India-Pakistan: September 13, 2004

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A few weeks ago, American counter-terrorism officials were optimistic about catching Osama bin Laden, but suddenly, there is pessimism. The problem is that bin Laden has the perfect place to hide. Afghanistan and Pakistan are the home of some 20 million pro bin Laden Pushtuns, an Indo-Aryan group that has lived in tribal groups in the area for thousands of years. The strict rule of the Taliban came from the social customs of  some of the Pushtun tribes. The Pushtuns have adopted bin Laden as a folk hero, a man who championed the lifestyle of the Pushtun warrior. Even a $25 million reward for bin Laden is not sufficient to overcome the problems of penetrating layers of tribal relationships to reach someone who could provide bin Laden's location. Even outside the tribal areas, there are ample resources available to keep people hidden. In Pakistan's cities, there are criminal gangs that, for a fee, will keep people hidden in neighborhoods the gangsters control. It would appear, from the way optimistic and pessimistic reports come out about the hunt, that there is an intelligence campaign underway to get agents close to bin Laden. Some day, some pretty exciting books will come out of all this. But for now, people are dying out there in the tribal zones and gangster controlled urban neighborhoods. Dying in a battle for information.

 

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