed the changing leadership in the borderlands of Pakistan. In the past five years, more than 150 pro-government maliks, or tribal elders, had been killed by the Taliban. Oftentimes, the Taliban dumped the bodies by the side of the road for passers-by to see, with a note, written in Pashto, pinned to the corpse’s chest, damning the dead man as an American spy. “When the jihad in Afghanistan started,” Rehman told me, “the maliks and the old tribal system in Afghanistan ended; a new leadership arose, based on jihad. Similar is the case here in the Tribal Areas. The old, tribal system is being relegated to the background, and a new leadership, composed of these young militants, has emerged.” He added, “This is something natural.”

Though Rehman describes the emergence of the local Taliban in evolutionary terms, he explains it as a result of a leadership crisis in Pakistan. He respects the secular-minded people who created Pakistan but insists that social and religious changes over the past two decades have made such leaders much less relevant: “We have to adjust to reality, and that demands new leaders with new visions.”

I asked if he considered himself such a new leader with a new vision.

“I don’t consider myself as someone extraordinary,” Rehman said. “I have the same feelings as everyone else in the current age: if the weather is warm, everyone feels warm; if it is cold, everyone feels cold. The difference between me and other people is in our responsibilities.” He took a long breath of the fresh, fall air, continued rubbing his prayer beads and leaned over the chair to spit. “That’s why I am so careful, because my decisions can affect many, many people. I am trying to bring people back from the fire, not push them toward it.” Rehman once seemed ready to introduce Taliban-style rule in Pakistan. Now he is trying to preserve democracy from being destroyed by ruthless militants. If he can’t succeed, can anyone?

Nicholas Schmidle is a Pakistan-based writer and a fellow of the Institute of Current World Affairs. This is his first article for the magazine.
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