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Thursday, January 3, 2008

North West Frontier Province

Here we are at the Pakistini Supreme Court, off limits to most, but they let us through the barricades!


North West Frontier Province

Here we are in an area named by Britain which sounds like it should be in Canada somewhere. We are staying with our new Horizons friends James and Kathy Copple. James is flight instructor with the RAF on loan to the PAF, which means that we are safely ensconced on a Pakistani Air Force base in Risalpur which is about 60 miles from the Afghan border.

I am probably being stupidly na├»ve here, as I don’t feel any clear and present danger and am happy to get on my bike and ride into up above the polluted plains into the hills and mountains north and west of here. But, as everyone except Mike Huckabee knows, the western border of Pakistan is full of Taliban and other bad guys. So, today we played golf on the Air Force base, the hosts were great the guests were awful, especially yours truly.

When Pakistan became a nation in 1948 they made a deal with the Pashtun tribal leaders to give them autonomy in exchange for joining the nascent state. What exists now is that Pakistani law is only in affect for 10 meters on either side of the national roads, and Pashtunwali law, decided by a council of elders known as a jirga, decides for all other areas. This is the area along the border with Afganistan where the Taliban and supposedly Osama Bin Laden are hanging out. Reading the papers today, I see that the Taliban has told the government they have two days to get out of the SWAT region which is only about 30 miles north of here. Somewhere in this area on Tuesday allegedly 25 militants were killed attacking a Frontier Corps post.

We are planning to go tomorrow up north near this area tomorrow to visit some friends of James & Kathy. It is hard to gauge the danger, and we look to them for guidance. Of course, the military don’t want him to go almost anywhere off the base but we decided to make this trip that they have done many times. I went with him yesterday to Peshawar to get some electrical fixtures and we ended up in the old town where the shop was which is a no-go zone. He was openly and verbally nervous as we got hemmed in by cars, rickshaws and people in the narrow ancient streets, where there were no foreigners at all, few women (all in full burka), and we got quizzical looks. However, nothing happened and I was able to find the replacement circuit breaker along with the Pashtun guide who had accompanied us from the base. We then drove to the new city where I got money from the an ATM, we enjoyed KFC (also no go zone), and I looked into getting a pass to enter the Khyber area and see the famed Khyber pass. Peshawar has a huge fort which is still a military base, there are many Afghan refugees and immigrants running around who are usually poor and tinier than their Pakistani neighbors.

There are security guards at anything of interest or value. We receive many looks and stares, and a few welcomes, we are clearly an oddity. What is clear by being here is how little control the Pakistan government, and by extension the US war on terror, has in this critical area. It is amazing to think we have given billions of dollars to try and secure this area and root out the “Islamo-Fascists”. We are clearly losing that war of cultures in this area. James and Kathy tell us that in the year they have been here they have seen the area of influence of the Taliban growing, indicated by the fact that women who used to just have to cover their head are now required to wear full burkas, with just the eye slit showing in accordance with Taliban rules.

It would seem to me that we could spend our money much more wisely by using human capital and really getting to know the people and the area. The people here seem nice in the villages, and again it seems as if the powers that be just need a convenient scapegoat to keep Americans afraid of someone. To think that these people who don’t have decent water or power, ½ the world away are going to somehow bring down the United States is complete lunancy.

We need to build bridges, not walls. That is what will serve everyone’s interests.