THE TELEGRAPH: Stronghold of both the Taliban and al-Qaeda, the wild and lawless tribal border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan forms the crucial battleground in the war on terror. Rageh Omaar reports from the front line.
”Over the past two years, I have noticed that there is such a hatred of anything to do with the West throughout much of the tribal areas that the region has changed dramatically…
…Pakistan represents the first realistic prospect for a jihadist movement to capture a nation-state, or at the very least to control large parts of it. It would, in effect, mean that militants would have something approaching a mini-state within the country where the central government's power and influence would be non-existent, and from which they could plan and launch attacks beyond its borders. And Pakistan is not just any nation-state at threat from militant groups, but one that has nuclear weapons, a large population and economic resources; one that borders a vulnerable failed state in Afghanistan where tens of thousands of Nato forces are stationed; and one that also has as its neighbours two emerging economic superpowers, China and India. What is more, Pakistan has a long coastline open to the most economically important stretch of waterway in the world, the Gulf, from which hundreds of tankers supply oil-hungry economies. It is a nightmare scenario from which no country is immune. None of us will escape the consequences of a situation where large parts of Pakistan are politically, militarily and economically controlled by jihadists." – Rageh Omaar
The stark mountainous northern regions of Pakistan's tribal areas are among the most beautiful landscapes in the world. Yet as Barack Obama's newly appointed special envoy to the region, the famously tough and straight-talking diplomat Richard Holbrooke, has said, Pakistan is the country that scares President Obama and keeps him awake at night more than any other.
On my assignments to Pakistan in the past two years, it has been hard to believe the country's nightmare could get any worse. It has been heartbreaking to see this nation of more than 170 million people convulsed by political violence that its government seems increasingly incapable of halting. From the assassination of Benazir Bhutto to the almost weekly suicide bomb attacks that go unnoticed by the outside world, every strike by the militants is more audacious than the previous one.
The ambush of the Sri Lankan cricketers in Lahore at the beginning of this month came at the same time that the four main Taliban groups in Pakistan announced their decision to unite their forces in a concerted military campaign against Nato and government forces in neighbouring Afghanistan. Cricket, as many have observed, is one of the few cultural and sporting pastimes in which all Pakistanis, regardless of class, regional, ethnic or sectarian traditions, can unite around. It is a sport that both the religiously conservative and the Westernised elite enjoy. The aim of the militant attack on Lahore was to undermine this; to make the point that nothing is immune from political violence and that the Taliban's vision for Pakistan is an absolutist one with no room for anything Western, or anything that isn't derived from their literal interpretation of Islam.
More and more of Pakistan is slipping beyond the control of the government. As the Lahore attack showed, even the centres of major cities are vulnerable. Nowhere is the absence of the rule of law more evident than the north-west of Pakistan. The region is officially known as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, a clunky but accurate description of this vast expanse of nearly 11,000 square miles, home to an estimated seven million people whose first loyalty is not to Pakistan but to their tribal community. As its name indicates, this region is nominally administered by the Pakistani government but it has been autonomous and unconquered for centuries. >>> By Rageh Omaar | Thursday, March 19, 2009
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