On June 22, 2013, murder occurred on the “roof of the world.” Ten mountaineers were killed at the foot of Nanga Parbat—the world’s ninth-tallest peak, located in Pakistan’s Gilgit-Baltistan region on the border with China where some of the world’s tallest mountain ranges converge. The victims included American, Chinese, Lithuanian, Nepali, Pakistani, Slovakian, and Ukrainian nationals, and the audacious attack shattered a rare sense of calm in Pakistan’s northernmost corner, bewildering locals. Members of the Pakistani Taliban doggedly scaled the heights to the mountaineers’ camp at an altitude of 15,000 feet and stormed the tents in the dead of night dressed as paramilitary police. One media outlet’s coverage flashed a haunting image of vulnerability: an orange tent on the mountain slopes bathed in moonlight.
Five days later, I boarded a plane to Gilgit-Baltistan.
I had set out to complete a journey I began 10 years ago: to traverse the mighty Karakoram Highway (KKH) connecting China and Pakistan. A decade earlier, I had traveled along the 800 mile-long KKH from Kashgar in China’s Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous region to the border with Pakistan. My travels became my college thesis—an analysis of the relationship between China, Pakistan, and Xinjiang’s restive Uighur Muslims in light of the traffic of militancy, drugs, and arms from Pakistan to Xinjiang. I argued that the KKH, a symbol of Chinese-Pakistani friendship, had proven to be both a blessing and a curse.
Now I set out to complete the journey from the Pakistani side in a week-long trip by plane, car, and boat. Once again, I discovered how lofty international relations and local communities intersect on the KKH—from tales of a “new Great Game” between China and America and infrastructure woes along the Pak-China Economic Corridor, to remarkable strides for women’s empowerment and development in communities keen to plug into China’s prosperity. I wound my way up through a land of glaciers, ibex, and snow leopards to the Khunjerab Pass at 14,000 feet—one of the world’s highest international border crossings. All the while, I was shadowed by the murder on the roof of the world.
Read more. [Image: Ziad Haider]
Some superheroes crusade in spandex briefs, but the star of a new Pakistani cartoon fights crime in a decidedly more modest getup. In the new kids’ TV show Burka Avenger, Jiya is a sweet schoolteacher who’s bareheaded by day. But at night, she dons a full-body black cloak, complete with a face veil, and battles the bad guys: an evil magician and a corrupt mayor who try to close classrooms and steal charity funds. In keeping with the show’s educational message, the Avenger attacks her nemeses with books and pens.
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The Obama administration’s aggressive drone program in Pakistan came under renewed attack this week, with Amnesty International suggesting that the United States is engaged in war crimes and visiting Prime Mininster Nawaz Sharif describing the strikes as a “major irritant” in relations.
But what is obscured by the public dispute is that there has been, since the administrations of George W. Bush and Pervez Musharraf, a secret agreement in place by which Pakistani military and intelligence authorities have approved many of the strikes, U.S. and Pakistani officials say.
"The exact terms were never shared with civilians but there was a protocol between the Musharraf government and the Americans," says a former senior Pakistani official who would discuss the classified matter only on condition of anonymity. "When the civilian government came in [in 2008], it was informed about it but there was no renegotiation."
Read more. [Image: K. Pervez/Reuters]
Toy guns don’t kill people, people kill people.
Nevertheless, campaigners in Pakistan are aiming to get imitation Kalashnikovs and Glocks off the streets, saying they help breed a culture of violence among children.
The campaigners have targeted Eid al-Fitr celebrations marking the end of Ramadan (August 7-9) to launch their effort, knowing that children will be eager to buy new toys with the pocket money they traditionally receive during the festivities.
Nongovernmental organizations, poets, singers, and peace activists plan to fight back by staging walks, petitioning the authorities, and talking to parents and shopkeepers in the hope they minimize interest in the toy weapons that traders stock up on during Eid al-Fitr.
Read more. [Image: Morteza Nikoubazi/Reuters]
The recent selection of Jenny McCarthy for a spot on The View has angered vaccinators and people who support childhood vaccination. Her opposition to vaccination, however, puts her in company with the most notorious anti-vaxxers of modern times — the Taliban.
The coordinated murders of community health care workers in Pakistan, most of them women, in May has once again put into jeopardy the global polio eradication initiative. While the movement initially experienced exponential progress, it now finds itself trapped in an increasingly bloody battle with Islamic fundamentalists. When a female health worker wakes up in the morning, puts on her shalwar kameez, covering her head and most of her face in a dupatta, she is getting in gear to step out on to the front lines of one of the most important and dangerous wars of our time.
The global battle against polio lends itself well to the grisly metaphors of war. In many ways, the world-wide campaign to eradicate the disease has mirrored the fight against terrorism.
Read more. [Image: Goran Tomasevic/Reuters]
"Why they want to make all human beings English? Because Englishmen are the staunch supporters and slaves of Jews."
Bin Laden relied on two local handlers to arrange his stay in Pakistan, and especially after the 2003 arrest of Muhammad, the group was very cautious. Bin Laden himself never left the compound in Abbottabad, and his handlers never used cell phones near the home, driving hours away to use public phones in cities like Peshawar. When his wife had to go to the hospital to give birth, the handlers told doctors she was deaf and dumb, so they would not discover she was an Arab. During the six years bin Laden and the handlers’ families lived together, their interactions were tightly controlled. It seems like no one but the handlers were allowed to meet bin Laden himself, and their wives and children were actively misguided about who their neighbor upstairs really was.
The closest bin Laden came to being caught was when, before moving to Abbottabad, the car he was traveling in was stopped by police for speeding. The police never found out he was one of the passengers.
Yet the report points out there were a number of occasions where Pakistani officials, if they had been doing their jobs, should have caught bin Laden. No Pakistani official has acknowledged the authenticity of the 337-page report."
Technology has countervailing effects. We can send a battle by air to a land we have never set foot in, laying previously unimaginable distance between us and our wars. But at the same time we can see on a device in our pocket a satellite picture of these places so remote. Maybe, Bridle writes, the instant connectivity of our world can be a platform not just for faster information, but for deeper empathy for people who live a world away.
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Pakistani politicians, media, and civil society are pushing for a robust offensive to finish off the Taliban in the aftermath of the militants’ shooting of a girl peace campaigner.
The October 9 shooting of 14-year-old Malala Yousafzai in northwestern Swat Valley has led to a groundswell of calls for Islamabad to abandon its long reluctance to take on extremist sanctuaries in the North Waziristan tribal region, on Pakistan’s western border with Afghanistan.
The region is home to Pakistani and Afghan Taliban factions and allied international jihadists. For years, Islamabad resisted considerable pressure from Western capitals to launch an offensive in the region.
But the government and the military are now finding it difficult to resist growing domestic pressure for such an assault.
Read more. [Image: Mohsin Raza/Reuters]
You shoot one 14-year-old girl in the head and you’ll never hear the end of it. So goes the lament of Pakistan’s Taliban insurgency following a spate of bad press in mainstream Pakistani outlets related to the jihadists’ failed assassination attempt of Malala Yousafzai, a young blogger who dared protest the Taliban’s ban on educating girls. Now the Taliban are plotting terror strikes on TV stations and other media organizations, but local newspapers refuse to stay silent.
Read more. [Image: AP]