Pakistan and the United States have been engaged in a virtual war over the past several weeks. In a barrage of television and radio interviews in both the Pakistani and American media, top politicians of these “allies” in the fight against terrorism have hurled accusations at each other, issued warnings, sought out new alliances to replace the bilateral partnership, and even threatened military action. Television advertisements aired by a private channel in Pakistan show images of the Pakistan Army preparing for combat, and warn the United States not to challenge a God-fearing nation.
[Guest post by Isaac Chotiner] On the same day that Rick Perry displayed a complete inability to answer a hypothetical question about Pakistan, Admiral Mike Mullen accused the Pakistani ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) of aiding and abetting the so-called "Haqqani network," which is believed to be responsible for a recent attack on the American Embassy in Kabul.
For years, the United Nations has taken pains to present itself to the world as an impartial, international institution dedicated to helping people around the world. But when the Islamist terrorist organization Boko Haram detonated a car bomb at the UN’s compound in Abuja, Nigeria, last Friday, killing 23 and wounding at least 75, it was a stark reminder that, no matter how hard the UN tries to be neutral, many, especially in the Muslim world, see it as a proxy of Western powers. Indeed, for many groups bent on wrecking havoc, the UN has become synonymous with the United States.
Nearly two thousand years ago, in the stark terrain where modern day Afghanistan and Pakistan meet, a sculptural tradition emerged that joins opulent forms and contemplative feelings and is unlike anything else in the history of world art. Although we know next to nothing about the sculptors who in the 2nd and 3rd Centuries CE developed what amounts to the first great act in the history of Buddhist art, a visitor to “The Buddhist Heritage of Pakistan: Art of Gandhara,” the exhibition now at Asia Society in New York, cannot fail to respond to the emotional texture of the work.
Threading through the history of the United States is a long line of reviled newcomers. In the 1850s, Irish and German Catholics were vilified by the Know Nothing movement. In the 1890s, Italians were subjected to frequent lynchings. Jews of the 1930s were excoriated by Father Charles Coughlin, Henry Ford, Charles Lindbergh, and the Ku Klux Klan. In the years following September 11, America’s 2.6 million Muslims have often found themselves facing similar kinds of hostility.
I have covered the story of violent jihadism for the past 18 years, and, more than anything else, it has been a slow process of discovery. Looking back, it seems clear to me that, at any given moment in the story, there was always so much we didn’t know. Al Qaeda was founded in 1988 in Pakistan, although it wasn’t until 2002—when the minutes of the group’s first meetings were discovered by chance in the offices of an Islamist organization in Sarajevo—that the facts surrounding its origins were well-understood.
Karaghuzhlah, Afghanistan—The problem, Abdul Majid will tell you as he leans his stooped, wasted frame against the trunk of a dying apricot tree in his brother’s yard, is not the Taliban. It’s true, the Taliban have been advancing for months through the ancient cob villages of Balkh province.
I remember the first time an Afghan told me that the United States and the Taliban were working together. It was February 2010, and I was in Zormat, an old trading town in the lap of snow-covered mountains, between Kabul and the Pakistani border.
Is the end near for terrorism as we know it? According to a much-discussed Washington Post article that ran on July 26, U.S. counterterrorism officials believe that, after the death of Osama bin Laden and in the face of sustained drone attacks, Al Qaeda’s core leadership in Pakistan is on the “brink of collapse.” However, counterterrorism officials stressed in the article that the threat from “aggressive” affiliates is not diminishing—nor is the threat from “radicalized individuals,” also known as lone wolves.
When America traded George W. Bush for Barack Obama, few thought the result would be an escalation in the American war on terror. Swathes of U.S. conservatives (but also some liberals) were ready to dismiss President Obama as too naïve and idealistic to be president in the face of a heightened terrorist threat. Moderates did not believe that a campaign based on hope and change would cause Al Qaeda terrorists to fear this president more than the previous one.