The world promised reconstruction to Afghanistan; it was to be thrust from the medieval rule of the fundamentalist Taliban into the booming twenty-first century. However, progress has materialized only in scattershot fashion across this country where elite villas, five-star hotels, and fabulous malls for a very few take precedence over roads, schools, and farms. Hovels were bulldozed to make way for expensive housing for Kabul’s wealthiest residents—top government officials and their lackeys. Hundreds of refugee families living on government-owned land in the posh Wazir Akbar Khan neighborhood were ejected from that prime real estate. Mansions and malls tower over mud-and-burlap vendor stalls in a clash of priorities between, on the one hand, a tribal, Islamic culture and, on the other, secular, gotta-have-it, drug-infused venture capitalism. The latter influences everything, including international aid organizations.
Overall, terrorist cells around the world have become noticeably more skilled at avoiding detection, European counterterrorism officials and analysts said in interviews. For instance, operatives now commonly use Skype and other Internet telephone services, which are difficult to trace or bug.
By the end of July, 25 percent of American combat troops are due to withdraw from Iraq. FP sat down with Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, to find out how he plans to draw down without leaving chaos behind.
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. ...
A cool breeze blew across the rooftop, and a green kite flew above in the crisp, periwinkle sky. The J.U.I. was gearing up again for national elections, then scheduled for the second week of January, but the message this time was remarkably different from what it was five years ago. One by one, hopefuls for the national and provincial assembly constituencies gave short speeches. Most of them spoke in Pashto, but, knowing Urdu, I could understand enough to realize that they weren’t rehashing the typical J.U.I. rhetoric. No one praised the Taliban. Shariah was mentioned only in passing. Just one person, a first-time candidate in a suede jacket who probably felt obliged to prove his credentials in a party of fundamentalist mullahs, attacked the United States. Afterward, party workers handed out free plates of cookies and cups of tea.
When I met Rehman in Peshawar in the fall we sat outside on plastic lawn furniture in the shade of a large oak tree. He rubbed a strand of chunky, orange prayer beads, and we discussed the changing leadership in the borderlands of Pakistan. In the past five years, more than 150 pro-government maliks, or tribal elders, had been killed by the Taliban. Oftentimes, the Taliban dumped the bodies by the side of the road for passers-by to see, with a note, written in Pashto, pinned to the corpse’s chest, damning the dead man as an American spy. “When the jihad in Afghanistan started,” Rehman told me, “the maliks and the old tribal system in Afghanistan ended; a new leadership arose, based on jihad. Similar is the case here in the Tribal Areas. The old, tribal system is being relegated to the background, and a new leadership, composed of these young militants, has emerged.” He added, “This is something natural.”
Though Rehman describes the emergence of the local Taliban in evolutionary terms, he explains it as a result of a leadership crisis in Pakistan. He respects the secular-minded people who created Pakistan but insists that social and religious changes over the past two decades have made such leaders much less relevant: “We have to adjust to reality, and that demands new leaders with new visions.”
I asked if he considered himself such a new leader with a new vision.
“I don’t consider myself as someone extraordinary,” Rehman said. “I have the same feelings as everyone else in the current age: if the weather is warm, everyone feels warm; if it is cold, everyone feels cold. The difference between me and other people is in our responsibilities.” He took a long breath of the fresh, fall air, continued rubbing his prayer beads and leaned over the chair to spit. “That’s why I am so careful, because my decisions can affect many, many people. I am trying to bring people back from the fire, not push them toward it.” Rehman once seemed ready to introduce Taliban-style rule in Pakistan. Now he is trying to preserve democracy from being destroyed by ruthless militants. If he can’t succeed, can anyone?
Presidential candidate Bill Richardson, in Wednesday's Boston Globe:
PRESIDENT PERVEZ MUSHARRAF of Pakistan must go. Rather than waging the "unstinted" war against Al Qaeda that he promised, he has become a source of instability that terrorists are exploiting. Pakistan urgently needs a new government, and the United States should suspend all nonterrorism-related military aid until Musharraf steps aside.
Instead of treating Pakistan like the ally it isn't, the country should be treated like the national security problem it has become. Moreover, Bush should be careful with his language. The United States needs to be tough with Pakistan, not gullible.
These new fusion centers, over 40 of which have been established around the country, raise very serious privacy issues at a time when new technology, government powers and zeal in the "war on terrorism" are combining to threaten Americans' privacy at an unprecedented level.
Moreover, there are serious questions about whether data fusion is an effective means of preventing terrorism in the first place, and whether funding the development of these centers is a wise investment of finite public safety resources. Yet federal, state and local governments are increasing their investment in fusion centers without properly assessing whether they serve a necessary purpose.
There's nothing wrong with the government seeking to do a better job of properly sharing legitimately acquired information about law enforcement investigations — indeed, that is one of the things that 9/11 tragically showed is very much needed.
But in a democracy, the collection and sharing of intelligence information—especially information about American citizens and other residents—need to be carried out with the utmost care. That is because more and more, the amount of information available on each one of us is enough to assemble a very detailed portrait of our lives. And because security agencies are moving toward using such portraits to profile how "suspicious" we look.