It takes a fine line between alarmism and complacency to judge Pakistani border tensionsby Anatol Lieven / November 20, 2001 / Leave a comment
On one side of the dusty road leading out of Peshawar were the beards, and on the other side were the moustaches. For a former student of the later years of the British Raj, the scene had a timeless quality. There were the crowds of religious fanatics, vowing mayhem and looking much as they always have: beards, traditional clothing and all. And there were the sepoys, looking much as they did in the last three decades of the Raj-for the field dress of the Pakistani army remains essentially that of the British Indian army: khaki drills, tin hats with webbing, clipped moustaches. The uniforms are always neatly starched and pressed, which must take huge efforts in this climate.
On one side, “Allahu Akbar!” On the other, “what these bearded johnnies need is a good crack of the whip.” Only older officers here still talk like this, but I’ve heard the phrase three times over the past week.
There was one other important difference between the two sides of the street: the military side was looking at the Islamist one along the barrels of heavy machine guns-with the result that the Islamist side was vowing mayhem with unusual calm and restraint.
In Peshawar and other big Pakistani cities the riots which were feared in early October did not occur. In fact, the only city to date where the authorities have lost control has been Quetta-and to be brutal, three deaths is not a large number by subcontinental standards. This number and more die every week in ethnic and religious clashes in Karachi, or are killed by police firing on crowds in any north Indian state.
There has been trouble in the Pashtun area of Malakand, but then the Malakand has been a source of religious revolt for 150 years or so (for an account of one such episode by a young British observer, see Winston S Churchill, Story of the Malakand Field Force). Indeed, it would be worrying if in circumstances like this there was not trouble in the Malakand-because it would suggest that something truly awful was being planned for later.
Of course, Pakistan still has to get through a general strike called by the Islamist parties, and when the mosques close after prayers on Fridays there is always the potential for violence. There will be many more Fridays before the US and British campaign in Afghanistan ends. None…