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Return of the "Mad Mullah"

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Ten days ago, a bunch of lightly-armed Pashtun tribesmen rode down from the Malakand region on motorbikes and pickup trucks and briefly swaggered around Buner, only 100 km from Pakistan's capitol, Islamabad.

Hysteria erupted in Washington. "The Taliban are coming. The Taliban are coming!" One half expected to see burly, bearded Islamic fanatics putting Congress to the sword.

Hillary Clinton, still struggling through foreign affairs 101, warned the scruffy Taliban tribesmen were a global threat. Pakistan's generals dutifully followed Washington's orders by attacking the tribal miscreants in Buner who failed to obey the American Raj. Over a hundred people were killed, almost all innocent civilians, and thousands of refuges fled the government bombing and gunfire.

It would have been helpful had the anguished Mrs Clinton read page 30 of my book, War at the Top of the World:

In the first quarter of the 20th century...two colorful figures emerged from the barren mountains of the Northwest Frontier. First, a fiery holy man with a wonderful name, the Fakir of Ipi. The old fakir rallied the Pashtun tribes against the infidel and came within a turban's length of taking Peshawar from the British, who spent a decade chasing the elusive fakir through the mountains of Waziristan.

Then, a fearsome figure, the "Mad Mullah" (as the British press branded him), who rode down from the Malakand Pass at the head of 20,000 savage horsemen, determined to put the impious city of Peshawar (the main British Imperial base) to the sword.

Plus ca change..... A century later, western imperial forces are again chasing unruly Pashtun tribesmen on the wild Northwest Frontier and raiding parties of Pashtun mountain warriors are again debouching from the fabled Malakand Pass. Today, they're called "terrorists" by western media and politicians. In the 1980s they and their fathers were hailed as "freedom fighters" battling the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. A new "mad mullah" named Osama lurks in the mountains of Waziristan or Malakand.

Pashtun (aka Pathan) frontier tribes - collectively mislabeled "Taliban" by western media - are up in arms again because they are being bombed by US Predator drones, and attacked by the Pakistani Army, which the US rents for $1.5 billion annually (the official figure; actually, it's a lot more), to support its widening war in Afghanistan. Pashtun civilian casualties - "collateral damage" in Pentagonspeak - are rising fast.

The primary cause of the growing rebellion in Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP) is the US war in Afghanistan, which is rapidly spreading into Pakistan. Most Pakistanis see the Afghan Taliban and their own rebellious Pashtun as heroes fighting western domination, and scorn their own isolated leaders in Islamabad as working for the Yankee dollar.

Equally, the Pashtun tribes of NWFP were guaranteed total autonomy in 1947; Pakistan's army was formally excluded from the Pashtun tribal region. Washington has pressured Islamabad into violating this basic provision of Pakistan's constitution by sending troops and warplanes into the independent tribal region.

Even the British Imperial Raj's most junior officer knew it was foolhardy to provoke warlike Pashtun. But Washington has done just this. Still, the Pashtun `Taliban' have no influence outside their Northwest Frontier and are not about to take over the rest of Pakistan.

But Washington's ham-handed tactics in Afghanistan and Pakistan are creating a bigger storm: a national revolution in Pakistan against the western-backed feudal oligarchy that has ruled it since 1947.

Pakistan is among the world's poorest nations. Half its people are illiterate. Most subsist on $1.13 daily. The feudal landowning elite, only .5% of the population, holds over 90% of national wealth. Corruption engulfs everything. Democracy is a sham; the legal system a cruel joke.

Islamic law, however draconian, offers the only justice that cannot be bought. Growing resistance movements in Northwest Frontier and Baluchistan call for national leadership that represents Pakistan's rather than western interests. Pakistanis are humiliated by being forced by the US and Britain to wage war against their own people under the pretext of `fighting Islamic terrorism.'

The big question in western capitals is: "are Pakistan's nuclear weapons safe?" Yes. For now. They are heavily guarded by crack army units and ISI, the military intelligence service, and will remain so unless the army splits in a power struggle. Pakistan's nukes cannot be armed without special security codes.

Even so, there is growing speculation in Pakistan and here in Europe that the US, possibly in league with India and or Israel, may attempt to seize or destroy Pakistan's nuclear arsenal.

My esteemed colleague and regional expert, Arnaud de Borchgrave, warns Pakistan could become another Iran. I'm not so sure. Islamic parties have never commanded much support in Pakistan. There is no powerful clergy in Sunni Pakistan, as their was in Shia Iran. Pakistan has a long way to go before becoming an Islamic republic on the Iranian model. But Pakistan is certainly headed into very dangerous waters.

As for the US-led crusade in Afghanistan and Northwest Frontier, recall the words of Victorian poet of the British Raj, Rudyard Kipling: "Asia is not going to be civilized after the methods of the West. There is too much Asia and she is too old."