Category Archives: Pakistan

Maybe Faisal Shahzad isn’t that simple

Robert Wright, writing on the New York Times website, had a very intelligent takedown of simplistic attitudes towards jihadism as exhibited by Daniel Pipes and Jeffrey Goldberg, who treat religious violence as an entity that exists on its own, divorced from any realities of the world, almost like it’s something some people are born with.

Wright invites Pipes and Goldberg (and many others) to imagine a more complex reality. He writes:

In the universe I’m positing, the following scenario is conceivable:

A Pakistani guy moves to America, goes to college, gets a job, starts a family. He grows unhappy. Maybe he’s having financial problems (though I’m skeptical, for reasons outlined by Charles Lane here, that Shahzad’s home foreclosure actually signifies as much); or maybe the problem is just that he doesn’t find his social niche. And maybe he was a bit unstable to begin with — which would make it harder to find his niche and might intensify his reaction to not finding it.

Anyway, for whatever reason, he feels alienated in America. He stays in touch with people and events back home in Pakistan, and this gives him another reason to dislike America: American drones are firing missiles into Pakistan, sometimes killing women and children.

Thanks to the Internet, it doesn’t take him long to find like-minded folks, or to come under the influence of a radical imam operating out of Yemen. “Jihadi intent” is taking shape, and eventually he comes into the fold of actual jihadis, a faction of the Taliban in Pakistan. They give him what he hadn’t found in America: a sense of belonging, a sense of purpose. The basic ingredients of bomb-planting behavior are now in place.

I think Wright makes a good point here. We (Americans, that is) need to understand that it’s possible that policies like invading Muslim countries, locking up accused terrorists in secret prisons, and supporting repressive “secular” regimes are making the United States less, and not more, safe. A prime recruiting tool for jihadist groups in Pakistan are videos depicting American violence against Muslims. Less violence would make for less propaganda.

But while I’m on the topic of Faisal Shahzad, I want to raise something else.

Shahzad supposedly trained with the Pakistani Taliban before attempting to set off a car bomb in Times Square. This has now been corroborated by the Pakistani intelligence services and, apparently, by a confessed accomplice in Pakistan. But the whole thing leaves me with some questions.

First of all, there is something odd about the bomb itself, which New York police described as “crude.” A militant organization with almost ten years of bombings under their belt (no pun intended) should presumably be able to train someone how to make a decent bomb, particularly in what would be a major operation for the group. But the thing that I find even more incongruous is the fact that Shahzad is still alive. He supposedly left the bomb in his Nissan and then fled the scene. That doesn’t sound that strange until you think about the regularity with which the Pakistani Taliban uses suicide bombers, not planted car bombs, in its attacks. Wouldn’t someone who has trained with the Pakistani Taliban be sufficiently indoctrinated to blow himself up? Wouldn’t that be a more surefire plan?

It’s also worth considering that the Pakistani Taliban has never attempted an attack outside of Pakistan before, though I suppose this could be explained away by going back to my (Robert Wright’s) earlier point about American policies encouraging radicalism. With predator drones, piloted from Virginia, killing Pakistani civilians almost daily, it’s certainly not inconceivable that the Pakistani group would attempt to expand its reach.

I’m not suggesting that the Times Square bombing attempt was fabricated or the connection to the Pakistani Taliban doesn’t exist. But it seems to me that the situation deserves a little more consideration than it has received.


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Filed under Pakistan, Terrorism

AfPak always reminded me of Aflac

Remember those commercials with the duck?

Anyway, point is, the Obama Administration is dropping the term AfPak. Josh Rogin writes on his blog at Foreign Policy. They’re getting rid of it because–surprise!–it “does not please people in Pakistan.”

Personally, I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with the term. Washington people liked it because it’s catchy and it summed up their thinking that Pakistan and Afghanistan are closely connected issues. Whatever. Plus, it works well on Twitter.

But when you think about how it sounds to the outside world, it’s probably not a good PR move. When government officials use the term all the time, it sounds like they don’t realize that Afghanistan and Pakistan are two different places. Or they don’t care. It is, as Richard Holbrooke admitted, “understandable” that Pakistanis don’t like the phrase.

On a side note:


Filed under Afghanistan, American Politics, Diplomacy, Pakistan

Taliban’s PR

Is the Taliban on a PR offensive? Based on interviews given to CNN and the New York Times, it seems as though they might be.

CNN’s intrepid Nic Robertson, a quintessential war correspondent, sat down with Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid for a short interview. Mujahid is clear that the Taliban remains strong and will continue to battle American forces and try to destabilize Hamid Karzai’s government.  Here’s the video:

<script src=”; type=”text/javascript”></script><noscript>Embedded video from <a href=””>CNN Video</a></noscript>

Meanwhile, the New York Times reports on its conversation with a Taliban leader:

One Pakistani logistics tactician for the Taliban, a 28-year-old from the country’s tribal areas, in interviews with The New York Times, described a Taliban strategy that relied on free movement over the border and in and around Pakistan, ready recruitment of Pakistani men and sustained cooperation of sympathetic Afghan villagers.

His account provided a keyhole view of the opponent the Americans and their NATO allies are up against, as well as the workings and ambitions of the Taliban as they prepared to meet the influx of American troops.

It also illustrated how the Pakistani Taliban, an umbrella group of many brands of jihadist fighters backed by Al Qaeda, are spearheading wars on both sides of the border in what for them is a seamless conflict.

The tactician wears a thick but carefully shaped black beard and a well-trimmed shock of black hair, a look cultivated to allow him to move easily all over Pakistan. He spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution by his fellow Taliban members.

The Times’ anonymous Pakistani Taliban source echoes Mujahid’s (sort of) on-camera statements to CNN, the point being that the Taliban will remain strong and continue fighting the Americans, Pakistanis and Afghanis who oppose them.

The Taliban’s PR machine seems to be going in full gear, despite obvious fears of being assassinated.  I suspect–but could be completely wrong since I have never been to Afghanistan, never spoken with the Taliban, and generally don’t know all that much about the situation there–that this is their response to President Obama’s plan to gain control of Afghanistan and the Pakistani border area.  They want Americans to know that this war will not be easy so they should give up now.  That’s why they go for CNN and the New York Times.  As much as I may dislike the Taliban, I don’t think that they are stupid.  And it seems like they are waging a pretty effective public relations campaign.

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Filed under Afghanistan, Pakistan, War


Abdul Qadeer Khan, the Pakistani scientist who shared nuclear secrets with Iran, North Korea and Libya, was released from house arrest today.  (Via Abu Muqawama.)  I’m sure that he will be under close surveillance by Pakistan’s ISI, but it’s a little terrifying to think of him out on the street nonetheless.  Check out this graph from the New York Times a couple months ago that describes the path of nuclear proliferation.  Pakistan is the new center.

New York Times Graph of Nuclear Proliferation

Little Version of New York Times Graph of Nuclear Proliferation

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A name to remember

My friend Leo was talking to me about Swat the other day, though I can’t remember what he was saying exactly.  We read the Wikipedia article for a while.  If you don’t want to read it here’s the summary:

Swat (Pashto/Urdu: سوات) is a valley and an administrative district in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) of Pakistan located 160 km/100 miles from Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan. The capital of Swat is Saidu Sharif, but the main town in the Swat valley is Mingora.[1] It was a princely state (see State of Swat) in the NWFP until it was dissolved in 1969. With high mountains, green meadows, and clear lakes, it is a place of great natural beauty that used to be popular with tourists as “the Switzerland of Pakistan”.[2]. In December 2008 most of the area was captured by the Taliban insurgency and is now too dangerous for tourism.[3] Islamist militant leader Maulana Fazlullah and his group Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi have banned education for girls and have bombed or torched “more than 170 schools … along with other government-owned buildings.”[4]

Then I saw this today on my reader.

Two more schools blown up in Swat Tuesday, 27 Jan, MINGORA: Two more government-run schools were blown up in Swat valley despite curfew and shoot on sight orders by the government while indefinite curfew was slapped in Mingora city on Tuesday. A group of about 30 to 35 militants armed with heavy and sophisticated weapons entered the general bus stand in the heart of Mingora city and petrol the area for several hours. There were rumours that militants captured the Mingora bus stand but the ISPR spokesman denied the report. (Posted @ 22:18 PST)

Also, it’s totally beautiful:

This post has no point at all.  Just, um, Swat is worth keeping an eye on.

Photos by Flickr users Scott Christenson and Farooq Nasir used under a Creative Commons license.  You should totally check out Farooq’s pictures of Pakistan.

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