Cole at Tomdispatch: Frenzy over the Pashtuns of Empire’s Frontier

My essay, “Armageddon at the Top of the World: Not!: A Century of Frenzy over the North-West Frontier,” has just been posted at


‘ Despite being among the poorest people in the world, the inhabitants of the craggy northwest of what is now Pakistan have managed to throw a series of frights into distant Western capitals for more than a century. That’s certainly one for the record books.

And it hasn’t ended yet. Not by a long shot. Not with the headlines in the U.S. papers about the depredations of the Pakistani Taliban, not with the CIA’s drone aircraft striking gatherings in Waziristan and elsewhere near the Afghan border. This spring, for instance, one counter-terrorism analyst stridently (and wholly implausibly) warned that “in one to six months” we could “see the collapse of the Pakistani state,” at the hands of the bloodthirsty Taliban, while Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the situation in Pakistan a “mortal danger” to global security.

What most observers don’t realize is that the doomsday rhetoric about this region at the top of the world is hardly new. It’s at least 100 years old. . .’

Speaking of which, Reuters reports that on Monday, Pakistani helicopter gunships deployed against Pashtun militants in the Khyber region killed 20 of them. This group, led by Mangal Bagh, is unconnected to the Old Taliban of Mulla Omar but was suspected by the Pakistani military of ‘planning some attacks.’ The US and NATO in Afghanistan depend on the Karachi to Khyber route to get materiel to their troops in landlocked Afghanistan, but militants on the Pakistan side have attacked the convoys and closed off the route, forcing the US to depend on Russia for transshipment of materiel instead. The US has put pressure on the Pakistani government to put down the Pakistani Taliban and reopen the Khyber pass route.

About 500,000 or one fourth of the 2 million alleged to have been more or less expelled by the military and the fighting from the Swat Valley, have returned home, despite problems of sewage and potable water.

News also comes that the Pakistani government has arrested Pashtun cleric Maulana Sufi Muhammad, a founder of the Pakistani Taliban and leader of the Movement for the Implementation of Muhammad’s Law. Sufi Muhammad was the one who brokered the controversial cease-fire in the Swat Valley between the Pakistani government and the Pakistani Taliban, led by his son-in-law Maulana Fazlullah. The ceasefire broke down when the Taliban attacked neighboring areas and sought to expand the territory under their control.

Ironically, at the same time that Western observers lauded the Pakistani president’s decision to arrest Sufi Muhammad and cut off negotiations with the Taliban in Pakistan, they continued to pursue peace talks with the Afghan so-called Taliban.

Meanwhile, Aljazeera English reports on British overtures to the dissident Pashtuns called ‘Taliban’ in the US press:

Aljazeera English reports on new tactics of the Taliban:

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