Sunday, January 06, 2008

Next-Gen Taliban: NYT

New York Times, January 6, 2008

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...

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 [Maulana Fazl-ur-]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...

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