IF 9 WERE 11: How We Are Getting Played In Pakistan

talibanistan_1.jpgNEW YORK TIMES:  “When the Americans kill innocent people, we must take revenge,” he said. Tell me about that, I asked Namdar, and his aides again shook their heads. Finally Namdar changed his line. “Well, we can’t stop anyone from going across” into Afghanistan, he said. “I’m not saying we send them ourselves.” And with that, Namdar raised his hand, declining to offer any more details.

By many accounts — on the streets, among Western analysts, even according to his own deputies — Namdar was regularly training and dispatching young men to fight and blow themselves up in Afghanistan. An aide, Munsif Khan, told me that his group had sent “hundreds of people” to fight the Americans. At one point, he described for me how the Vice and Virtue brigade had recently set a minimum-age requirement for suicide bombers. “We are opposed to children carrying out suicide bombings,” Khan said. “We get so many young people coming to us — 15, 16 years old — wanting to go on martyrdom operations. This is not the age to be a suicide bomber. Any man who wants to be a suicide bomber should be at least 20 or 25.”

Khan himself, a former magazine reporter in Peshawar, had been gravely wounded in a car-bomb attack last year. His feet were mangled, and he could walk only with crutches. A bloody struggle for power rages among the many Taliban warlords of the FATA; Khan said his assailants had likely been dispatched by Baitullah Mehsud, the powerful warlord in South Waziristan, because Namdar had refused to submit to Mehsud’s authority.

Another of Namdar’s aides had spoken enthusiastically of his commander’s prowess in battle. “He is a great fighter!” the aide told me. “He goes to Afghanistan every month to fight the Americans.”

So here was Namdar — Taliban chieftain, enforcer of Islamic law, usurper of the Pakistani government and trainer and facilitator of suicide bombers in Afghanistan — sitting at home, not three miles from Peshawar, untouched by the Pakistani military operation that was supposedly unfolding around us.

What’s going on? I asked the warlord. Why aren’t they coming for you?

“I cannot lie to you,” Namdar said, smiling at last. “The army comes in, and they fire at empty buildings. It is a drama — it is just to entertain.”

Entertain whom? I asked.

“America,” he said. MORE

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