- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 15, 2001

PESHAWAR, Pakistan —As Maulawi Gul Rahman prepared for lunchtime prayers yesterday, he donned his ragged scholar's robe, stroked his tangled beard and pondered the question of what the effect of American military retaliation against Osama bin Laden would be.
"Muslims around the world, from north, south, east and west, would wage war against the United States," said the maulawi, a senior priest, who considers himself a moderate by the region's standards. "It would be holy war, our duty."
They were not empty words. Anyone in any doubt that reprisals against the Saudi exile and his Taliban hosts would do anything other than bolster anti-Western Islamic militancy, need spend no more than a few minutes in the sinuous bazaars and dusty religious schools of Peshawar.
To many here, bin Laden is an icon. He is seen as a pious man defending Islam against combined Israeli and American aggression. As a just and holy warrior, he could not have killed so many innocent people in New York and Washington. The attack is blamed on a conspiracy to defame Islam or attributed to vague notions of natural justice for previous American offenses.
The name Osama has become a popular choice for parents wishing to bestow Islamic virtues upon newly-borns, as was Saddam in the wake of the Gulf War. A man selling posters bearing bin Laden's image on a pavement said he had sold all his stock since Tuesday.
"It's my number one seller," he said.
The capital of Pakistan's North West Frontier Province is the gateway to the formidable Khyber Pass leading to Afghanistan. The majority of Peshawar's population is drawn from the same Pashtun tribe that dominates southern Afghanistan and makes up the Taliban leadership.
A few miles outside Peshawar there are thriving markets in guns and contraband household goods.
Foreigners must negotiate the Khyber Pass in the company of a Pakistani soldier and not stray from the main road into the lawless hills that were the graveyard of thousands of Britons during three Afghan colonial adventures.
The government of Pakistan, like the Moghul emperors before them, knows better than to interfere with the ferociously proud Pashtuns. The tradition of hospitality, allied to Islamic comradeship, lies behind their passionate approval of the Taliban's refusal to consider handing over bin Laden.
"To sacrifice him would bring us shame, would go against all our principles," said Gul Yusuf, 25, a student at Maulawi Rahman's White Mosque. "Osama is our guest and in our history we have never given up a guest."
Temur Shah, one of the million or so Afghan refugees who have settled in Pakistan since the 1979 Soviet invasion and ensuing conflicts, said that if the Americans produced evidence of bin Laden's guilt, then he should be tried by a pashtun jirga, or council of elders, which adjudicates everything from petty theft to murder cases.
"But they have no evidence, and if they attack, it will be an act of terrorism, and once again Afghans will suffer," he said to the fervent approval of a crowd outside the mud-and-brick Kamwal mosque at an Afghan refugee camp.
They are keen to remind a Western journalist that American cruise missiles aimed at bin Laden's hideouts across the border in August 1998, in retaliation for the bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa, missed their target and killed innocent citizens.
"We think what happened in New York is wrong, but if the Americans attack, we will defeat them like we defeated the Russians," said Mohammed Al Jamal, who was only 14 when the Soviet invasion ended in 1989, unable to break down the Islamic guerrillas.
That resistance was backed by a Cold War America keen to thwart Soviet expansion. It is widely held that among its military trainees in camps in Pakistan was a young Osama bin Laden.
"He is a man of America, they pampered him and now he is against them but he is their creation, their problem," said Maulawi Israr, the camp's religious leader.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide