Sunday, July 31, 2005

Desperately Seeking Osama

You really have to read this amazing account of Guardian reporter Declan Walsh's visit to Waziristan - the tribal chunk of Pakistan which is the best bet as the hiding place of one Osama binPimpernel.

Every house is a castle, a vast compound ringed by a towering mud wall, medieval battlements and fronted by a giant, thick door. The desert villages squat on desiccated plains, the mountain ones cling to dizzying, scree-strewn slopes. Men with sunbeaten faces and fierce henna beards hunker by the tarless roads, fingering their prayer beads and cradling AK-47s. Some cast defiant glares as we pass.

Women are rarely seen, even under a burka. In one place gunfire rings out. Nobody bats an eyelid. Our convoy never has less than 25 soldiers. Yet several officers ask me to keep out of sight in case I am "mistaken for an American".

Battered, overloaded cars slip along greasy riverbeds that double as main roads. Honey hives, sprawling orchards and timber yards are the only sign of economic activity. There is evidence of extensive deforestation. Ignorance is a bedfellow of poverty: only 30% of men in the tribal areas have attended schooling, according to provincial authorities. For women, the figure is 3%. And the black-and-white standard of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islamia (JUI) - a radical, pro-Taliban political party that is powerful across the tribal areas - flutters from houses, graveyards and madrassas in every town.

Wonderful stuff. It also contains a couple of embarassing moments - catch the US-backed TV commercial hunting Osama which is aimed at a region without TV's or the matchboxes with the $25 million bounty for Osama's capture and a website address.

Then there's the conclusions:

A persistent theory, championed by the former CIA station chief Gary Schroen, is that Pakistan hasn't found Bin Laden because it doesn't want to. Ali Dayan Hassan of Human Rights Watch agrees that the "rugged terrain" excuse for not finding him is "rubbish" because the army has extensive intelligence tentacles in the tribal areas. Schroen maintains that a diehard fundamentalist strain still holds sway within the army and ISI.

and, even more telling:

But the one sure thing is that if Bin Laden were captured in Pakistan, it would be a major political trauma for Musharraf. Because of the Iraq war, Bin Laden has acquired a poke-them-in-the-eye, Robin Hood legitimacy across the Islamic world, even among moderate Muslims. One recent opinion poll, for example, found that Bin Laden had 63% support in Pakistan, compared with just 9% for George Bush. Musharraf knows this, but insists he will not shirk from the task. Still, that broad well of support may be a key hurdle in the faltering manhunt.

Bush is less popular in Pakistan than a fart in a spacesuit. BinLaden seems to be more popular than even President Pinnochio Musharraf and without pandering to the Islamic extremists at several important levels Musharraf's military dictatorship would soon be immersed by civil war.

Does the word "Duh" mean anything to BushCo? Of course Musharraf is playing a double game and talking big while doing little!

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