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Pakistani Journalist Details A 'Descent Into Chaos'
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. Iâm Terry Gross. A few weeks ago, the Pakistani Taliban
leaders warned they would attack several major Pakistani cities, and they
delivered, including in the city of Lahore, where my guest, journalist Ahmed
In the June 11th issue of the New York Review of Books, Rashid cautions:
Pakistan is close to the brink, perhaps not to a meltdown of the government but
to a permanent state of anarchy as the Islamist revolutionaries, led by the
Taliban and their many allies, take more territory, and state power shrinks.
Rashid has been writing about Islamic extremism for decades. After 9/11, his
book âTalibanâ became a bestseller. His latest book, âDescent into Chaos: The
U.S. and the Disaster in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia,â was recently
published in paperback.
This morning, Ahmed Rashid went to a studio in his home city of Lahore to
record our interview.
Ahmed Rashid, welcome back to FRESH AIR. Before we go any further, you warned
me that the power might cut out as we speak because youâre on only an only 12-
hour electric day right now. Why is that?
Mr.Â AHMED RASHID (Journalist): Well, thereâs a huge economic crisis in the
country. There has been for the last year or so. There is a shortage of
electricity in the country, but much of the problem is because the government
has not been able to pay the power companies. The power companies have not been
able to pay for the fuel that they need to run their generators, and thereâs a
vicious cycle in which eventually what happens is the consumer suffers.
In Lahore, the second-largest city in the country, we have about 12 hours a day
of no electricity, and the temperatures are just â you know, weâre at the
height of the summer, and temperatures are very high.
GROSS: So as if the terrorist attacks werenât enough, now you only have 12
hours of electricity a day.
Mr.Â RASHID: Exactly, and of course the refugees whoâve come out of the
mountains up in the north are suffering enormously because they are used to
their mountain, cool summers, not these hot summers on the plains, and they are
suffering terribly because of the heat.
GROSS: Ahmed, can I ask you to give us basically an inventory of some of the
bombings, the terrorist attacks, that have recently happened in Pakistan, just
to give us a sense of the chaos going on now in your country?
Mr.Â RASHID: Well, since the army went into Swat on the offensive against the
Pakistani Taliban at the beginning of May, we waited for about two weeks and we
â everybody knew that there would be a retaliation by the Taliban in the
We waited about two weeks, and then starting mid-May right up to now, there
have been a series of bomb blasts, seven in Peshawar, the capital of the
Northwest Frontier, in the last three weeks, about three in Lahore, where I am.
The biggest was just about a week ago, where the whole city woke up very early
in the morning when a bomb blast went off.
A suicide bomber drove a truck into a police station, killing a large number of
people, and there have been suicide attacks in other parts of the NWFP, in
towns - Bannu, Kohat, Dera Ismail Khan. These are towns where the Taliban have
been quite strong, where the army is based, and these are towns that are not in
the tribal areas but are in what we call the settled areas. So in all these
urban areas, there has been a lot of suicide bombings.
GROSS: So in your city, Lahore, where youâre speaking to us from now, how have
the recent suicide attacks there affected daily life?
Mr.Â RASHID: Well, I think people are, you know, conducting their daily life,
but people are just being very careful, and everybody is very conscious. For
example, people are not going to hotels. The restaurants are empty. People are
not gathering in large gatherings. Weddings and big social events are being
The schools are under particular threat because a lot of the schools,
especially girlsâ schools, have been receiving some very ugly letters and
graffiti up on the walls, and this is a real cause for worry. Lahore is very
much an education center of Pakistan. There are large numbers of schools and
colleges and universities here, and a lot of people send their children to
Lahore for study, and that has been a cause of concern.
We havenât had an attack on a school yet, but teachers are in a terrible
dilemma. Owners of private schools and government schools are in a dilemma
because if they increase security, it scares off parents, it scares off the
children, but if they donât increase security, then theyâre not fulfilling
their job properly. So itâs a very big dilemma as to what to do.
GROSS: Pakistani Taliban leaders warned a few weeks ago that they were
preparing major attacks in large cities, including Lahore, Rawalpindi and
Islamabad, and therefore people should evacuate the cities. Did people in your
city of Lahore take that seriously and flee the city?
Mr.Â RASHID: No, nobody has taken that seriously. I mean, you know, that was a
very sinister threat that came, and it certainly made the headlines, but nobody
has taken that seriously, but certainly, you know, in the Northwest Frontier,
where the fighting is and where a lot of these terrorist attacks have taken
place, there is a lot of fear.
People in Peshawar, for example, have been sending their children to Islamabad
or to other cities to start school because itâs just, you know, a lot of people
fear that itâs just very dangerous driving your kids to school and being able
to pick them up again, and kids being what they are, they want to go out. They
want to meet their friends, and parents are very worried about that.
GROSS: Now, you were telling me you were recently in the Northwest Territory.
Why did you go there? Tell us a little bit of what you saw.
Mr.Â RASHID: Well, I went there basically to see the refugees or rather the
internally displaced people who have escaped the fighting in the Swat Valley
and some of the valleys adjoining Swat, where the army has been fighting for
the last three or four weeks.
Weâve had this massive exodus from these valleys. About 2.4 million people have
come out of there just in the last four weeks. Itâs the biggest movement of
refugees since the Rwanda crisis in 1994, and I think everyone was totally
The government was not prepared for this. The army was not particularly
prepared. Some of the international agencies had been dealing with earlier
internally displaced people, so they had some backup there. But what we have
seen, and what I saw basically, was that two things have been, you know, which
are really unique to this movement of people.
The first is that people are not moving into camps. Ninety percent of these 2.4
million people have actually come down from the mountains, from the valleys,
and theyâve come into the plains, and theyâve moved into homes of friends or
family or relatives or, if they have no relative, theyâve moved into mosques,
theyâve moved into school buildings, theyâve moved into open ground, theyâve
set up their own little tent, or somewhere. They havenât moved into camps,
which are being set up by the U.N. and by other big international aid agencies.
Now, that of course makes looking after them much more difficult. Now, local
people have done an extraordinary thing by looking after them for the first
three or four weeks, but obviously this is not going to be sustainable in the
long term. So the U.N., the Red Cross and the government are trying to provide
food for these people who are not living in the camps and also trying to set up
new camps, which would be, you know, well outfitted so that these people can
move into these camps, where it will be easier to look after them.
GROSS: What are the odds that these refugees will be able to move back to their
homes in the Swat area, where the Taliban had taken over. The military, the
Pakistan military, is trying to take back that territory. What are the odds
that the Pakistani military will succeed in taking over from the Taliban so
that the people who live there can return?
Mr.Â RASHID: Well, thatâs a very, very important question because I think the
military and the government are desperate that they take the valley quickly and
settle and do a minimal amount of rebuilding so that in fact these refugees can
go back because the longer they stay, obviously itâs a huge, huge burden on the
government, on the country, but secondly the big danger is that the Taliban are
going to come down, and they have already, penetrated some of these camps where
some 10 percent of these displaced people are living and penetrate these people
who are living privately and try and raise recruits and create mayhem amongst
these displaced people.
So there is a huge effort to try and clear the Swat Valley as quickly as
possible, restore electricity and water and basic services so that these people
can be moved back.
GROSS: While you were in the Northwest Territory, were there any suicide
Mr.Â RASHID: Yes, there were. I mean, I was in a town called Mardan, where there
are about one-million internally displaced people. Itâs just south of the Swat
Valley, and I left the town after seeing a lot of these displaced people in the
late afternoon. In the evening there was a suicide attack on the main street
against a police convoy, obviously trying to terrorize, you know, the local
law-enforcement agencies, which are very overstretched because of this huge
influx of people.
And there were other suicide attacks in other towns, much further away from
where I was, in the Northwest Frontier Province.
GROSS: If youâre just joining us, my guest is journalist Ahmed Rashid. Heâs
speaking to us from Lahore, Pakistan, where he lives. Heâs been writing about
Islamic extremism for decades. His books include the bestseller âTalibanâ and
the book âDescent into Chaos: The U.S. and the Disaster in Pakistan,
Afghanistan and Central Asia.â That book was recently published in paperback.
Letâs take a short break here and then weâll talk some more. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: My guest is journalist Ahmed Rashid, and heâs been writing about Islamic
extremists for decades. Heâs the author of the bestselling book âTaliban.â His
latest book, âDescent into Chaos: The U.S. and the Disaster in Pakistan,
Afghanistan and Central Asia,â is now out in paperback. Heâs speaking to us
from Lahore, where he lives.
Now, tell us a little bit about whatâs happening in Dir, D-I-R, which is a
village where the Taliban have tried to take over, but villagers are actually
fighting back against the Taliban, and a lot of these villagers donât want the
Pakistani military involved. They want to keep the military out. Can you
explain the significance of the villagers fighting back against the Taliban?
Mr.Â RASHID: Well, Dir is a valley that adjoins the Swat Valley, and what
happened there is that a lot of people did not evacuate the valley when the
fighting started, when the army came in against the Taliban, but actually
started resisting the Taliban themselves, and we now have several thousand
people from many villages in the region coming together and forming groups of
militia, as it were, local militia, and fighting the Taliban.
And really the fear is that, you know, what we saw in the Swat Valley for the
last month is that the army does not have proper counter-insurgency training.
It goes in with heavy artillery, with tanks, with aircraft, and literally bombs
the village in order to save the village, as it were, and in Swat, of course,
thereâs been enormous destruction of towns and villages, and the people in Dir
didnât want that. They said well, weâll try and deal with these Taliban by
ourselves so we donât get the army to come in and flatten our villages with
heavy artillery, and thatâs whatâs going on.
The army has come in. There have been gunship - helicopter gunships have been
used by the army to help the villagers fight some of these Taliban, but the
villagers are making every effort not to allow the army to deploy.
The problem in all this fighting that has taken place and earlier fighting,
over the last year or so, has been that the army has been incredibly
destructive when they have moved in anywhere, and there have been, of course,
major attempts by the Americans to train and retrain the army in counter-
insurgency, a lot of the new tactics that were promulgated by General Petraeus
in Iraq and now in Afghanistan by U.S. forces, but the Pakistanis have been
very reluctant to get this training.
So the war effort by the army is still conducted as though you were fighting
against India in the plains, using heavy artillery and tanks.
GROSS: So are the villagers in Dir succeeding in driving out the Taliban?
Mr.Â RASHID: Well, itâs been four or five days. Itâs really not known. I mean,
they have certainly killed a number of Taliban. A lot of villagers have also
been killed. The problem in all this area is that the military has banned any
kind of independent assessment by journalists or aid workers or human-rights
workers. Thereâs nobody up there to tell us what is really going on.
GROSS: Youâre not allowed in?
Mr.Â RASHID: No, nobody is allowed in. I mean, we donât have any independent
assessment for the last month as to whatâs been happening, for example in the
Swat Valley or in Dir, and all phone - mobile-phone connections and land lines
have been cut off by the army. So you canât even phone anyone there to find out
whatâs going on on the ground.
GROSS: Whatâs the point of cutting off phone connections and keeping out
journalists and observers?
Mr.Â RASHID: Well, I think, I think â I mean partly itâs because they donât want
the Taliban also to use mobile phones and land lines and communications, but
also I think, you know, one thing which is very unclear is the number of
Now, the army gives a daily roundup of whatâs been happening in Swat and in the
fighting. They give the casualty figures of the extremists who are killed and
of the soldiers who are killed, but they donât give any figures of civilians
who are killed. And clearly civilians have been killed, because I interviewed a
lot of refugees down, you know, people whoâd escaped from Swat, and a lot of
families had relatives who had been killed or wounded in the shelling, either
by the Taliban or by the army. So there have been civilian casualties, but we
have no idea as to how many there are.
GROSS: Now, you recently went to Islamabad to visit the palace of President
Asif Al Zardari, and you wrote that because of the recent bombings there, the
city now resembles Baghdad or Kabul. Describe what Islamabad looks like now.
Mr.Â RASHID: Well, Islamabad was always a very â it was a small, very well-
built, very well-planned, open city, but right - for the last few months, what
weâve seen is that barricades have gone up around embassies and U.N. offices,
government offices. There are these huge cement blocks that you see in Baghdad
or Kabul. There are troops literally on the street, not just police or
paramilitary forces but actual, regular army soldiers. There are patrols by,
you know, military and by the police. Thereâs just enormous security, something
that the residents of Islamabad have never seen before.
GROSS: So did you speak with the president while you were there?
Mr.Â RASHID: Yes, I spoke to the president, and he was very critical about the
lack of financial support thatâs been coming to Pakistan. Apart from the
promises of aid from the United States, thereâs very little coming from the
Europeans or from the Muslim world, but at the same time, I mean, you know, I
tried to point out that people abroad are very frustrated, and Pakistanis are
very frustrated by the lack of proper response by the government to this
For example, there is a task force which has been set up by the president,
which is supposed to be dealing with the internally displaced people, but itâs
made up largely of politicians, and there are no technocrats in it, no people
who have any experience with dealing with disaster management.
And there is another task force that had been set up by the prime minister, and
sometimes the two task forces are at odds with each other, or the politicians
in these task forces are at odds with each other.
So there is really no central command, as it were, to deal with the logistical
crisis and to organize the rebuilding of the Swat Valley once itâs been taken
GROSS: So youâre kind of critical of how the president has been handling
things, how the government in general has been handling things.
Mr.Â RASHID: I think itâs not just the president, itâs the prime minister, itâs
the provincial government in the Northwest Frontier Province. Thereâs also
criticism of the army, although the army has been much better organized perhaps
than the civilians have been in filling the gap, as it were, and organizing the
logistics for these international agencies who are trying to get food and
medicine to the internally displaced people.
GROSS: Is it hard to travel now?
Mr.Â RASHID: Well, itâs not â people are very cautious. I mean, people, you
know, traveling itself is not such a problem as, you know, the fact is once you
get to these big towns, itâs very unpredictable as to what the situation can be
because there are - you know, suicide bombers with these suicide jackets have
apparently been sent by the Taliban into literally dozens of towns and cities,
and if they find a good target, literally theyâre on the prowl for a good
target, and a good target would mean a foreign aid agencyâs vehicles or police
vehicles or a conglomeration of foreigners in a restaurant or police people
having their lunch or something like that.
And so the situation is very unpredictable. Some of these attacks that have
been taking place obviously were not planned. I mean, they were just young kids
who were loaded up with suicide jackets and walk - seeing a good target and
walking up to that target and exploding themselves.
Other attacks, like this terrible attack on the hotel two days ago in Peshawar,
at the Pearl Continental, was of course very carefully planned, and there was a
huge truck bomb that went in and destroyed half the hotel. But a lot of it is
GROSS: Why was that hotel in Peshawar considered such a good target?
Mr.Â RASHID: Well, tragically, first of all, it has been housing most of the aid
agency officials who have been helping in providing food and medicine to the
internally displaced people. There were some 50 United Nations personnel, most
of them from abroad, living in the hotel. There were also Americans, people who
were working in the tribal areas who were trying to put together economic
programs. And the hotel also was â it was reported to be - negotiations were
going on between the U.S. State Department and the owner of the hotel about
selling or leasing the hotel to the American consulate in Peshawar, because the
Americans were going to beef up their presence in Peshawar with, you know, aid
workers and presumably intelligence people and all sorts of other diplomats and
other officials, and they wanted a large premises which they could make secure.
So this has been in the news, that the Americans were negotiating to either buy
the hotel or lease the hotel, and probably this reached the ears of the
GROSS: Ahmed Rashid will be back in the second half of the show. Heâs joining
us from a studio in his home city of Lahore, Pakistan. His latest book,
âDescent into Chaos: The U.S. and the Disaster in Pakistan, Afghanistan and
Central Asia,â was recently published in paperback. Iâm Terry Gross, and this
is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
This is FRESH AIR.
Iâm Terry Gross back with journalist, Ahmed Rashid, who's joining us from a
studio in his home city Lahore, Pakistan. It's one of the cities where the
Taliban made good on their recent promise to attack major Pakistani cities.
Rashid has been writing about Islamic extremism for decades. After 9-11, his
book, "Taliban" became a bestseller. His latest book, "Descent into Chaos: The
U.S. and the Disaster in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia" was recently
published in paperback.
Is Pakistan at a critical point now, a turning point, where it can either head
back to stability, or really descend into chaos?
Mr. AHMED RASHID (Journalist, Author of "Taliban"): Well I think itâs at a very
critical point and I think things have improved and have changed. I think three
things have happened which have changed the situation. The first is that there
is a much greater recognition now by the government and the Army that the
Pakistani Taliban are really the threat. Previously, the Army was constantly
saying that India remains a major threat, the Taliban are secondary. Now I
think there's an agreement on the fact that there has to be a counteroffensive
against the Taliban.
The second thing is that the public mood has changed. There was a lot of anti-
Americanism in the country which led to public sympathy for the Taliban. And I
think people have suddenly realized that the Taliban are an enormous danger,
and now there is a much greater public feeling and we are seeing that everyday
in the media, a much greater public feeling for the Army and the government to
go after the Taliban and get rid of this menace and capture the leadership.
And thirdly, I think there has been a much greater political consensus amongst
the political parties. In the last few months we've had a, the opposition and
the government had been at loggerheads. Now there's a much greater consensus
that there has to be unity in order to combat the Taliban threat. So there is a
change here. But at the same time, people understand that this is a very
critical moment because Pakistan is faced not just with the issue of the
Taliban threat, but also a very dire economic crisis, an insurgency in another
province of Balochistan, random killings in Karachi. We've had about 50 people
killed in the last three days, targeted killings in Karachi of political
workers. Nobody knows where that is coming from. So you know the country's in
GROSS: The Swat Valley was a real turning point with the Taliban and its fight
with the Pakistani government and military. There was a deal made between the
Pakistani government and the Taliban. Would you just describe what that initial
Mr. RASHID: Well the initial deal was that the Army and the provincial
government of the North-West Frontier Province wanted peace and quiet in Swat
with - where the Taliban had really taken control of the whole valley. And
there was a deal made that the government would allow Sharia, that is Islamic
law, to be imposed in Swat, which was something that did exist there in the
1960s. There was an Islamic legal system in the Swat Valley about 40 years ago.
GROSS: Wait. Let me back up second. And in return for that the Taliban were
supposed disarm, right? In return for the government allowing Islamic law, the
Taliban were supposed to disarm.
Mr. RASHID: Exactly. Exactly. The Taliban was supposed to disarm. But what
happened was that not only when once the deal was sign, within days the Taliban
imposed their version of Islamic law which, of course, is much more brutal than
anything we had in the 60s, and then took over the whole administration. They
took over the police, the bureaucracy, they took over the schools, they banned
girls from going to school, and a few days after that they started spreading
out into the adjoining valleys. In other words, they broke the deal completely.
And they saw all this as a major way to consolidate themselves in Swat and use
Swat as a base to spread out further in the North-West Frontier.
And then there was this public uproar in the country, by politicians, by the
media, by the public, enormous pressure by the Americans, very, very strong
statements by Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, by President Obama, and by
European leaders. And then finally the Army launched this offensive into the
Swat Valley to push the Taliban out.
GROSS: So in retrospect it sounds like it was a really big mistake for the
government to sign that pact with the Taliban, the pact that the Taliban broke
in every way. Why do you think the government did it? I mean should they have
Mr. RASHID: I think you know the government was really on the back foot,
because in Swat what had been happening, they should have moved into Swat much
earlier. The Taliban really did control Swat and they thought that by
conducting this Sharia deal with the Taliban, they would just keep the Taliban
quiet and prevent any kind of major expansion, and that the Taliban would get
Sharia and then would disarm. And I think the government very badly
miscalculated what did actually happen.
And ultimately actually, the Taliban also miscalculated, because they thought
that the, you know, the government would not move against them, and they
immediately expanded and went much further than the deal stipulated, and that
brought finally the wrath of the Army and the international community upon
GROSS: What do you think is the ultimate goal or the ultimate goals of
Mr. RASHID: Well you know after the Swat deal was signed, the Taliban leaders
in Swat actually came out very openly and brazenly and said our goal is to
topple the government, to bring an end to democracy, and to impose a Taliban
system of Islamic rule. And, in fact, the speeches that the Taliban made after
the deal was signed in Swat was one of the factor that turned public opinion
against the Taliban, because for the first time the Pakistani public was
hearing loudly and very clearly as to exactly what the Taliban goals were.
Now you know, people like myself had been writing this for a long time, had
been talking about this and telling people look, this is what they actually
want, but we never actually heard it openly and brazenly by the Taliban. But
they gave press conferences in which they declared these aims. And the aims I
think really horrified the public and the politicians which then led to this
kind of sea change in public opinion about the Taliban.
GROSS: Now Pakistan is a nuclear state and the biggest fear is that the Taliban
will somehow get access to the nuclear weapons. How worried are you about that?
Mr. RASHID: Well you know, for the time being I'm not worried. I mean the
nuclear weapons are in the hands, are controlled completely by the Army. The
Army remains united, disciplined, a very hierarchical organization, and I mean
for the time being you know, clearly theyâre safe. But if the Taliban spread
into Punjab, we've had these bombings in Punjab, it's in Punjab where most of
the nuclear installations are, where the nuclear weapons are kept. Clearly that
the, one of the aims for al-Qaida and the Pakistani Taliban would be to try and
get their hands if not on nuclear weapons, but on some kind of nuclear
They are over 20 nuclear installations that are producing uranium or plutonium,
or producing nuclear weapons itself. They are very well guarded. But clearly
the aims of al-Qaida and the Taliban would be to try and get their hands on
this. And this is something that I think you know people are going to remain
worried about. I mean whatever the government or the Army says to the
Americans, to the international community, it's going to remain a major worry
until the Taliban are really pushed back.
GROSS: If you're just joining us my guest is journalist Ahmed Rashid. He's
speaking to us from Lahore, Pakistan where he lives. He's been writing about
Islamic extremists for decades. He's the author of the bestseller "Taliban."
His latest book, "Descent into Chaos: The U.S. and the Disaster in Pakistan,
Afghanistan, and Central Asia" was recently published in paperback.
Let's take a short break here and then we'll talk some more. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: My guest is Ahmed Rashid. He's a journalist who lives in Lahore,
Pakistan, and he's speaking to us from Lahore. He's been writing about Islamic
extremism for decades. His latest book is called "Descent into Chaos: The U.S.
and the Disaster in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia."
Ahmed, we've been talking about the Pakistani Taliban and the advances that
theyâve made in the past few months in Pakistan. Who are the Pakistani Taliban
and what is their relationship to the Afghan Taliban?
Mr. RASHID: Well the Pakistani Taliban are essentially Pashtun tribesmen. The
Pashtun's are the majority ethic group in Afghanistan and the second largest
ethic group in Pakistan. They straddle the border between the two countries.
And essentially, after 9-11 and the defeat of the Taliban - of the routing of
al-Qaida and the Taliban - the leadership of the Afghan Taliban and the Arab
Al-Qaida escaped into the tribal areas of Pakistan and sought shelter amongst
the Pashtun tribesman on the Pakistani side of the border.
Now many of these Pashtun tribesmen had already very close relations with the
Afghan Taliban. They'd been fighting in Afghanistan. They had fought against
the Americans. They had fought earlier in the Civil War in Afghanistan. They
hosted the Afghan Taliban and al-Qaida, and made a lot of money in the process
also because you know, the al-Qaida was paying very lavishly for the
hospitality that was being extended to them. And these Pashtun tribesmen then
became more and more radicalized, they became richer, they set up their own
militias, and they started driving out the Pakistan Army from these areas so
that al-Qaida and the Afghan Taliban would have more room to live in and
maneuver. And for about four years the Pakistan Army did not go after these
people at all. So they have four years until 2004 in which to consolidate.
And the American military in Afghanistan kept pushing President Musharraf, who
was the president at that time, and the military regime to go after these
Taliban in the tribal areas. And Pakistan very reluctantly did so finally in
2004. But by then these Pakistani tribesmen had formed themselves into their
own militias which then emerged as the Pakistani Taliban which first of all
said that they would liberate as it were, the tribal areas, and they would set
up an emirate, a Taliban state on the Pakistan side of the border in which all
the Taliban and al-Qaida could live freely. And that ambition of setting up a
kind of separate state in the tribal areas has really now enlarged itself to
where these Pashtun tribesmen want to actually topple the government and take
over the whole of Pakistan.
But at the same time, their confidence has come because theyâve been able to
link up with the extremist groups in other parts of the country and within
other ethnic groups in Punjab, in Sind, in Baluchistan. So they now have a very
much a national movement.
GROSS: And is it more of a national movement than the Taliban in Afghanistan
Mr. RASHID: Yes it is. It's much more than that. In Afghanistan the Taliban
threats to which the Americans and NATO are facing are still very much coming
from the Pashtuns who live in the south and the east of the country. Now you
don't have an insurgency in the north and the west, although, you do have
Taliban attacks there, but you donât have a full-blooded insurgency because the
ethic groups in the north and the west in Afghanistan are very anti-Taliban
and, in fact, anti-Pashtun also, but very anti-Taliban.
The problem in Pakistan is that the majority of the people in Pakistan are not
in favor of the Taliban. But the fact is that the Taliban do have sympathizers
in these very small extremist groups who've either been fighting in Cashmere,
who've been fighting in India, who've been fighting in Central Asia, these
extremist groups are not Pashtun, they're Punjabi's or belong to other ethnic,
and they're scattered around the country. So when the Pakistani Taliban order
up a bomb, a suicide attack in Lahore, for example, or in Karachi, or in some
other major city, they donât have to send done Pashtuns from the tribal areas
to carry out this attack, they can rely upon these local extremist groups to do
their reconnaissance, to bring down the explosives, and then to carry out such
GROSS: So it's kind of like they have network.
Mr. RASHID: Exactly. And it's very dangerous. I mean my own estimate is that
the Pakistani Taliban now have an alliance with about 40 different groups in
Pakistan. And that's an extraordinary number if you think about it. There were
at least 15 different groups and parties who are for example based in Punjab,
which is the largest province in the country, and which were fighting in Indian
Cashmere in the 90s, in the late 80s and the 90s.
Now most of these 15 groups have joined the Pakistani Taliban and have gone
underground and are helping the Pakistani Taliban. And they have experience.
They've been fighting against the Indian Army. They have battle experience.
Many of them were supported by, in the 90s by the Pakistani Intelligence
services, by the military. So they have links in the military and the
Intelligence services. They know how to get a hold of explosives and weapons
and etcetera, so many of these groups who are with allied to the Pakistani
Taliban have a lot of experience.
GROSS: The Obama administration is broadening the attack against the Taliban in
Afghanistan. There's a new military commander in Afghanistan. More troops are
going into Afghanistan. But I know a lot of people think that the real problem
for the United States and the world is more in Pakistan than Afghanistan
because of the inroads that the Taliban have made. If the United States is
successful in its military campaign in Afghanistan, is there a challenge that
what will actually happen is that the Afghan Taliban will cross the border into
Pakistan and wait it out there?
Mr. RASHID: Well, I think - immediately speaking, I think the Afghan Taliban
are planning a major offensive against American forces in Afghanistan. We are
going to see in the next few weeks some 20,000 Marines arriving in Southern
Afghanistan in the provinces of Helmand and Kandahar - some 7,000 American
Marines have already arrived. And thereâs been a huge spate of car bombings,
ambushes, attacks already on NATO and American forces. I think this summer
youâre going to see a real intensification of the fighting. I donât think that
the Afghan Taliban are going to retreat into Pakistan.
Although, the Pakistanis are saying it and some American officials are saying
it, I think the Taliban in Afghanistan are going to stand and fight the
Americans. The really want to be able to prove to the Americans and to
President Obama that by sending more troops is not the answer, that theyâre
going to be able to resist any kind of American surge in Afghanistan. In the
long-term, however, I think once the Americans - you know, and it may take six
months, it may take longer - once the Americans and NATO forces are able to
beat back the Taliban, and to cause heavy casualties amongst the Taliban, then
I think, you know, in the long-term, we will see some of these Taliban
retreating into Pakistan.
Donât forget that a lot of the Taliban, the Afghan Taliban, are already based
in Pakistan. A lot of the logistics of the Afghan Taliban come out of Pakistan.
Food, ammunition, weapons and recruits even come out of Pakistan. So, they
have, you know, established bases here. So, it is in their interest, in the
interest of the Afghan Taliban, not to lose these bases in Pakistan, to resist
both the Americans on one side and on the Afghan side of the border, and to now
resist the Pakistan army on the Pakistan side.
GROSS: Is there anything that you think the United States could or should be
doing to help the Pakistani government fight the Pakistan Taliban?
Mr. RASHID: Well, I think the most important thing is money right now because
the question of hearts and minds - it really needs economic aid, humanitarian
aid. And that fact is that the country is just in a complete economic doldrums.
One of the major things I think that the Americans and special envoy Richard
Holbrooke is trying to do is to muster financial support from around the world.
He visited recently the Gulf Arab states, and Europe to try and get the
Europeans and the Arab Muslims to contribute more aid to Pakistan.
There are several initiatives underway by the Americans to try and get support
from China, from Japan, from countries who traditionally have been very
supportive of Pakistan but are not coming up with the goods right now at a time
when Pakistan is desperately in need of aid. So, I think itâs not just a
question of American money, which is in short supply obviously because of the
economic crisis in America, but for all the United States to actually mobilize
global support for the economic crisis in Pakistan.
The fact is that if, you know, if these refugees that not looked after well
enough, if once the Taliban are cleared from the Swat Valley and thereâs not
sufficient funding for them to go back - and already thereâs an estimate that
perhaps $1 billion is going to be needed to rehabilitate these refugees back in
Swat, rebuild their homes and rebuild the schools and the hospitals and all the
rest of it - if that money is not going to be forthcoming, you know, then, a
lot of these refugees are going to look more favorably upon the Taliban than
upon the government.
GROSS: Well, be well. We really value our conversations with you. Thank you so
much for talking with us.
Mr. RASHID: Thank you very much indeed.
GROSS: Our interview with Ahmed Rashid was recorded earlier today. He joined us
from a studio in his home city of Lahore, Pakistan. Coming up, three new
recordings by American orchestras. This is FRESH AIR.
*** TRANSCRIPTION COMPANY BOUNDARY ***
City By City, A Night At The Symphony
TERRY GROSS, host:
Itâs not a surprise that big record labels are making fewer recordings with our
symphony orchestras. More and more major orchestras are fighting back and
releasing recordings of their live performances on their own labels. Classical
music critic Lloyd Schwartz says this is a positive turn of events.
(Soundbite of music, âSymphony No. 6â)
LLOYD SCHWARTZ: On September 12th, 2001, the San Francisco Symphony, under
Michael Tilson Thomas, performed Mahlerâs tragic âSixth Symphony,â an
appropriate piece to play right after 9/11. Then the orchestra released a
recording of that performance on its own label. It was so well received, they
started to issue a series of their Mahler performances that is now nearing
completion. Two of the so-called top five American orchestras, the Chicago and
Boston Symphony orchestras, have now also begun to produce their own
Coincidentally, Chicago and Boston have both released, either on CD or as a
download, their own versions of Mahlerâs Sixth Symphony, which is certainly one
of the most challenging pieces in the classical repertory: nearly an hour and a
half long, darkly intense, full of rhythmic harmonic and emotional twists and
with passages of sublime beauty. Itâs not a display piece, but it certainly
shows just about everything a great orchestra can do. Itâs fascinating to
compare the more youthful, exuberant San Francisco performance with the
meticulously controlled Chicago version led by principal conductor Bernard
(Soundbite of music, âSymphony No. 6â)
SCHWARTZ: Then compare both Tilson Thomas and Haitink with the urgency and
spaciousness of James Levine and the Boston Symphony, partly achieved by
Levineâs decision to go back to the old practice, long before stereo, of
putting the first and second violins on opposite sides of the stage.
(Soundbite of music, âSymphony No. 6â)
SCHWARTZ: This is a good time for music lovers to be living in Boston. James
Levine, whoâs been the music director of the Metropolitan Opera for more than a
quarter of a century, came to Boston five years ago and transformed the
orchestra, which had fallen into rough shape under the nearly 30-year tenure of
its previous music director, Sergio Zawa(ph). Levine has wisely waited to
release recordings until he was completely happy with his new orchestra and
they with him. I wish that the one contemporary piece theyâve issued, a BSO
Commission, had been something other than William Bolcomâs âSymphony No. 8â: A
choral setting of passages from William Blakeâs mysteriously opaque âProphetic
Books.â But I have no reservations about the other releases.
The BSO has a famous old recording of Ravel's âDaphnis et Chloe,â but their new
live recording sounds even more glamorous. And the Brahmâs âGerman Requiemâ is
one of the most moving and muscular versions I know.
(Soundbite of music, âA German Requiemâ)
SCHWARTZ: The most exciting of the Chicago recordings is the rarely performed
Shostakovich âFourth Symphonyâ: a big work the Soviet censors kept from being
performed for 25 years. And Shostakovich is one of Bernard Haitinkâs
(Soundbite of music, âSymphony No. 4â)
SCHWARTZ: All these recordings have the quality of being there. Since I live in
Boston, Iâve been to all the concerts that the BSO has released and the
recordings capture remarkably well what it was like to have been in Symphony
Hall. Since the big record companies have been making fewer recordings with our
major orchestras, itâs a great thing these superb orchestras themselves have
decided to take their futures into their own hands.
GROSS: Lloyd Schwartz is classical music editor of the Boston Phoenix. Iâm
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