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tv   Book TV After Words  CSPAN  November 27, 2009 3:00pm-4:00pm EST

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the book the surge in military history. specifically, a military history. because what gets lost often times in talking is the inherent military core. the question that was asked about iraq for so long was there's no military solution to the war in iraq is what many told us in 2007 andweight. what this book does, i think, is an opening cell in the larger path of history to say to the contrary. there's an very important military component. if you want to bring her out the political and economic change. i for one hope they will take a read at this as they look at afghanistan. they have temptations to say they need more soft power or trainers or we need more advisers. you know, intelligence. that's all very important ingredients. but i think what this book underscores that ultimately at the end of the day you need boots and rifles pointed out to protect the population.
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>> coming up next, book tv presents "after words," an hour-long discussion between a guest host and the author of a new book. this week nicholas schmidle, fell at the new america foundation, talks about his book, "to live or to perish forever." it is an account of the two years he lived in pakistan beginning in 2006. he discusses his book with new york post columnist and fox news strategic analyst ralph peters. mr. peters is the author of many books, the latest of which is looking for trouble, adventures in a broken world.
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>> host: welcome. i am ralph peters, and it is my distinct privilege and a whole lot of fun to be able to speak today with one of the most talented young writers i've ever met, and a very brave young man, author nicholas schmidle, his book is "to live or to perish forever: two tumultuous years in pakistan." and they were indeed tumultuous years. welcome. great to see you. congratulations on such a terrific book as a fellow writer, i am jealous but i love you anyway. >> guest: thanks, ralph. >> host: this book has a great back story. at the ripe old age of 27, newly married, you persuade your wife that a great idea for a honeymoon would be to go to pakistan and live among the people for two years. we will set aside now how your wife responded. you are still married to obvious the it worked. but can you tell us more about the background of this terrific
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narrative about what pakistan is really like? you nailed the people, the smells, the field, the air. it just took me back. >> guest: thanks, ralph. right at the time from graduate school to the summer of 2005 i received a fellowship of the institute of current world affairs which is a foundation funded by the crane foundation that you see the crane logo on toilet across the country. i got a fellowship originally. they're having major problems getting in and so i said i don't know anything about pakistan but it seems like a fascinating and dynamic country. they sent me to pakistan for two years but the only instructions pink go there, don't come home, learn or do and write about what you see that i thought okay, i can handle that. to make matters even more competent i left on valentine's day, february 2006. arrived in pakistan at a time there protests against the publication of the blasphemous cartoons. that was all going on and i was
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frightened that i was going to walk off the airplane and be sort of ripped apart. it didn't go that way. it turned out to be a fantastic two years. that's the basis of the book and how we got there. >> host: what struck me about this book, when i read i read both as a reader and as a writer myself. and as it is a very mature book. i was astonished that it is objective. it's something that might have been written by a 40 or 45 year-old, except for the fact that you are much more energetic. the prose itself is good. you tell the story well and clearly. beyond that, you seem to have a gift establishing not sympathy, but empathy. with some very, very dangerous people. in fact, the kind of people that killed daniel pearl. we will talk a bit more about that later. but first, nick, i would like you to talk a bit about pakistan itself.
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because pakistan so much in headlines or not is a remarkably timely, what do you think americans don't know about pakistan? can you give us a feel for the country? >> guest: i think what americans don't understand is the dynamism of the country. it is pulled from the 1930s written by a young indian muslim. 14 years with the creation of pakistan. >> host: "to live or to perish forever"? >> guest: are we to live on perish for ever. this young man proposed that it is time for the northwest provinces of a united india to conjoin into a muslim state along with bangladesh on the eastern wing of india. in the same treatise, he proposed that these five provinces, punjab, kashmir, baluchistan, become pakistan. so he sort of, this is the act grown in.
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it is both acronym and it means an urgent land of the pure. so the very basis of this idea was it was to be an ethnic amount commission that it was to bring together all these various peoples that were united by one thing and wanting only. and that was islam. >> host: the obvious question is was that a sufficient basis for a state? in my own time in pakistan, what leapt out at me was when you cross the river which bisects the pakistan north and south, you to transition between two civilizations. west you have really scintillation, and look at the people, the dress, even the blanton case of the food. and then you east, across from the shower at attic for, or islam a bad, and you're in the subcontinent culture. the food is richer, spicer, the colors are more vibrant. does pakistan work? >> guest: it does work there i'm
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not of the chicken little school that thinks that pakistan is always on the verge of collapse. pakistan somehow will i think has persevered, minus the 1971 civil war where it lost half of it. but that was geographical land to begin with. i think pakistan works insofar as it moves ahead. it does not work -- and is still grappling with the united identity ,-comcome with a single identity. you travel to pakistan and it does divide these civilizations. but you travel around and asked pakistanis in various parts of the country, how do they identify themselves that they really identified, if ever identified himself as the pakistani. is either job is our pashtun, whatever their ethnic identity is more tribal identity. than muslim and then pakistani. you see sort of tiers of identity. so in that sense the idea of pakistan has never really taken root among the solution, amongst the population. >> host: and yet when british
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india was partitioned in 1947, the two states now three, bangladesh was back in 1971, but you look at any which just finished a month of eminence elections except for a brief interlude of emergency rule under in your gandhi, the markers in india has never been interrupted and never had a military coup. it's worked and yet pakistan has at least four military coups, disrupted elections. what's the difference? >> guest: there no government in pakistan has ever fulfilled its terms. it was never successfully taken root. the politics of u.s. relations in pakistan have also always been based on personalities. if we look at post-9/11, the entire part was on president bush are. so you see no the country wants those institutions to develop an. ducey from pakistan is the only country in the world where, the only muslim country in a world
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where they demand the rule of law and demand judiciary. so this is a very, very unique about pakistan overlooked to other muslim countries. compared to india, it's hard to say how do you differentiate the culture. there is something very distinct. when you cross the border, you speak the same language. when my wife and i traveled on once. >> host: did you see the fancy ceremony. >> guest: the goose-stepping and sort of -- >> drama the last british legacy. >> guest: exactly. everyone is standing of these and flipping through it very judiciously and he needed to indy and the first thing, everyone is all smiles. it, how do you sort of explain that geography? how do you explain just a matter of 10 feet and the difference of border guards temperaments.
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i never got to it, but there is something distinctly different about the culture and the civic, civic responsibility. >> host: later in the show i would like to come back to the complexity of this but first i want to really get to your book because apart from all the readers learn about the reality of everyday life in pakistan, and the complexity behind it, there are great stories. you went there, and it's an objective book that it is just very honest and no axes to grind and yet you were driven out of pakistan almost literally by the intelligence services in a fit of paranoia toward the end of your proposed a. and then you managed to go back, and yet that second time you had to leave under very real sense of danger that the black forces of pakistan at work. so a great story but it's really to your credit. you maintain your objectivity.
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it is joe friday, the facts ma'am. but some of the stores are just terrific. and one on the many academy was the way you are able to build a personal empathy, a relationship with the mola, basically the religious mafia boss of the red mosque who had later died violently in a seedy stand a. can you tell us a bit about him and how that worked? >> guest: sure. i promised my parents and my wife before it went to pakistan that i was going to get involved. this is the pledge drive muncy immediately did. >> guest: so i spent about a month and have, i am sort of skirting around the issue that i need to start working my way into this. the impression that i always had was if you wanted to understand jihadi community in karachi or the border areas. little did i know there was a mosque right across town in a very quiet islamabad called the red mosque.
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islamabad is incredibly dull place. there is no nightlife. a friend once called and low self-esteem a body. is very, very quiet. not much happens. across town and though there was a red mosque and it was run by this very charismatic set of brothers. and ghazi was the end of the two sort of ran in the operations were the brother brian the other side of things. to get in i needed an introduction, and thought the introduction, the guy who introduced me actually was the same individual, he was a very close friend of osama bin laden can you talk as though a close friend of osama bin laden did your father is a marine corps general office. your brother was fighting in afghanistan at the time i believe. and iraq in a marine corps uniform. so this is really serious risk-taking on your part.
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>> guest: it is also not moral, you know, it brought me into a moral impasse more than once were like you said, you have to empathize or you're never going to be allowed in. you have to show a sincere interest that they understand and anderson with him is trying to come in and get a quote. i was able to successfully convey to them that i was sincerely interested in understanding more about what they were thinking, their movement, what their grievances were with the pakistani, etc. so this individual, he was very close with osama. he was a former pilot in the pakistani air force. he was to be the introduction to ghazi. and then at lunch one day, he had a little bit of a checkered past and that he had been the person who daniel pearl have gone to to try to be introduced to shake a lot of. shake along was that had mass the head honcho of this jihadi group that daniel pearl was time to be when he was robbed of the. he said to perl, i've talked to him and he says he will not be
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too. end of this year. finds out that perl as he says to me, i'm going to go talk to ghazi. of i.t. that ghazi is off limits, i don't want to hear that you're going behind my back tried to find another way to meet ozzy. because i told daniel pearl this and you saw what happened. and i thought, check please. so this was introduction to it i thought for sure guys he is going to be weighed nastier and scary but it turned out that ghazi looked and behaved in many ways like jerry garcia. traveled kind of roly-poly? >> guest: bearded. he wore this long curls, thick beard, kind of round spectacles and was a very jovial and was easy to laugh and was very, very open and didn't have anything to hide. was very open about his relationship with various jihadists groups. i know nobody ever knew what my family background was. when he opened up to me. that was the basis in fact for the second half of the book.
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it was all based on his relationship with ghazi. >> host: there are several sections of the book. can you read something short? >> guest: sure. >> host: and then we can talk about how it ended. >> guest: i had met ghazi about a half a dozen times, and in the early part of 2007, is when ghazi can't hit a student and it taken over a children's library. this was their response to what they said was the governments destroyed a mosque in islamabad. this was the first to have a the islamabad. a journalist once asked sonatas are going after the brothels does this signal the taliban is a of islamabad. his response was when rudy giuliani became the mayor of new york, did anyone call that the taliban as a nation of new york city. he got not a totally analogy but i will give it to. >> host: these people are not barbarians. they are much more savvy than
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westerners realize. >> guest: he had a masters from the university, a secular university in islamabad. in 1977 to thank any visited osama bin laden he was also an employee of the unicef. so he had a foot in both worlds which made him both accessible and incredibly dangerous because he knew how to work the media. he also knew what sold and what didn't sell. he never talked to me for instance, you talked opposition to the government. never talk to me about his sympathy for the sake sharing organizations that the red mosque was very closely affiliated with. he knew that sunnis killing she is didn't play well in the western media. this was me once in ghazi office. i was pointed, that's knew i said. know, i've always had that. but what about that, i asked. pointing to a short fat cylinder fixed to the underside of the
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barrel. that? that a grenade launcher that a friend recently gave a kidney, ghazi said that he should be how it worked. able to launch grenades over a wall at a range of 1300 feet. nor to perfect weapon to use against an approaching force if you're held up inside a mosque. he had overhauled his information of propaganda said after the commandos took over the children's library. a half-dozen new computers were brought in, made by several of his tech savvy disciples. and touch of great dvd burners out propaganda material. in response to those that suggested that ghazi wanted to take islamabaislamabad back at the beginning of the century, he told we don't want to go backwards. why would i give up my computer and mobile phone, my walkie-talkie and my facts machine? changes were not limited to ghazi technology either they're they're just not going to get seemingly didn't change was the spring innings, process charge
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by sherwin-williams tacked up on the wall. a weird choice for wal-mart? gets. but if you're a jihadi, what better way to spruce up her room with color them with paint swatches. security tightened around his will. getting in to see him was arduous. the request that i called with an hour before arriving. that gave them enough time to notify the vigilantes has taken the sidewalk out front that a western journalist was expected, and not to attack them with a rusty shovel. >> host: i have to say i think that's a first time she's been ever included a commercial for sherwin-williams paid. [laughter] >> host: the book of course has to be read. it can't be summarized. it is so well done. and it just all rings true. i have a built-in detector for my own years, from another world. ghazi did not end happily. his arsenal was built out confrontation, really was inevitable. can you tell us about the last
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days of ghazi? >> guest: sure. on july 3, 2007, ghazi and his voice had taken, had kidnapped several chinese masseuses from across the islamabad. chinese government got very angry. push on bush arafat and his cohorts to intervene, to do something. >> host: pakistan and china have long relations. >> guest: for a long time. had been a landslide bridging islamabad in pakistan and koosh car in china. it was called a highway. it is the paul simon in the world. that ties built this to open up trade. about a week earlier there had been a fan slide that had blocked a vote on the pakistani side. the pakistanis couldn't move the rocks out of the way and the chinese were figures. they built a road. we did everything and there is a landslide. at least get the rocks out of the way. there was always in tension. then the masseuses were kidnapped. the army and the range of the
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pakistan rangers and the police also met at the mosque on july 3. and for 10 days, there was this stand up and occasional firing. you could hear glass across town. would stand up on the roof of my house and watch fireballs coming off of the top of the red mosque. finally the government, commandos pushed in, and they trapped ghazi inside the basement of the mosque and there was a shootout and ghazi was killed. now as we mentioned earlier, it was a very, very awkward moment for me because the government had created and its dead bloated body in front of the television and said we got him. my response watching this was okay, we got him. and get this guy has been so instrumental in introducing me to a whole other world that my contact was done as well. and he was a friend in a very weird way. but how do you feel very guilty, grieving for someone who has just led this pro-taliban rebellion in the city. >> host: letzig remind or tell
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anyone who turned in late that we are talking with nicholas schmidle, the author of an incredibly timely and well-written new book on pakistan. is adventures in pakistan it is adventures, "to live or to perish forever." nick, as i mentioned earlier, the remarkable thing is the relationships of serious human relationships, you were able to build with a ride range of pakistani radicals, extremists, politicians, average people. and there are times when i just was reading the book and thought, i'm a former soldier and i just wouldn't have gone there. there. i would've turned back. is a real bravery that i guess you have to be young enough to accomplish. but in the book, you also talk about your first meeting with any kind of radical, and sort of a cold shock about how that happened and the realization that you were in it now.
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can you tell us about that? >> guest: this is the fou said i was going to meet someone who qualified as an extremist, qualified as a member of the banned organization that he belonged to the strong, the most powerful and influential anti-shia organization, which is very close ties with the taliban, which had been banned by musharraf government for sectarian killings and what not. so what i should understand at the point, this was in early 2006, was to what extent sectarian violence in iraq was going over and rekindling in pakistan. so we wanted to meet this guy to get an idea. and a friend said you can make the introduction, and so we got into this french carpet we go to the outside of karachi, and we started following. this guy was waiting for undecided is wrote on a motorcycle. he gave us a quick hand wave and we started following him into this neighborhood that was
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totally unmarked, all lumbered houses and we were just winding and whining and whining and i thought okay, about 10 turns ago i lost my way. and we are now -- i thought, your stomach is sort of up here and you are thinking that okay, when we get to this point and this guy -- what if we're not kidnapped? the thought of kidnapping was so present in my mind at that point and what this is 2006, not long after daniel pearl's death. trade and the ghost of daniel pearl to this day hovers over crotch that any western journalist is reminded by anyone, but anyone in karachi was abreast of events we will say, be very careful. this has happened once before. i saw a young ambitious western reporter going down this path. so we went and met this guy and he turned out to be a very cordial host. his ideas couldn't have been more opposite of my own, but yet
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he was still -- he was open and, you come it turned out this was sort of the first example of this window into how this was all going to work, and these guys, they want to be able to have their voice heard. they were banned by the government so it was an opportunity for a journalist. >> host: it is well recounted. obviously the book spends a bit under good bit of time on your contact with radicals, including the taliban. a lot talk about your contacts with the taliban, you experience later on in the show. but also does a very good job of bringing out how complex islam is an certain how complexities in pakistan, that this is far from that because the. could you perhaps tell the audience c-span has a very curious audience, about islam's complexity in this particular context? >> guest: sure. the first basic division is between sunni and shia, and pakistan is about 80% sunni and
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about 18% shia. there are small numbers of hindus, christians, and muslim minorities that are sort of not considered -- that have been branded as non-muslims by the government that are also following some aberration of islam. so within the dominant majority sunni tradition, it also breaks down. it breaks down. there is the small section which are more or less wahhabi's. then there are the more or less the taliban, they have most of the other 13000, about 10000. >> host: being what was once a very orthodox school of islam, founded in islam under in india. you describe it very well in the book. but also. >> guest: is strong in the punjab. it is to some in the northwest
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frontier province but particularly punjab, there's more or less a flavor of shrines that they will go and visit, they will spend hours there in the evening we sat in poetry, dancing, and it is a very, very unorthodox kind which drives the wahhabi's not. >> guest: it does. what's happening right now and swastikas were the first thing that the taliban did was take over some of the shrine can say we are now running fees and no one comes in here. it is a direct threat to them because it is a different relationship with god. is a very one on one. it is an intimate relationship with god that is required to dancing. >> host: the celebration of this form of islam where it's not locking women away. this is a lot of pure celebration. >> guest: when i went back in august 2008, 7 months after being kicked out, i went back to the smithsonian about one of these celebrations.
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is the annual celebration to mark the death. around half a million devoted show up in the middle of the street and it is out of control that it is the greatest party that you can imagine. we walk in. my photographer and i -- island this is a muslim mardi gras. >> guest: totally. and it is men, women dancing and right in front of the shrine there doing this thing, it is almost an unwritten at dancy but it is almost like headbanging. very, very, very intense. men, women, people are throwing water, screaming. there was a campbell walking in the. they are screaming. i mean, it is 90, sort of lose yourself time and you did lugers of. >> guest: and i did lose myself in fact that the drumming was going on and while the aroma of
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naturally spoke objects, which was everywhere, maybe there was some sort of contact buzz but all of a sudden, it is overwhelming spiritual. and myself and the photographer, we had been chased around. we've spent most of the day receiving threatening phone calls, reading about my own kidnapping and what not. it was a frightening day. >> host: planted by the intelligence agencies. >> guest: and so by this point i wanted to let go, and with the drumming and everything else. i lost myself for several minutes but we were sort of dancing in a circle, and at that point i understood why half a million people dissented at this every year. >> host: unfortunately you did come back and write a really terrific book. i think americans with a look at pakistan, there is some sense that it is just a small place over there somewhere. but in fact it is a huge country, large and square mileage and texas, deepening which senses you believe, 170, to 180 million muslims.
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just before we go on break can you talk a bit about the differences and the major provinces, i'm sure the punjabis as businesspeople, what was your take on the differences? . . >> and sort of took over the
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dominance, so there's been revolutions, all of these provinces have their own set, if you will, of ethnic dimensions, ethnic dynamics. and the northwest is, perhaps, the most fascinating of all. >> host: it certainly is. the wonderful world of not only the taliban, but cultures that still have vestiges of the days of alexander the great and look forward to talking about that. if you had to summarize pakistan today for the american people, just one o two seasonses -- or two sentences, and this is a real challenge, what would you say to them? >> i would say that, a, there is far more at stake in pakistan than there is in any other country in the world because of the liberal tradition that i mentioned earlier, there's much more to lose in pakistan. so from a strategic standpoint, pakistan, in my mind, is arguably the most dangerous, not even arguably, unarguably the
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most important. so that's one aspect. and just the dynamism of this country is so often overlooked, and that is something the book, i hope, flushes out. >> host: nick schmidle, probably the best travel book written by an american in this generation. >> guest: thanks, rob. >> "after words "is available as a podcast. more in just a moment. >> did you know you can view booktv programs online? go to booktv.org. type the name of the author, book or subject into the search area in the upper left-hand corner of the page. select the watch link. now you can view the entire program. you might also explore the recently on booktv box, or the
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featured programs box to find and view recent and featured programs. >> "after words," with nicholas schmidle and ralph peters continues. >> host: i'm ralph peters, and we're having a great time today -- at least i am -- talking with nicholas schmidle, the author of to live or to perish forever, a book on his two recent years in pakistan, a country very much in the headlines and which is going to dominate headlines, i think, for some time to come. nick, one of the many striking things about this well-told series of tales is the time you spent with the taliban. not fighting -- i want to make it clear not fighting u.s. troops and pakistanis, but with the other side of the taliban, the enforcers, the people who
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bring law to the northwest frontier, and perhaps you could start us out by just telling us how you got there, introduce, i think there was something you could read for us from this book that would explain how you got in there. >> guest: sure. >> host: please. >> guest: the first thing real quick is we were talking about ghazi. after he died i wrote a piece that was titled farewell my jihadi friend which was sort of a sendoff to this guy. the article was published, and so even though ghazi had been killed, there was still this article that i could show to various jihadis and say, look, i had a role in this guy's life. >> host: let me just say, you knew what was going on because you took the trouble to learn the language. you were in the thick of things, and you knew what was being
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said. >> guest: right. it became a little more complex in the northwest province because i didn't know the language. i wanted to visit the taliban in swat which had taken over in 2007. they had started a series of suicide bombings and attacks on the government and had set up a mini islamic state. so to get there i needed some sort of introduction, and there was a local journalist who said he could supply it. he had my article in err due that i'd written, they said, okay, this guy, you can bring him in. so i met my friend, and about two hours later we were supposed to meet one of these taliban honchos. and it was about a 5-mile trip from the center of the city to a spot on the side of the road where we were to meet. and we had just been driving a few minutes when my friend's
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phone rang and someone said, you all should be very careful, there is a taliban checkpoint between where you are and where you're meeting this guy, ohan. so five flatbed trucks blocked the road. as many as 50 men with black turbans, shoulder-length hair and long beard were packed tightly on the back of each truck. their rifles poked out in every generation. they looked like a frightening overstock of cattle being taken to slaughter. a few dozen men made an impromptu checkpoint. the vehicle behind us, a husband, wife and daughter looked anxious. the teenage girl fumbled to fix her head scarf to meet expectations. we rolled forward in line moving at a slow walker's pace. i unfolded an you are duh -- urdu newspaper.
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one more car in front of us. our driver eased forward. they looked over our car and then waved us through. i discarded the newspaper, spun in my seat and stared out the back window. i wanted to watch and keep watching for hours, to cram the image into my mind, then maybe i could zoom in for a closer look. at the moment of closest contact, i was too scared to be taking pictures. analysts had long warned of a different kind of pakistan. that pakistan was no longer a figment of someone's worried imagination. four hours from the capital, five trucks of militants totally unchallenged by the police, paramilitary forces or the army had arrived and were in charge. >> host: and, of course, men goer rah and swat. where the pakistani army is currently staging a major offensive to try to take it back from the taliban. but you got even deeper into taliban world than swat which
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is, again, just a few hours from the capital city of islamabad on the other side of the river. can you tell us a little bit more, for instance, there's a marvelous passage in the book about your summer camp day with the talibs, and you got to see them administer some local justice. >> guest: right. as a quick interlude there, the guy who we were going to meet that night was a local taliban commander, but he was not part of the hard-core taliban. and this really -- one of the themes of the book is illustrating the divide between the old generation of taliban and the new generation of taliban. so the night that we eventually met up with this guy he had made a call. he had told us afterwards that he'd called ahead, described our car, given our license plate, and they literally -- as i describe in the passage -- parted the way and let us through. and this was so indicative of the importance of connections and relationships in pakistan, but particularly in the northwest problem tier province.
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so we got to this guy's house that night, and we broke the fast. it was during ram dab. after we broke the fast, we started talking about life in swath and what was happening and what not. and he started showing me videos of talibs attacking americans in iraq. i wasn't about to stand up and say, you know, actually my dad and my brother are part of the crusading army you spent your life against, but yet i had no other choice, right? so i changed the subject, and at this point the guy said you know that osama has written a philosophy book, and i said, no, i didn't. so he brought me into this next room and showed me this book shelf. and amongst them was a backpack. he said, it's in that backpack right there, but i promised the person who left that backpack that i wouldn't touch it until he came back. and i nudged him and said, who's the guest ha you're so worried
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about? he said this was left by zawahiri. >> host: osama's number two. >> and i thought, okay, at this moment it's time to get back to the mole e -- motel for the night. [laughter] the next day we called this guy, and his response when we said, well, we're having second thoughts about this, we're a little bit worried, his response was no way am i going to go with you guys, those guys are extremists. this, this was the divide. >> host: so this guy who has had a house guest, zawahiri, osama bin laden's number two, is scared of the other taliban guys you're on the road to meet. >> guest: totally. so two days rater or a day later we go to meet the serious taliban, the ones who are causing all the problems right now in swat. this was october 2007 before the pakistani army had rolled in, and everyone knew the taliban were gaining strength. and so there were two ways to
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get to the taliban camp from the main city. the swat river separated the two, and you could either go around on a bridge and cross through miles of taliban country running the risk at a random checkpoint someone didn't get the message that you were the welcome foreign guests of the day and something untoward could happen, or you could ride along the main road, park the car and board a carriage that was attached to a zip line that was taking people in the middle of the camp. we clearly chose the second option and boarded this carriage with about six other guys and watched as the car and any sort of quick getaway disappear on the other side of the road. and we arrived in the middle of this taliban camp, and it was like you said, it was a summer camp. there were poems playing over the pa system, everyone's walking around with guns, long hair, floppy caps -- >> host: and just to interject, one of the many things people
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don't understand, this is a land of poets. poetry is incredibly powerful in the language, and not arabic poetry but urdu has a great poetic tradition, so you're seeing a wide range of traditions in this one camp. >> guest: very much so. and this was the nature -- >> host: i'm sorry. of course. >> guest: the nature of the poetry was it was a right of pass -- rite of passage; it was a father telling a son no you go fight jihad. so we, we met the guy who's running this whole operation right now that no one has seen in years, literally, and he emerged, he welcomed me, and he was this young sort of goofy guy with flintstone teeth and long hair and said you're welcome to spend the day here, go wherever you like. and i leaned to my translator
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and said tell him that would be very much appreciated, but we're in a camp right now of 10-15,000 people who are all eager to fight any american. i mean, any sort of bodyguard would be great. and as a show of the hospitality, he took his senior bodyguard for the day and said, watch the american and the local journalist and make sure nothing happens to them. so here we are crawling around the camp with his top lieutenant as our bodyguard. so there was the mosque, there was the friday service. and shortly after that the taliban had set up a wooden platform in the middle of a river, on a bank in the middle of the river to which they were going to administer their first public lashing on this particular day, and myself and 10 or 15,000 people lined up around, sat around the platform and they marched three individuals who had been, quote, arrested in an alleged kidnapping plot and lashed them 20, 25 times depending on the extent of their involvement in the crime.
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>> host: yeah. that's another thing that often gets missed in western reporting is that the taliban and similar organizations in other muslim countries have been able to make great in-roads with people because the locals are disgusted with corruption in the local justice system. and the taliban appeared at first to bring some integrity where you couldn't bribe the taliban, you were going to get punished if you molested a woman, etc. and what later on, of course, the taliban rule becomes oppressive as we've seen in pakistan, but clearly it was resonating with those people on that day. >> guest: you're right. it was -- and they had tapped into a vein. i mean, the government writ had collapsed, there was no, there were no police, there was no security services, so the taliban were the only ones who were racing around in pickup trucks to stop kidnappers. taliban were the only ones who were punishing people. so it's hard to identify exactly
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what is the main driver of the initial thrust of the taliban's appeal, but this is one of them. the second one that's very important is the fact that pakistan has never had, unlike india, significant land reforms. so there are massive landowners with lots of -- >> host: such as the late benazir bhutto's family. >> guest: exactly. and that's why, this is why parts of pakistan that have yet to be infected with this taliban problem are in many ways ripe for it because you have hundreds of thousands of people living on one landlord's property very oppressed, very downtrodden, and the taliban can come in and promise to sort of, you know, to give them strength and to no longer -- to be ruling and deciding laws based on sharia. that struck a cord. >> host: based on my own experiences in pakistan i've often joked that corruption in pakistan is so bad that it makes
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nigeria look like a quaker meeting. [laughter] but there's hypocrisy, too, and i know from your book you saw plenty of it. in pakistan if i wanted a beer in an international hotel, i had to literally sign half a dozen different forms and have it delivered to my room where i'd drink it secretly looking away from the prayer formation of mecca. and yet the whiskey, preferably johnnie walker blue or black, last choice indian whiskey, is flowing freely. and i know you saw this. and the point being you've got corruption, you've got hypocrisy, and also as you just alluded to, some of the most profound differences in wealth between the phenomenally rich ruling families of pakistan and the people who live in virtually medieval bondage, serfdom. >> guest: right. very much so. if i could talk about the urban
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elite -- >> host: yeah, please do. >> guest: i think this is a key understanding as to why pakistan has not sold itself up until now that fighting the taliban is not their war. the urban elite, as you mentioned, will drink his whiskey at night, will talk very much in support of the taliban. many people in pakistan are in love with the taliban idea. >> host: the romance. >> guest: basic muslims who are just trying to implement the law. and yet no one really wants to live under those same guys. they certainly don't want to be lashed by them. so this is a major difference. and up until very, very recently when the taliban advanced to within 60 miles of islamabad and they conquered the district of pew their near swat, i don't think the population actually realized that the reality of the bump kins was becoming more and more real and was, was on their doorstep in many ways. >> host: now, nick, i know from what you've said today and from your book that you believe
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pakistan will muddle through. and yet the scenario you just described, the situation you detail in your book sounds eerily like a situation in the mid 1970s under the shah of iran. >> guest: you're right. and i find myself going back and forth thinking about that. i find myself adopting the position of it will, you know, pakistan will muddle through, and then there have been certain people who over the course of the past year and a half have said what is in place to really prevent pakistan from deinvolving in the situation becoming like iran in 1979? and the initial response is, well, pakistan has a huge army. of course, the shah had a huge army as well. >> host: yes. and better equipped than the pakistani for the times. >> guest: sure. so what prevents it? i think that we're beginning to see a see change. i think the taliban overplayed their hand. i think the taliban overplayed their hand, and i any that now we are -- think that now we are going to gradually see a shift.
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it's fairly interesting that the president for all of his faults -- >> host: and they are many -- >> guest: and they are many, is a fairly savvy character. i don't think he did this on purpose, but inadvertently the peace deal he signed with the taliban in swat was sold to western countries and western diplomats as we're going to give the taliban this. if they move out of this, then we'll know what their real againsts are. and you know what? the irony -- and i don't give him full credit for having found it this way, but the taliban did just that. they moved out, and now the country has turned against the taliban in many ways. >> host: yeah. >> guest: so it's a weird strategic success on his part that sort of in the spirit of objectivity i feel like i should give him credit for. >> host: yeah. well, certainly the question now as we speak today is whether the pakistani army will continue the offensive or whether it will be another aborted one. we're speaking with a terrific
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young author, a brave young man, nicholas schmidle, and i'd like to just briefly move away from your adventures in pakistan and bangladesh to just ask you, look, this is remarkably mature and well-written book. where have you learned to write this well? >> guest: that's a good question. >> host: certainly not in the u.s. school system. >> guest: that's very kind. >> host: it's clean, it's clear. >> guest: i read something once and i don't, and i can't profess to having followed his advice to a t, but i read something once in hemingway's nonfiction collection called byline, and a young apprentice of his said, how do i learn to write, papa? and hemingway's response was, you've got to read the classics because you've got to know -- you have to know what you're up against. and journalists are very competitive in terms of the story, but i don't think they're that competitive in terms of the way they tell the story. so what i have always tried to do, there were a lot of
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reporters in pakistan. not actually in swat, but that were working on similar things while i was there. it was always trying to find a way to tell the story cleaner, more compelling, more character driven and so that notion that hemingway notion of knowing what you're up against and always kind of competing, why write if you're not going to write something better than what's been done previously? >> host: well, it's very well done, and truly the character portraits, and there are many in this book, some short, some very detailed, they really work. the pakistanis in this book do get up off the page and live and breathe for the reader. so my congratulations on that. what's next for you? you know, more adventures? >> guest: good question. >> host: please, don't tell me you're going to become a washington drone. [laughter] you're too good for that, nick, you're too talented. >> guest: no washington drones. i was kicked out of pakistan once, chased out again. so unfortunately, as long as i still -- i'm obviously to some
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extent threatening to the security establishment there. i have no idea why, and i know it is a self-aggrandizing thing to say, but i've pushed pakistan aside a bit. i was in the maldives last month -- >> host: new york times. >> guest: about climate change. i've done some stuff in north africa. i hope to begin spreading out a bit. i'm really interested in how the economic crisis will, what sort of, what are the political, the results of political instability around the world as a result of the economic crisis and how will this recalibrate sort of the political center around the world as various left wing and right wing groups line up to use the crisis to their advantage. >> host: during your adventures, you did get to india. india didn't capture you? didn't excite you? you're not drawn there? >> guest: to some extent. india's very eclectic, and it is enchanting, but, you know, we
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went to india actually as vacation. >> host: yeah. it's not enough trouble for you. >> guest: there was something, i don't know, i feel very comfortable in muslim countries. i was in minneapolis, in fact, two weeks ago, and inside some of these somali malls there are no windows that are just very close, i mean, they're very much like a traditional souk, and the call to prayer is going off -- >> host: a bazaar, a marketplace. >> guest: exactly. and the call to prayer is going off, and it just struck a cord. -- chord. there's something very comfortable about that culture for me. so we'll see. but i did spend some time in bangladesh which is culturally, religiously very much like pakistan. >> host: it spun off after the civil war in 1971 and now is one of the poorest but most vibrant countries in the world. >> guest: that's exactly right. socially, it couldn't be more
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different than pakistan in that -- >> host: how? >> guest: in that you can go, the conspiracy hawking, the sort of notion that there's a cia plot behind every development in bangladesh is not there. so as i didn't have to dress in local clothes, i mean, before i went into the taliban areas i was dyeing my hair because the fear factor was there. in bangladesh you can just roll into any village, talk to people, it was very easy to work. it's a very simple question, it's a very simple people that don't come with a lot of psychological baggage like pakistanis do. >> host: venn galley tradition, which is very different. but in your book it explains to a dry why extremism hasn't really gotten traction there in bangladesh which is another huge muslim country. >> guest: right. bangladesh in 1971, many people will tell you that bangladesh fought for independence to free itself of the islam siization that pakistan was trying to
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impose on it. geographically, i mean, india, third largest country in the world, was in the middle of pakistan and bangladesh. so geographically it was an untenable notion that these would be one country. pakistani establishment based in the west wing, pakistan as we know it, was trying to sort of connect them and hold these countries together through increasingly intense campaigns. so many people will tell you that many bangladeshis will tell you they fought once already to free themselves and to try to impose a secular democracy in the fight, and they aren't about to let it happen again. so you do see very vibrant civil reaction against the emergence of islamist parties and what not. >> host: one thing we need to talk about in this hour, it's gone by quickly for me. i hope it has for viewers as well, you're a great story teller in person as well as on the page, this huge desolate, sometimes threatening pakistani
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ponce of brugge stand in the southwest corner, the big boot. >> guest: right. >> host: in southwest pakistan. and you made it out there through the wilds to a port that pakistan dreams of developing with chinese help as a world class outlet for central asian oil and gas. >> guest: you're right. it's called gwadar, and it is, the pakistani -- [inaudible] >> guest: it is. it's what the government is banking on, the next dubai. i went there in the fall of 2007, they had just built a glorious five-star hotel on the top of a hammerhead-shaped bay. and up on top of this harbor what's happened is that in doing this, in building this port and in informing so much -- investing so much confidence the natives of this area feel very
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disenfranchised. they say, look, this might be the next dubai, but we're not going to get any piece of it. and there was an influential shipping magnate there who mentioned that the government was prohibiting baluchis from even sweeping the floors. no piece of this project was going to be for them. baluchi politicians around the province -- this has been the grievance locally and most recent grievance that the nationalist parties have been able to leverage as their, you know, drive and motivation to sever themselves from pakistan. >> host: yeah. and even in qatar you're meeting fascinating people, fishermen being pushed out of existence. you're witnessing the destruction of an old civilization really, a fishing village that people are attempting to turn into dubai. i personally am skeptical as to whether or not they'll do it, but again, the reporting is just terrific. and as we move into the final few minutes of this interview, i
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wish we had more time, when a writer as good as you are finishes a book, finally sees it in print, almost inevitably he or she will suddenly think, oh, but i didn't capture this, i needed to get this person in. any regrets? anything that you think you would have liked to put in that you didn't or any person that you felt should have been in there? >> guest: you know -- >> host: or are you perfect? >> guest: i'm by no means perfect, but i think, you know, this is very much a book about my life for those two years and not as much -- while it is a piece of journalism and it is a book, obviously, that i've written, it's a reflection of the two years that i lived there. and i kind of try and live by the notion of you do what you did, so there were certain people i wished i would have spent more time with, i think that the portrait of ghazi is -- i mean --
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>> host: it's a brilliant portrait. >> guest: and i wish, perhaps, there was another character i could have strung out to that length to be able to really understand the mind of someone, whether it be a jihadi or pakistani army officer that's so often oversimplified. >> host: you did, on the other hand, the opposite of gha, and i, you did spend some time with senior political leaders with the rich, with the privileged islamabad and elsewhere. when you go from seeing the abject poverty in these rural areas or urban slums and crash chi's -- crotch chi's another one in and of itself to these parties would that create a disconnect? >> guest: i really tried to stay away from the party scene. tried to stay away even from the bureaucrats. >> host: and other ex-pats by and large. >> guest: definitely. there was very little to contribute. you knew the conversation was going to immediately sort of turn to how american policies

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