The Long Road to Chaos in Pakistan
By DEXTER FILKINS, New York times, September 28, 2008
Hours after a truck bomber slew 53 people last weekend at the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad, Pakistan, the country’s interior minister laid responsibility for the attack on Taliban militants holed up in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, or FATA, the remote, wild region that straddles the border with Afghanistan.
“All roads lead to FATA,” Interior Minister Rehman Malik said.
If the past is any guide, Mr. Malik’s statement is almost certainly correct.
But what Mr. Malik did not say was that those same roads, if he chose to follow them, would very likely loop back to Islamabad itself.
The chaos that is engulfing Pakistan appears to represent an especially frightening case of strategic blowback, one that has now begun to seriously undermine the American effort in Afghanistan. Tensions over Washington’s demands that the militants be brought under control have been rising, and last week an exchange of fire erupted between American and Pakistani troops along the Afghan border. So it seems a good moment to take a look back at how the chaos has developed.
It was more than a decade ago that Pakistan’s leaders began nurturing the Taliban and their brethren to help advance the country’s regional interests. Now they are finding that their home-schooled militants have grown too strong to control. No longer content to just cross into Afghanistan to kill American soldiers, the militants have begun to challenge the government itself. “The Pakistanis are truly concerned about their whole country unraveling,” said a Western military official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the matter is sensitive.
That is a horrifying prospect, especially for Pakistan’s fledgling civilian government, its first since 1999. The country has a substantial arsenal of nuclear weapons. The tribal areas, which harbor thousands of Taliban militants, are also believed to contain Al Qaeda’s senior leaders, including Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahri.
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