In his first U.S. publication, Pakistani journalist Gul tracks the Taliban and al-Qaeda insurgents into the mountainous tribal regions to investigate the tangle of perilous allegiances.
The destabilized Afghanistan-Pakistan border region is constantly in the news as the Obama administration attempts to flush out the militants using the area as a base to train soldiers and launch terrorist attacks. In a dense, timely study, the author investigates the complicated makeup of these groups. The autonomous tribal areas were mostly ignored until they became “staging posts” for mujahideen attacks against the Russian invaders of Afghanistan in 1979 and the early ’80s, organized by the CIA and Pakistan’s military arm, the Inter-Services Intelligence Agency (ISI). After the Russians pulled out in 1989, the United States lost interest in the area, leaving the smugglers to conduct “business as usual,” until 9/11 sent the al-Qaeda militants from Afghanistan into areas of North and South Waziristan and Bajaur. (The two maps at the beginning of the book are helpful.) As American attacks increased in fury, the organization of the fighters similarly coalesced and allegiances grew even murkier, with Pakistan’s leadership unable, or unwilling, to “plug the border to Al Qaeda and the Taliban,” and U.S.-Pakistan relations becoming increasingly fraught with suspicion. Gul dissects the various terrorist “agencies” in these areas and their assaults, culminating in a rash of suicide bombings, finessed by al-Qaeda as a glorification of “violent martyrdom,” that claimed thousands of lives, many innocent civilians. The chapter titled “Who Funds the Militants?” is a fascinating look at the incestuous financial networks that allow the terrorist organizations to operate, and “A Question of Justice” explores the tribal system of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border and how each group agitates for policies more suitable to its own sense of law, rather than what’s dictated from Islamabad.
Informational rather than didactic, Gul’s insider take will serve as an excellent resource.