Never mind the Taliban—you have to go thirty miles out of town to meet the avidly art-dynamiting classes, but a few blocks back into the less attractive suburbs are plenty of madrasahs offering an education that begins with the first sura and ends with the last—the left-hand side of Pakistan’s bell curve rivals America’s Republican base in its aversion to reading more than one book per lifetime. This extremity of cultural conservatism is not new to a region already overrun by religious students in Major Abbott’s day. On his watch, Deobandi talibs lit out to converge on pleasant towns such as Abbottabad like Mormon missionaries high on iced tea.
United by common bonds of zeal and a powerful aversion to fact-checking, these God-fearing folk began welcoming infidel tourists a hundred and fifty years ago. Today their descendants still insist the best way to persuade visiting ladies that it is impious to reveal they have arms is to vigorously lapidate them until they roll down their sleeves in surrender to Allah’s will. Thankfully, this lets up when you cross the cultural divide into Ismaili territory somewhere between Nanga Parbat and K2, but to return downstream to Abbottabad, you have to run the cultural gauntlet all over again, a daunting prospect of immense desiccation through the neo-prohibitionist badlands. Only a paladin-turned-sourpuss such as OBL could discount wild rumors of sports and senior officer’s clubs stocked with the liquid spoils of empire.
So with our onetime ally in the battle against the Soviets fallen from his weak horse and deep-sixed by the SEALs, one question may determine whether Pakistan is our ally or not. A long time ago, Abbottabad’s end of the silk route flowed with Shiraz from Shiraz, and Peshawar’s bazaars saw jade from Khotan transformed into wine cups fit for a Mughal—that’s how to run a caliphate. After Monday morning’s blazing forty-minute firefight, one wonders what the hell they drank in the heli on the long flight home.
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