Pakistani Journalist Details A 'Descent Into Chaos' In Descent into Chaos, Ahmed Rashid examines the United States' failures in Central Asia, where, the author says, Washington has helped create an unstable Pakistan, a reinvigorated Taliban and a entrepreneurial al' Qaeda that is profiting off the opium trade.
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Pakistani Journalist Details A 'Descent Into Chaos'

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Pakistani Journalist Details A 'Descent Into Chaos'

Pakistani Journalist Details A 'Descent Into Chaos'

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This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. A few weeks ago, the Pakistani Taliban leaders warned they would attack several major Pakistani cities, and they delivered, including in the city of Lahore, where my guest, journalist Ahmed Rashid, lives.

In the June 11th issue of the New York Review of Books, Rashid cautions: Pakistan is close to the brink, perhaps not to a meltdown of the government but to a permanent state of anarchy as the Islamist revolutionaries, led by the Taliban and their many allies, take more territory, and state power shrinks.

Rashid has been writing about Islamic extremism for decades. After 9/11, his book "Taliban" became a bestseller. His latest book, "Descent into Chaos: The U.S. and the Disaster in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia," was recently published in paperback.

This morning, Ahmed Rashid went to a studio in his home city of Lahore to record our interview.

Ahmed Rashid, welcome back to FRESH AIR. Before we go any further, you warned me that the power might cut out as we speak because you're on only an only 12-hour electric day right now. Why is that?

Mr. AHMED RASHID (Journalist): Well, there's a huge economic crisis in the country. There has been for the last year or so. There is a shortage of electricity in the country, but much of the problem is because the government has not been able to pay the power companies. The power companies have not been able to pay for the fuel that they need to run their generators, and there's a vicious cycle in which eventually what happens is the consumer suffers.

In Lahore, the second-largest city in the country, we have about 12 hours a day of no electricity, and the temperatures are just - you know, we're at the height of the summer, and temperatures are very high.

GROSS: So as if the terrorist attacks weren't enough, now you only have 12 hours of electricity a day.

Mr. RASHID: Exactly, and of course the refugees who've come out of the mountains up in the north are suffering enormously because they are used to their mountain, cool summers, not these hot summers on the plains, and they are suffering terribly because of the heat.

GROSS: Ahmed, can I ask you to give us basically an inventory of some of the bombings, the terrorist attacks, that have recently happened in Pakistan, just to give us a sense of the chaos going on now in your country?

Mr. RASHID: Well, since the army went into Swat on the offensive against the Pakistani Taliban at the beginning of May, we waited for about two weeks and we - everybody knew that there would be a retaliation by the Taliban in the cities.

We waited about two weeks, and then starting mid-May right up to now, there have been a series of bomb blasts, seven in Peshawar, the capital of the Northwest Frontier, in the last three weeks, about three in Lahore, where I am. The biggest was just about a week ago, where the whole city woke up very early in the morning when a bomb blast went off.

A suicide bomber drove a truck into a police station, killing a large number of people, and there have been suicide attacks in other parts of the NWFP, in towns - Bannu, Kohat, Dera Ismail Khan. These are towns where the Taliban have been quite strong, where the army is based, and these are towns that are not in the tribal areas but are in what we call the settled areas. So in all these urban areas, there has been a lot of suicide bombings.

GROSS: So in your city, Lahore, where you're speaking to us from now, how have the recent suicide attacks there affected daily life?

Mr. RASHID: Well, I think people are, you know, conducting their daily life, but people are just being very careful, and everybody is very conscious. For example, people are not going to hotels. The restaurants are empty. People are not gathering in large gatherings. Weddings and big social events are being canceled.

The schools are under particular threat because a lot of the schools, especially girls' schools, have been receiving some very ugly letters and graffiti up on the walls, and this is a real cause for worry. Lahore is very much an education center of Pakistan. There are large numbers of schools and colleges and universities here, and a lot of people send their children to Lahore for study, and that has been a cause of concern.

We haven't had an attack on a school yet, but teachers are in a terrible dilemma. Owners of private schools and government schools are in a dilemma because if they increase security, it scares off parents, it scares off the children, but if they don't increase security, then they're not fulfilling their job properly. So it's a very big dilemma as to what to do.

GROSS: Pakistani Taliban leaders warned a few weeks ago that they were preparing major attacks in large cities, including Lahore, Rawalpindi and Islamabad, and therefore people should evacuate the cities. Did people in your city of Lahore take that seriously and flee the city?

Mr. RASHID: No, nobody has taken that seriously. I mean, you know, that was a very sinister threat that came, and it certainly made the headlines, but nobody has taken that seriously, but certainly, you know, in the Northwest Frontier, where the fighting is and where a lot of these terrorist attacks have taken place, there is a lot of fear.

People in Peshawar, for example, have been sending their children to Islamabad or to other cities to start school because it's just, you know, a lot of people fear that it's just very dangerous driving your kids to school and being able to pick them up again, and kids being what they are, they want to go out. They want to meet their friends, and parents are very worried about that.

GROSS: Now, you were telling me you were recently in the Northwest Territory. Why did you go there? Tell us a little bit of what you saw.

Mr. RASHID: Well, I went there basically to see the refugees or rather the internally displaced people who have escaped the fighting in the Swat Valley and some of the valleys adjoining Swat, where the army has been fighting for the last three or four weeks.

We've had this massive exodus from these valleys. About 2.4 million people have come out of there just in the last four weeks. It's the biggest movement of refugees since the Rwanda crisis in 1994, and I think everyone was totally unprepared.

The government was not prepared for this. The army was not particularly prepared. Some of the international agencies had been dealing with earlier internally displaced people, so they had some backup there. But what we have seen, and what I saw basically, was that two things have been, you know, which are really unique to this movement of people.

The first is that people are not moving into camps. Ninety percent of these 2.4 million people have actually come down from the mountains, from the valleys, and they've come into the plains, and they've moved into homes of friends or family or relatives or, if they have no relative, they've moved into mosques, they've moved into school buildings, they've moved into open ground, they've set up their own little tent, or somewhere. They haven't moved into camps, which are being set up by the U.N. and by other big international aid agencies.

Now, that of course makes looking after them much more difficult. Now, local people have done an extraordinary thing by looking after them for the first three or four weeks, but obviously this is not going to be sustainable in the long term. So the U.N., the Red Cross and the government are trying to provide food for these people who are not living in the camps and also trying to set up new camps, which would be, you know, well outfitted so that these people can move into these camps, where it will be easier to look after them.

GROSS: What are the odds that these refugees will be able to move back to their homes in the Swat area, where the Taliban had taken over. The military, the Pakistan military, is trying to take back that territory. What are the odds that the Pakistani military will succeed in taking over from the Taliban so that the people who live there can return?

Mr. RASHID: Well, that's a very, very important question because I think the military and the government are desperate that they take the valley quickly and settle and do a minimal amount of rebuilding so that in fact these refugees can go back because the longer they stay, obviously it's a huge, huge burden on the government, on the country, but secondly the big danger is that the Taliban are going to come down, and they have already, penetrated some of these camps where some 10 percent of these displaced people are living and penetrate these people who are living privately and try and raise recruits and create mayhem amongst these displaced people.

So there is a huge effort to try and clear the Swat Valley as quickly as possible, restore electricity and water and basic services so that these people can be moved back.

GROSS: While you were in the Northwest Territory, were there any suicide attacks there?

Mr. RASHID: Yes, there were. I mean, I was in a town called Mardan, where there are about one-million internally displaced people. It's just south of the Swat Valley, and I left the town after seeing a lot of these displaced people in the late afternoon. In the evening there was a suicide attack on the main street against a police convoy, obviously trying to terrorize, you know, the local law-enforcement agencies, which are very overstretched because of this huge influx of people.

And there were other suicide attacks in other towns, much further away from where I was, in the Northwest Frontier Province.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is journalist Ahmed Rashid. He's speaking to us from Lahore, Pakistan, where he lives. He's been writing about Islamic extremism for decades. His books include the bestseller "Taliban" and the book "Descent into Chaos: The U.S. and the Disaster in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia." That book was recently published in paperback. Let's take a short break here and then we'll talk some more. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is journalist Ahmed Rashid, and he's been writing about Islamic extremists for decades. He's the author of the bestselling book "Taliban." His latest book, "Descent into Chaos: The U.S. and the Disaster in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia," is now out in paperback. He's speaking to us from Lahore, where he lives.

Now, tell us a little bit about what's happening in Dir, D-I-R, which is a village where the Taliban have tried to take over, but villagers are actually fighting back against the Taliban, and a lot of these villagers don't want the Pakistani military involved. They want to keep the military out. Can you explain the significance of the villagers fighting back against the Taliban?

Mr. RASHID: Well, Dir is a valley that adjoins the Swat Valley, and what happened there is that a lot of people did not evacuate the valley when the fighting started, when the army came in against the Taliban, but actually started resisting the Taliban themselves, and we now have several thousand people from many villages in the region coming together and forming groups of militia, as it were, local militia, and fighting the Taliban.

And really the fear is that, you know, what we saw in the Swat Valley for the last month is that the army does not have proper counter-insurgency training. It goes in with heavy artillery, with tanks, with aircraft, and literally bombs the village in order to save the village, as it were, and in Swat, of course, there's been enormous destruction of towns and villages, and the people in Dir didn't want that. They said well, we'll try and deal with these Taliban by ourselves so we don't get the army to come in and flatten our villages with heavy artillery, and that's what's going on.

The army has come in. There have been gunship - helicopter gunships have been used by the army to help the villagers fight some of these Taliban, but the villagers are making every effort not to allow the army to deploy.

The problem in all this fighting that has taken place and earlier fighting, over the last year or so, has been that the army has been incredibly destructive when they have moved in anywhere, and there have been, of course, major attempts by the Americans to train and retrain the army in counter-insurgency, a lot of the new tactics that were promulgated by General Petraeus in Iraq and now in Afghanistan by U.S. forces, but the Pakistanis have been very reluctant to get this training.

So the war effort by the army is still conducted as though you were fighting against India in the plains, using heavy artillery and tanks.

GROSS: So are the villagers in Dir succeeding in driving out the Taliban?

Mr. RASHID: Well, it's been four or five days. It's really not known. I mean, they have certainly killed a number of Taliban. A lot of villagers have also been killed. The problem in all this area is that the military has banned any kind of independent assessment by journalists or aid workers or human-rights workers. There's nobody up there to tell us what is really going on.

GROSS: You're not allowed in?

Mr. RASHID: No, nobody is allowed in. I mean, we don't have any independent assessment for the last month as to what's been happening, for example in the Swat Valley or in Dir, and all phone - mobile-phone connections and land lines have been cut off by the army. So you can't even phone anyone there to find out what's going on on the ground.

GROSS: What's the point of cutting off phone connections and keeping out journalists and observers?

Mr. RASHID: Well, I think, I think - I mean partly it's because they don't want the Taliban also to use mobile phones and land lines and communications, but also I think, you know, one thing which is very unclear is the number of civilian casualties.

Now, the army gives a daily roundup of what's been happening in Swat and in the fighting. They give the casualty figures of the extremists who are killed and of the soldiers who are killed, but they don't give any figures of civilians who are killed. And clearly civilians have been killed, because I interviewed a lot of refugees down, you know, people who'd escaped from Swat, and a lot of families had relatives who had been killed or wounded in the shelling, either by the Taliban or by the army. So there have been civilian casualties, but we have no idea as to how many there are.

GROSS: Now, you recently went to Islamabad to visit the palace of President Asif Al Zardari, and you wrote that because of the recent bombings there, the city now resembles Baghdad or Kabul. Describe what Islamabad looks like now.

Mr. RASHID: Well, Islamabad was always a very - it was a small, very well-built, very well-planned, open city, but right - for the last few months, what we've seen is that barricades have gone up around embassies and U.N. offices, government offices. There are these huge cement blocks that you see in Baghdad or Kabul. There are troops literally on the street, not just police or paramilitary forces but actual, regular army soldiers. There are patrols by, you know, military and by the police. There's just enormous security, something that the residents of Islamabad have never seen before.

GROSS: So did you speak with the president while you were there?

Mr. RASHID: Yes, I spoke to the president, and he was very critical about the lack of financial support that's been coming to Pakistan. Apart from the promises of aid from the United States, there's very little coming from the Europeans or from the Muslim world, but at the same time, I mean, you know, I tried to point out that people abroad are very frustrated, and Pakistanis are very frustrated by the lack of proper response by the government to this present crisis.

For example, there is a task force which has been set up by the president, which is supposed to be dealing with the internally displaced people, but it's made up largely of politicians, and there are no technocrats in it, no people who have any experience with dealing with disaster management.

And there is another task force that had been set up by the prime minister, and sometimes the two task forces are at odds with each other, or the politicians in these task forces are at odds with each other.

So there is really no central command, as it were, to deal with the logistical crisis and to organize the rebuilding of the Swat Valley once it's been taken back.

GROSS: So you're kind of critical of how the president has been handling things, how the government in general has been handling things.

Mr. RASHID: I think it's not just the president, it's the prime minister, it's the provincial government in the Northwest Frontier Province. There's also criticism of the army, although the army has been much better organized perhaps than the civilians have been in filling the gap, as it were, and organizing the logistics for these international agencies who are trying to get food and medicine to the internally displaced people.

GROSS: Is it hard to travel now?

Mr. RASHID: Well, it's not - people are very cautious. I mean, people, you know, traveling itself is not such a problem as, you know, the fact is once you get to these big towns, it's very unpredictable as to what the situation can be because there are - you know, suicide bombers with these suicide jackets have apparently been sent by the Taliban into literally dozens of towns and cities, and if they find a good target, literally they're on the prowl for a good target, and a good target would mean a foreign aid agency's vehicles or police vehicles or a conglomeration of foreigners in a restaurant or police people having their lunch or something like that.

And so the situation is very unpredictable. Some of these attacks that have been taking place obviously were not planned. I mean, they were just young kids who were loaded up with suicide jackets and walk - seeing a good target and walking up to that target and exploding themselves.

Other attacks, like this terrible attack on the hotel two days ago in Peshawar, at the Pearl Continental, was of course very carefully planned, and there was a huge truck bomb that went in and destroyed half the hotel. But a lot of it is just random.

GROSS: Why was that hotel in Peshawar considered such a good target?

Mr. RASHID: Well, tragically, first of all, it has been housing most of the aid agency officials who have been helping in providing food and medicine to the internally displaced people. There were some 50 United Nations personnel, most of them from abroad, living in the hotel. There were also Americans, people who were working in the tribal areas who were trying to put together economic programs. And the hotel also was - it was reported to be - negotiations were going on between the U.S. State Department and the owner of the hotel about selling or leasing the hotel to the American consulate in Peshawar, because the Americans were going to beef up their presence in Peshawar with, you know, aid workers and presumably intelligence people and all sorts of other diplomats and other officials, and they wanted a large premises which they could make secure.

So this has been in the news, that the Americans were negotiating to either buy the hotel or lease the hotel, and probably this reached the ears of the Taliban.

GROSS: Ahmed Rashid will be back in the second half of the show. He's joining us from a studio in his home city of Lahore, Pakistan. His latest book, "Descent into Chaos: The U.S. and the Disaster in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia," was recently published in paperback. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

This is FRESH AIR.

I'm Terry Gross back with journalist, Ahmed Rashid, who's joining us from a studio in his home city Lahore, Pakistan. It's one of the cities where the Taliban made good on their recent promise to attack major Pakistani cities. Rashid has been writing about Islamic extremism for decades. After 9-11, his book, "Taliban" became a bestseller. His latest book, "Descent into Chaos: The U.S. and the Disaster in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia" was recently published in paperback.

Is Pakistan at a critical point now, a turning point, where it can either head back to stability, or really descend into chaos?

Mr. AHMED RASHID (Journalist, Author of "Taliban"): Well I think it's at a very critical point and I think things have improved and have changed. I think three things have happened which have changed the situation. The first is that there is a much greater recognition now by the government and the Army that the Pakistani Taliban are really the threat. Previously, the Army was constantly saying that India remains a major threat, the Taliban are secondary. Now I think there's an agreement on the fact that there has to be a counteroffensive against the Taliban.

The second thing is that the public mood has changed. There was a lot of anti-Americanism in the country which led to public sympathy for the Taliban. And I think people have suddenly realized that the Taliban are an enormous danger, and now there is a much greater public feeling and we are seeing that everyday in the media, a much greater public feeling for the Army and the government to go after the Taliban and get rid of this menace and capture the leadership.

And thirdly, I think there has been a much greater political consensus amongst the political parties. In the last few months we've had a, the opposition and the government had been at loggerheads. Now there's a much greater consensus that there has to be unity in order to combat the Taliban threat. So there is a change here. But at the same time, people understand that this is a very critical moment because Pakistan is faced not just with the issue of the Taliban threat, but also a very dire economic crisis, an insurgency in another province of Balochistan, random killings in Karachi. We've had about 50 people killed in the last three days, targeted killings in Karachi of political workers. Nobody knows where that is coming from. So you know the country's in considerable turmoil.

GROSS: The Swat Valley was a real turning point with the Taliban and its fight with the Pakistani government and military. There was a deal made between the Pakistani government and the Taliban. Would you just describe what that initial deal was?

Mr. RASHID: Well the initial deal was that the Army and the provincial government of the North-West Frontier Province wanted peace and quiet in Swat with - where the Taliban had really taken control of the whole valley. And there was a deal made that the government would allow Sharia, that is Islamic law, to be imposed in Swat, which was something that did exist there in the 1960s. There was an Islamic legal system in the Swat Valley about 40 years ago.

GROSS: Wait. Let me back up second. And in return for that the Taliban were supposed disarm, right? In return for the government allowing Islamic law, the Taliban were supposed to disarm.

Mr. RASHID: Exactly. Exactly. The Taliban was supposed to disarm. But what happened was that not only when once the deal was sign, within days the Taliban imposed their version of Islamic law which, of course, is much more brutal than anything we had in the 60s, and then took over the whole administration. They took over the police, the bureaucracy, they took over the schools, they banned girls from going to school, and a few days after that they started spreading out into the adjoining valleys. In other words, they broke the deal completely. And they saw all this as a major way to consolidate themselves in Swat and use Swat as a base to spread out further in the North-West Frontier.

And then there was this public uproar in the country, by politicians, by the media, by the public, enormous pressure by the Americans, very, very strong statements by Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, by President Obama, and by European leaders. And then finally the Army launched this offensive into the Swat Valley to push the Taliban out.

GROSS: So in retrospect it sounds like it was a really big mistake for the government to sign that pact with the Taliban, the pact that the Taliban broke in every way. Why do you think the government did it? I mean should they have known better?

Mr. RASHID: I think you know the government was really on the back foot, because in Swat what had been happening, they should have moved into Swat much earlier. The Taliban really did control Swat and they thought that by conducting this Sharia deal with the Taliban, they would just keep the Taliban quiet and prevent any kind of major expansion, and that the Taliban would get Sharia and then would disarm. And I think the government very badly miscalculated what did actually happen.

And ultimately actually, the Taliban also miscalculated, because they thought that the, you know, the government would not move against them, and they immediately expanded and went much further than the deal stipulated, and that brought finally the wrath of the Army and the international community upon them.

GROSS: What do you think is the ultimate goal or the ultimate goals of Pakistani Taliban?

Mr. RASHID: Well you know after the Swat deal was signed, the Taliban leaders in Swat actually came out very openly and brazenly and said our goal is to topple the government, to bring an end to democracy, and to impose a Taliban system of Islamic rule. And, in fact, the speeches that the Taliban made after the deal was signed in Swat was one of the factor that turned public opinion against the Taliban, because for the first time the Pakistani public was hearing loudly and very clearly as to exactly what the Taliban goals were.

Now you know, people like myself had been writing this for a long time, had been talking about this and telling people look, this is what they actually want, but we never actually heard it openly and brazenly by the Taliban. But they gave press conferences in which they declared these aims. And the aims I think really horrified the public and the politicians which then led to this kind of sea change in public opinion about the Taliban.

GROSS: Now Pakistan is a nuclear state and the biggest fear is that the Taliban will somehow get access to the nuclear weapons. How worried are you about that?

Mr. RASHID: Well you know, for the time being I'm not worried. I mean the nuclear weapons are in the hands, are controlled completely by the Army. The Army remains united, disciplined, a very hierarchical organization, and I mean for the time being you know, clearly they're safe. But if the Taliban spread into Punjab, we've had these bombings in Punjab, it's in Punjab where most of the nuclear installations are, where the nuclear weapons are kept. Clearly that the, one of the aims for al-Qaida and the Pakistani Taliban would be to try and get their hands if not on nuclear weapons, but on some kind of nuclear materials.

They are over 20 nuclear installations that are producing uranium or plutonium, or producing nuclear weapons itself. They are very well guarded. But clearly the aims of al-Qaida and the Taliban would be to try and get their hands on this. And this is something that I think you know people are going to remain worried about. I mean whatever the government or the Army says to the Americans, to the international community, it's going to remain a major worry until the Taliban are really pushed back.

GROSS: If you're just joining us my guest is journalist Ahmed Rashid. He's speaking to us from Lahore, Pakistan where he lives. He's been writing about Islamic extremists for decades. He's the author of the bestseller "Taliban." His latest book, "Descent into Chaos: The U.S. and the Disaster in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia" was recently published in paperback.

Let's take a short break here and then we'll talk some more. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Ahmed Rashid. He's a journalist who lives in Lahore, Pakistan, and he's speaking to us from Lahore. He's been writing about Islamic extremism for decades. His latest book is called "Descent into Chaos: The U.S. and the Disaster in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia."

Ahmed, we've been talking about the Pakistani Taliban and the advances that they've made in the past few months in Pakistan. Who are the Pakistani Taliban and what is their relationship to the Afghan Taliban?

Mr. RASHID: Well the Pakistani Taliban are essentially Pashtun tribesmen. The Pashtun's are the majority ethic group in Afghanistan and the second largest ethic group in Pakistan. They straddle the border between the two countries. And essentially, after 9-11 and the defeat of the Taliban - of the routing of al-Qaida and the Taliban - the leadership of the Afghan Taliban and the Arab Al-Qaida escaped into the tribal areas of Pakistan and sought shelter amongst the Pashtun tribesman on the Pakistani side of the border.

Now many of these Pashtun tribesmen had already very close relations with the Afghan Taliban. They'd been fighting in Afghanistan. They had fought against the Americans. They had fought earlier in the Civil War in Afghanistan. They hosted the Afghan Taliban and al-Qaida, and made a lot of money in the process also because you know, the al-Qaida was paying very lavishly for the hospitality that was being extended to them. And these Pashtun tribesmen then became more and more radicalized, they became richer, they set up their own militias, and they started driving out the Pakistan Army from these areas so that al-Qaida and the Afghan Taliban would have more room to live in and maneuver. And for about four years the Pakistan Army did not go after these people at all. So they have four years until 2004 in which to consolidate.

And the American military in Afghanistan kept pushing President Musharraf, who was the president at that time, and the military regime to go after these Taliban in the tribal areas. And Pakistan very reluctantly did so finally in 2004. But by then these Pakistani tribesmen had formed themselves into their own militias which then emerged as the Pakistani Taliban which first of all said that they would liberate as it were, the tribal areas, and they would set up an emirate, a Taliban state on the Pakistan side of the border in which all the Taliban and al-Qaida could live freely. And that ambition of setting up a kind of separate state in the tribal areas has really now enlarged itself to where these Pashtun tribesmen want to actually topple the government and take over the whole of Pakistan.

But at the same time, their confidence has come because they've been able to link up with the extremist groups in other parts of the country and within other ethnic groups in Punjab, in Sind, in Baluchistan. So they now have a very much a national movement.

GROSS: And is it more of a national movement than the Taliban in Afghanistan have?

Mr. RASHID: Yes it is. It's much more than that. In Afghanistan the Taliban threats to which the Americans and NATO are facing are still very much coming from the Pashtuns who live in the south and the east of the country. Now you don't have an insurgency in the north and the west, although, you do have Taliban attacks there, but you don't have a full-blooded insurgency because the ethic groups in the north and the west in Afghanistan are very anti-Taliban and, in fact, anti-Pashtun also, but very anti-Taliban.

The problem in Pakistan is that the majority of the people in Pakistan are not in favor of the Taliban. But the fact is that the Taliban do have sympathizers in these very small extremist groups who've either been fighting in Cashmere, who've been fighting in India, who've been fighting in Central Asia, these extremist groups are not Pashtun, they're Punjabi's or belong to other ethnic, and they're scattered around the country. So when the Pakistani Taliban order up a bomb, a suicide attack in Lahore, for example, or in Karachi, or in some other major city, they don't have to send done Pashtuns from the tribal areas to carry out this attack, they can rely upon these local extremist groups to do their reconnaissance, to bring down the explosives, and then to carry out such attacks.

GROSS: So it's kind of like they have network.

Mr. RASHID: Exactly. And it's very dangerous. I mean my own estimate is that the Pakistani Taliban now have an alliance with about 40 different groups in Pakistan. And that's an extraordinary number if you think about it. There were at least 15 different groups and parties who are for example based in Punjab, which is the largest province in the country, and which were fighting in Indian Cashmere in the 90s, in the late 80s and the 90s.

Now most of these 15 groups have joined the Pakistani Taliban and have gone underground and are helping the Pakistani Taliban. And they have experience. They've been fighting against the Indian Army. They have battle experience. Many of them were supported by, in the 90s by the Pakistani Intelligence services, by the military. So they have links in the military and the Intelligence services. They know how to get a hold of explosives and weapons and etcetera, so many of these groups who are with allied to the Pakistani Taliban have a lot of experience.

GROSS: The Obama administration is broadening the attack against the Taliban in Afghanistan. There's a new military commander in Afghanistan. More troops are going into Afghanistan. But I know a lot of people think that the real problem for the United States and the world is more in Pakistan than Afghanistan because of the inroads that the Taliban have made. If the United States is successful in its military campaign in Afghanistan, is there a challenge that what will actually happen is that the Afghan Taliban will cross the border into Pakistan and wait it out there?

Mr. RASHID: Well, I think - immediately speaking, I think the Afghan Taliban are planning a major offensive against American forces in Afghanistan. We are going to see in the next few weeks some 20,000 Marines arriving in Southern Afghanistan in the provinces of Helmand and Kandahar - some 7,000 American Marines have already arrived. And there's been a huge spate of car bombings, ambushes, attacks already on NATO and American forces. I think this summer you're going to see a real intensification of the fighting. I don't think that the Afghan Taliban are going to retreat into Pakistan.

Although, the Pakistanis are saying it and some American officials are saying it, I think the Taliban in Afghanistan are going to stand and fight the Americans. The really want to be able to prove to the Americans and to President Obama that by sending more troops is not the answer, that they're going to be able to resist any kind of American surge in Afghanistan. In the long-term, however, I think once the Americans - you know, and it may take six months, it may take longer - once the Americans and NATO forces are able to beat back the Taliban, and to cause heavy casualties amongst the Taliban, then I think, you know, in the long-term, we will see some of these Taliban retreating into Pakistan.

Don't forget that a lot of the Taliban, the Afghan Taliban, are already based in Pakistan. A lot of the logistics of the Afghan Taliban come out of Pakistan. Food, ammunition, weapons and recruits even come out of Pakistan. So, they have, you know, established bases here. So, it is in their interest, in the interest of the Afghan Taliban, not to lose these bases in Pakistan, to resist both the Americans on one side and on the Afghan side of the border, and to now resist the Pakistan army on the Pakistan side.

GROSS: Is there anything that you think the United States could or should be doing to help the Pakistani government fight the Pakistan Taliban?

Mr. RASHID: Well, I think the most important thing is money right now because the question of hearts and minds - it really needs economic aid, humanitarian aid. And that fact is that the country is just in a complete economic doldrums. One of the major things I think that the Americans and special envoy Richard Holbrooke is trying to do is to muster financial support from around the world. He visited recently the Gulf Arab states, and Europe to try and get the Europeans and the Arab Muslims to contribute more aid to Pakistan.

There are several initiatives underway by the Americans to try and get support from China, from Japan, from countries who traditionally have been very supportive of Pakistan but are not coming up with the goods right now at a time when Pakistan is desperately in need of aid. So, I think it's not just a question of American money, which is in short supply obviously because of the economic crisis in America, but for all the United States to actually mobilize global support for the economic crisis in Pakistan.

The fact is that if, you know, if these refugees that not looked after well enough, if once the Taliban are cleared from the Swat Valley and there's not sufficient funding for them to go back - and already there's an estimate that perhaps $1 billion is going to be needed to rehabilitate these refugees back in Swat, rebuild their homes and rebuild the schools and the hospitals and all the rest of it - if that money is not going to be forthcoming, you know, then, a lot of these refugees are going to look more favorably upon the Taliban than upon the government.

GROSS: Well, be well. We really value our conversations with you. Thank you so much for talking with us.

Mr. RASHID: Thank you very much indeed.

GROSS: Our interview with Ahmed Rashid was recorded earlier today. He joined us from a studio in his home city of Lahore, Pakistan. Coming up, three new recordings by American orchestras. This is FRESH AIR.

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