PHILLIP ROBERTSON. Selected Stories.
Journeys and Dispatches: 2002

Pakistan was a means to an end. From Islamabad and Peshawar, I wrote short dispatches from the road, updates about how to get into Afghanistan and tried without much success to describe what it felt like to be there at that time.

Shortly after the war in Afghanistan ignited, public sentiment in the Northwest Frontier Province was running strongly against Americans and their projection of power. Demonstrators filled the streets and burned U.S. flags. Bin Laden was a hero. Pashto-speaking refugees came across the Afghan border alongside fleeing Taliban soldiers and commanders. Daniel Pearl was kidnapped when I was across the border in Kandahar, in February of 2002, and a colleague who worked for the New York Times said that there was an order issued by the militants for all foreign press to leave Pakistan and Afghanistan in three days or be killed. This is exactly the kind of communiqué Al Qaeda likes to issue, brutal and categorical. In 2002, a Taliban-allied umbrella party connected to Jamaat Ulema-e-Islam, would win control of the Northwest Frontier Province in a landslide and hold power for five years. It was a difficult place to be for a reporter.

On those first trips I did not have a chance to meet many people from the educated Pakistani middle class, people who would be absolutely at home in New York or Paris, the very segment of the population which can save the country. Instead, I passed through the Khyber pass with a guide who was sympathetic to the Taliban and hated all Americans and their desire to educate women. "The next war will be here," the man told me as we drove deep into the mountains.

Pakistan is a divided nation, with competing sections of the population seeking greater political freedom, while many poor rural people, all victims of feudalism, have turned toward militant Islam as a path to political power.

Just as in the United States, the greatest threats to Pakistan do not come from outside the country, they come from within.

LEAD IMAGE: January 2002, Afghan-Pakistan border. Looking down into the Kunar valley of Afghanistan from the border post at the Pakistani province of Swat. An important smuggling trail wound its way through these mountains into Afghanistan. Many Al Qaeda fighters followed similar routes to Pakistan when they fled the U.S. attack on Tora Bora.
Photo: Phillip Robertson