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The War Nerd / October 7, 2008

Zia ul-Haq: the Pakistani Dracula with the dead raccoon eyes.

Well, time to ease out of my chair and get back to work, because people have been yelling at me to finish off that “Islamablog” series I started about the hotel bomb in Islamabad. I warned you it was going to be a sample of what real-time war-nerding is about, and this time, durn it, it turned to be about me getting frustrated with how many possible angles there were here. I started to feel like it’d be easier for me to make a short list of everybody who definitely didn’t have a reason to bomb the Islamabad Marriott instead of trying to decide which of the two zillion good reasons was responsible for the bombing.

In fact, why not? Here’s my short list of who didn’t bomb the Marriott and why:

Lindsay Lohan, because she’s happy with her DJ girlfriend and when she ain’t she’s busy trying to get Michael Phelps’s cell number. That’s what I don’t get: didn’t somebody explain “gay” to this airhead? Can’t her butch DJ friend slap a little sense into her, whack her around a few times and lay out the rules, “Oi, girlie, the first rule of lezz club is no bloody men, eh?” No standards any more, that’s what it is. In my day, dykes were dykes, damn it.

OK, OK, we both know I’m just procrastinating because—OK already! I got bored with the hotel. That’s the real lesson, I guess: to be a serious war nerd you have to go down a lot of blind alleys, you have to research a lot of stuff that just doesn’t cook up right, or not on time anyway. Pakistan is shaking out right now, but it’s not done yet. It’s not a damn microwave. Most likely what happened at the Marriott was payback for some massacres on the border last month, but I’d barely got that figured out when the leader of the Pakistan Taliban died—died a natural death, too, which is pretty disgraceful. If there was anybody who should have had help collecting on his life insurance, it was this guy Baitullah Mehsud. But no, he kicked it on his own. Another fat guy with kidney trouble, like me. Come to think of it, that’s a much, much worse way to go than a Predator-launched TOW coming through your mud roof. Compared to dying of kidney trouble, a TOW is like God’s mercy with a rocket booster.

Pakistan is one of those places that won’t sit still long enough to write up. When that neocon professor said history was finished, they should have made him do a year as visiting professor at Karachi U. That would’ve sobered him up fast. History never gets done in Pakistan.

The whole country’s a disaster. One of those classic British-made disasters. One thing I’m learning in this business is the Brits messed up more places on this planet than anybody realizes, and somehow they got away with it. That’s what really amazes me about them, the way they got away with it. They realized after WW II that their power was terminally broke, and decided to quit India before Gandhi took it away from them—because if you’ve got any pride at all, losing to a little half-naked vegetarian who looks like the old “Keep on truckin’” cartoon is just not an acceptable outcome. But the Brits wanted to be sure they had two states to play with, not just a single united India. That was old colonial policy for them, and it worked time after time: set up two tribes that hate each other next to each other and let the games begin. (They almost managed to do that to us in 1863—if Gettysburg had gone the other way, I hate to think where we’d be now.)

So Mountbatten’s agents teased the Indian Muzzies into demanding their own religious state when British India broke up in 1947, funded all the militant Muslim parties and set up the Muzzie leader Jinnah as equal partner to the Hindus. Then they signed this ridiculous deal that made one country, “Pakistan,” out of two parts of British India that happened to have Muzzie majorities. The two parts, “West Pakistan” and “East Pakistan,” were two thousand klicks apart, believe it or not—one was the old Punjab and the other way over against the Burmese border. The most densely populated cities in India were between them. And that was supposed to be one country. Of course it didn’t work, “East Pakistan” turned into Bangladesh in 1971 and got itself crooned about by the other dead Beatle, George Harrison. He got people to send lots of money so the Bangladeshis could fund more babies to pop out onto the sandbars and mud islands on a floodplain that they call home. Wonderful, George. Couldn’t’cha’ve died a little sooner? Cuz that’s what the world needs, more Bangladeshis.

Meanwhile, back in “West Pakistan,” which is now just plain Pakistan, there was plenty of history brewing up, so much that the Pakis didn’t have much time to cry over the loss of Bangladesh, if you can call it a loss. There was all kinds of strife in the Punjab, and all of it is still going on.

Most of it was old hate between local tribes, but there was a new hate too: the hate between the Muslim immigrants who’d poured across into Pakistan from Hindu India and the people who’d always lived in the Punjab. The thing that tickles me about this is the weird similarity to what was going on in Israel at just the same time: a huge bunch of immigrants landing in a just-created religious state and pissing off the people who were there before. Funny how that was happening in the new Jewish state and the same thing was going on in this brand-new all-Muslim state.

Religion was supposed to be the glue that would hold Pakistan together, which is also a funny notion. Religion is the best, most proven way to get people to kill each other in all of history. Even the Buddhists have whacked heretics around now and then for not being kindly and passive enough. “You there, be nicer (BASH!) Stop eating that chicken! SMACK!” Just about the only people who don’t have a long record of smacking unbelievers are the Hindus, and that’s mainly because they’ve got a smorgasbord religion that will swallow anything. They see a bunch of new crazy beliefs coming, they don’t feel threatened the way Christians or Muzzies do, they just start rubbing their bellies, “Oh boy, all U can eat! Order up some new clay fer statues, Ma, and go buy some new paint!”

Before the new Muslim immigrants, called “Muhajir,” arrived in the Punjab in 1947, there were already feuding tribes there—Hell, there’s been constant war there since Alexander came through–and if you look under the headlines you’ll see they’re still there, still at it. Southern Pakistan used to be called “Sind,” and the Sindhi are still the big tribe in the south. One reason Benazir Bhutto got whacked is because she’s Sindhi, from their big political royal family—the Bhuttos are like the Sindhi Kennedys, except she was the only goodlooking one. (And she was, I can’t deny it, when Benazir was young she was a real looker, just google her circa 1980 and see for yourself.)

The Sindhi are Muslim, sure, but they’re not insane the way the immigrant Muzzies were. That’s what happens when you invite all the crazy-ass Muzzie fanatics from all over the Indian subcontinent to settle in your nice sleepy ol’ Punjab, you get a lot of crazies running stuff and pissing off the locals.

The Baluch, the desert tribe that had been living next door to the Sindhi, weren’t that thrilled with the newcomers either. Benazir’s husband, Asif Ali Zardari, is Baluch himself, and his marriage to Benazir was a classic medieval pact between two threatened tribes, kind of a common front against the immigrants. The difference is that the Sindhi are semi-peaceful people, but the Baluch are classic big-turbaned desert marksmen. There’s a lively little Baluch insurgency going, keeping itself in the locals’ good graces by picking off a Pakistani Army patrol now and then. That’s how guerrilla groups send their Christmas cards, you know, by picking off a squad or so every few months by way of saying, ‘Don’t forget us, y’all!”

They can’t do much more because the Muhajir immigrants and their Punjabi allies have the old tribes way, way outnumbered. Worse yet, a lot of them were city people who had a huge advantage over the sleepy local tribes, the Sindhi and Baluch. (Another way it was weirdly like the Israelis, who were mostly educated, Western city people vs. sleepy Palestinian farmers.)

The wild card is the Pashtun, who live in northwest Pakistan and southern Afghanistan. The Pashtun are trouble, period: always have been and always will be. Boy-raping, women-hating, war-loving maniacs. In fact I always think that if my good friend Victor Davis Hanson really wanted to see what life was like in his precious little ancient Greece he should go live with the Pashtuns for a while, as long as he could last anyway. They’re really “classical values” types, selling girls like cattle and making lovey-dovey eyes at little boys when they’re not looting the nextdoor village.

For the first twenty years of Pakistan’s history the Pashtun were the hillbillies, but just like the USA, they ended up taking center stage. And in almost exactly the same way, too: because some Karl Rove genius figured out how easy it is to lead ultra-religious hicks by the nose if you talk about God, or Allah, all the time. The guys running Pakistan don’t really believe in Allah; they believe in money and torture, that’s about it. But the Pashtun still take all that Allah crap seriously, and since Pakistan’s supposed to be this pure Islamic state (“Pakistan,” believe it or not, means “land of the pure”—seriously! Most corrupt evil place on earth and that’s what it means!), stirring up the Pashtun hicks is as easy as saying  “Allahu akbar!” It’s as simple as going down to Alabama and saying “Jesus loves the USA!”

The guy who made that his winning formula was General Zia ul Haq. He’s a real candidate for nastiest critter ever to slide over the earth. I mean, yikes. He even looked like some bad alien had slid into his nostrils, had those dead raccoon eyes and Dracula mustache. Zia “Islamized” Pakistan. As if it wasn’t Islamic enough already, like way too Islamic. It was like a crackhead showing up in rehab and the doctor screeching, “What this man is suffering from is a lack of free crack! Give him crack, stat!” That was Zia’s version of “Pakistan: ER”: “Give this Islamic state more Islam until Koranic scraps come out of its ears, stat!” There were a few hundred madrassa, aka “suicide bomber academies” in Pakistan when Zia took over in 1977. By the time he died in a plane crash in 1988, there were four thousand of these malignant little tumors all over the country.

That suited the CIA fine, at first, because—well, because they’re idiots, mainly—but also because, after 1979 Zia’s intel service, the ISI, and the CIA were best buds, shipping weapons into Afghanistan and opium out to fund the Pashtun groups fighting the Russians. Nobody had the sense to see that the Russians were on their last legs, whereas the Muzzies were just getting all godzilla’d up. Ever hear of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar? Total nutcase, Pashtun leader, and the answer to your question, “Where did my tax dollars go during the Reagan years?”

Zia was a classic representative of the insane Muhajir elite, and his enemies were the leaders of the not-as-totally-insane “native” groups, the Sindhi and the Baluch. Their top leader was Benazir Bhutto’s father, ex-Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. The Bhuttos aren’t just Sindhi, they’re also guilty of being Shia, which drives the Sunni Muhajir loonies even loonier. So that made Benazir’s dad the root of all evil to a pious Muzzie like Zia. And that’s why Zia had Bhutto senior hanged in1979, just as the campaign to heat up the Pashtuns along the Afghan border was picking up steam.

Fastforward through a whoooooooole lotta blood and assassinations to December 2007 and Bhutto’s daughter Benazir is back in town after all kinds of ups and downs, campaigning for office saying she’ll take Pakistan on a slightly-less-insane tack, be slightly-less-loony about Islam, and slightly-less-whacko about women showing themselves outside the crib…and whaddaya know, some updated version of Zia, same mustache even, I’d bet, whacks her while she’s waving to the crowd in Rawalpindi, which just happens to be the most Muhajir, most Islamic town in the country, the real Selma Alabama of Muhajir/Jihadi looniness.

And durn it, even that won’t discourage these pesky people, because next thing you know her Baluch husband Zardari is in power, talking about clamping down on those extremist jihadis—and wham, a few hours later the Marriott blows up. That’s what I mean, see: Pakistan never changes but it’s always updating, never getting any better but always updating, like Windows with minarets. Makes it damn hard for a War Nerd to get settled in and take his time with a story. You can start just about any time going back in history to explain why the Marriott blew up, see. I decided for simplicity’s sake to start with the Pakistan/India split in 1947 in this column but damn, I’ve been reading Indian history from the 1700s and there were about a half dozen bloody decisive battles between the Muslims and the Hindu Maratha and the newcomer Brits just in the 1750s and 1760s alone—even back then the Brits were perfecting their technique, playing Hindu-vs.-Muslim games. Oh, and the Persians were knee-deep in it too—can’t forget the Persians. I’m telling you, God damn, it just won’t stop. So really, when you talk about why things are heating up in the Punjab now, the real history-based answer is, what heating-up? This is a slow news day by Punjab standards.

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