Monday, January 14, 2008

Was Author Of "Next-Gen Taliban" Expelled From Pakistan?

Journalist Nicholas Schmidle has apparently been expelled from Pakistan.

The government has confirmed that he has left the country but has denied the report as to the reason, saying:
“Initially a deportation order was served to him but it was later withdrawn. He left Pakistan on his own.”
No particular reason for the deportation order has been given, as far as I know. But it may have something to do with a long piece called "Next-Gen Taliban" which appeared in the New York Times Magazine of January 6th (or the printable version here, or a mirror -- also printable -- here).

As the New York Times notes,
Mr. Schmidle’s article, published Jan. 6, was based on interviews with some of the officials, clerics and fugitive militant leaders who were on the run or fighting security forces in the Swat Valley and in tribal areas along the Afghan border.

To write it, he “secretly traveled” to militant strongholds, prompting the authorities to expel him, said a security official, who like some others who provided information spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters.
More from Steve Clemons via Larisa Alexandrovna:
"These are the latest dispatches that Schmidle has published in Slate.

Other journalists I have spoken to today tell me that there is a pattern of intimidation of journalists clearly emerging in Pakistan. While this may be the first deportation of an American journalist that most can recall, there have been other troubling incidents.

New America Foundation fellow and journalist Eliza Griswold was apparently held in custody by Pakistan authorities on one occasion. CNN Terrorism Analyst and New America Foundation senior fellow Peter Bergen was denied a visa on one occasion in 2006 with no explanation given. Nir Rosen -- also a New America Foundation fellow who has reported extensively on Middle East affairs -- was threatened in Quetta, Pakistan by what some believe to be government "goons" and was told that he needed to leave immediately or he would be "the next Danny Pearl." New York Times correspondent Carlotta Gall was beaten by thugs who identified themselves as Pakistani police.

Some believe that Schmidle's article antogonized Pakistani government officials because he conducted interviews in Quetta where the Taliban are operating in full public. These sources suggest that Pakistan government authorities want to limit exposure to the fact that they have done nothing to shut down the Taliban in Quetta and/or are turning a blind eye to the Taliban's operations [there]."
Regardless of the reason for his expulsion -- if that's what it was -- Nicholas Schmidle has given us a fascinating glimpse of the political and social evolution of the Taliban.

Excerpts from Next-Gen Taliban:
One day last month, I climbed onto a crowded rooftop in Quetta, near Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan, and wedged myself among men wearing thick turbans and rangy beards until I could find a seat. We converged on the rooftop that afternoon to attend the opening ceremony for Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam’s campaign office in this dusty city in the southwestern province of Baluchistan. Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, better known by its abbreviation, J.U.I., is a hard-line Islamist party, widely considered a political front for numerous jihadi organizations, including the Taliban. In the last parliamentary elections here, in 2002, the J.U.I. formed a national coalition with five other Islamist parties and led a campaign that was pro-Taliban, anti-American and spiked with promises to implement Shariah, or Islamic law. The alliance, known as the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, or M.M.A., won more than 10 percent of the popular vote nationwide — the highest share ever for an Islamist bloc in Pakistan. The alliance formed governments in two of the country’s four provinces, including Baluchistan.

A cool breeze blew across the rooftop, and a green kite flew above in the crisp, periwinkle sky. The J.U.I. was gearing up again for national elections, then scheduled for the second week of January, but the message this time was remarkably different from what it was five years ago. One by one, hopefuls for the national and provincial assembly constituencies gave short speeches. Most of them spoke in Pashto, but, knowing Urdu, I could understand enough to realize that they weren’t rehashing the typical J.U.I. rhetoric. No one praised the Taliban. Shariah was mentioned only in passing. Just one person, a first-time candidate in a suede jacket who probably felt obliged to prove his credentials in a party of fundamentalist mullahs, attacked the United States. Afterward, party workers handed out free plates of cookies and cups of tea.

This seemed altogether too gentle. Had the J.U.I. gone soft? Among several firebrands conspicuous by their absence was Maulvi Noor Muhammad, Quetta’s former representative in the National Assembly and an outspoken supporter of the Taliban, so I went to see him at his madrassa. Adolescent students, many wearing the black turbans favored by the Taliban, mingled by the metal entrance gate. Muhammad had told me in the fall of 2006 that the sole reason that the Taliban hadn’t defeated NATO forces in Afghanistan yet was because NATO had B-52’s, and when I reminded him of this, he smiled through a mouthful of missing teeth. “The Taliban have more than made up for that disadvantage now with suicide bombers,” he said.
It's definitely worth a read: "Next-Gen Taliban" by Nicholas Schmidle.