WASHINGTON: The Waziristan tribal belt has been described as a “haven for al Qaeda members” by an American correspondent who was taken there, presumably without official clearance, by a Peshawar-based Pakistani journalist “facilitator” and, when discovered, was escorted out and asked to leave Pakistan.
Eliza Griswold, writing in the July 26 issue of New Yorker on “Pakistan’s lawless tribal borderland” which, she calls a “virtual jihadi highway” says the “the region is now home to a variety of Central Asians, including Uzbeks, Chechens and Uighurs.” Some who are settled near the town of Wana are reportedly building new training camps and launching attacks across the border in Afghanistan where an estimated 20,000 US troops are deployed. Washington, she adds, has embarked on a $73 million project to secure the border” while relying on the Pakistan army to act as its “anvil.”
The US has also earmarked, she writes, a further $24 million for construction by the Pakistan Army Corps of Engineers and private contractors of a web of roads throughout Waziristan and the rest of the Pakistani tribal belt. US-AID is also rehabilitating 130 schools and digging wells to mollify the tribesmen. It is also working on a crop-substitution programme to eliminate the poppy. However, that is not going to assuage the local people, she quotes Pakistani journalist and writer Husain Haqqani as saying. He told her that you could not intrusively search someone’s house and then hope that he would be happy because you left a fountain playing in his front yard.
Ms Griswold’s host in the Waziristan agency was one Khalid Wazir who described himself to her, and whom she unquestioningly describes, as the “Khan Bahadur” of his area, a title he told her he had inherited. It is another matter that there is no such title. American correspondents in particular, and non-American ones in general, tend to swallow “line, hook and sinker” what they have been told by men such as Mr Wazir who invent titles that do not exist, except in their imagination. She writes that though the Pakistan government has banned foreigners from travelling to the tribal areas, “because of Khalid’s position, however, the ban didn’t apply to me.” She goes on to say that when she travelled again alone, she was detained by the Pakistani military intelligence, and a Newsweek reporter travelling with her was held for six weeks along with his driver. She says the JUI-run madrassas in the area “preach a form of radical Islam akin to Wahabism.” They also feed and clothe the children, she adds.
Ms Griswold writes that there are thousands of madrassas in the Frontier province and most of those in the tribal belt “preach a radical form of Islam.” According to her, why Pakistan welcomed the Taliban movement was because it worked against “secular Pashtun nationalism.” She argues that President Pervez Musharraf has “used Islamists to strengthen Pakistan’s bid for Kashmir and to weaken his secular opponents. “In Waziristan, the alliance between the Pakistani military and the Taliban regime makes it hard to pursue those harbouring al Qaeda members. The resurgence of the Taliban in the region also serves the Pakistani military, which tends to view the Taliban leaders and other fundamentalists as strategic assets in Afghanistan,” she writes.
The correspondent was told by Latif Afridi, the former MNA, that al Qaeda was paying local tribesmen inflated prices for food and shelter and to help mount cross-border raids into Afghanistan. “This is earning, not “pashtunwali,” he said. “We can’t resist money,” he added because there is no employment to speak of in the tribal areas. khalid hasan