Pakistan: Now or Never?
Perspectives on Pakistan
In “My Life with the Taliban”, Abdul Salam Zaeef — who fought with the mujahideen against the Soviets in Afghanistan and later served in the Taliban government before it was ousted in 2001 — writes of how he longed to escape the trappings of office and instead follow in the footsteps of his father as the Imam of a mosque, learning and teaching the Koran.
“It is work that has no connection with the world’s affairs. It is a calling of intellectual dignity away from the dangers and temptations of power. All my life, even as a boy, I was always happiest when studying and learning things. To work in government positions means a life surrounded by corruption and injustice, and therein is found the misery of mankind,” he writes in his memoirs, newly translated and edited by Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn.
Zaeef became best known as the Taliban ambassador to Islamabad at the time of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks — he was then arrested and sent to Guantanamo — and his memoirs provide a unique insight into the developments which led to the eight-year-old war in Afghanistan. That alone makes it a must-read, providing an alternative and very personal account to set alongside Western concepts of the Taliban – more closely associated with their human rights record, their treatment of women, and their refusal to hand over Osama bin Laden to the United States after 9/11.
But the ideological heart of the book lies in his belief in the value of study (Talib means student) and his unswerving faith that only an Islamic system based on the implementation of sharia can drag Afghanistan out of its current misery. Given the current discussion about whether a political settlement can be reached with the Taliban, it is perhaps his representation of this internal faith, as much as the outward trappings of jihad, that merit the most serious attention.
U.S. President Barack Obama has ordered the Guantanamo military prison closed within the year, but what about the detention centre in Bagram, the U.S. military base in Afghanistan, which has an equally murky legal status ?
An estimated 600 detainees are held there, without any charge and many for over six years, rights activists say. That makes it more than twice the number held in Guantanamo, and according to military personnel who know both facilities, it is much more spartan and with lesser privileges as this report in the New York Times says.
U.S. ambassador Anne W. Patterson, in a speech reported by the Pakistan press, said last week that the depth of anti-Americanism in Pakistan, especially among the middle-class, had surprised her. Pakistan’s long-term interests were aligned with those of the United States, and those opposing U.S. engagement in the country had a limited understanding of how the partnership based on economic assistance had changed the lives of Pakistanis, she told a meeting in Karachi. For added measure, she said that the “ïncreasingly prosperous middle class” would be the first to suffer if hardliners gained ground.
She needn’t have looked further than to events last week to see why America sits rather uneasily on the Pakistani mind, a heavy hand of friendship that Pakistanis are increasingly chafing against.