If you are looking for the Bush White House to drop a bombshell on the fall campaign, keep your eye on the mountains of western Pakistan. This is, of course, where American experts think that Osama bin Laden is hiding. An in-depth and important A1 feature by Craig Whitlock of the Washington Post makes it pretty clear that this assumption is widespread, but based on information that is sketchy. They think he's up there in those remote mountains. Why? No one wants to talk about it.
The headline is that the U.S. is changing tactics, reverting to a kind of Clintonian approach. When in doubt, bomb people from high altitude with high-tech weapons that do not get Americans killed. So, the lede proclaims:
PESHAWAR, Pakistan -- Frustrated by repeated dead ends in the search for Osama bin Laden, U.S. and Pakistani officials said they are questioning long-held assumptions about their strategy and are shifting tactics to intensify the use of the unmanned but lethal Predator drone spy plane in the mountains of western Pakistan.
I guess U.S. tacticians are taking this on faith, but that isn't the religion angle that interested me.
Later in the report, the Post offers one concrete and very symbolic fact. It isn't surprising, but it's powerful.
Bin Laden is believed to depend on a small circle of fellow Saudis for his personal security. But officials said the Taliban provides him and his lieutenants with a network of safe houses. According to an internal Taliban memo viewed by The Washington Post, Taliban security operatives have a code name for bin Laden -- Taqwa, an Arabic term that means fear of or reverence for God.
Then a few sentences later, we hit the heart of the matter, the reason that Osama is still on the loose.
After the disruption of the airliner plot in London in August 2006, it became clear that al-Qaeda's core command -- previously thought to have been knocked out -- had made a comeback. The CIA later dispatched scores of additional officers to Pakistan's ungoverned tribal areas and North-West Frontier Province, where al-Qaeda had taken root.
The environment, however, had become more hostile than ever. Resurgent Taliban fighters had forced the Pakistani government to sign cease-fire agreements in the lawless tribal border areas of North and South Waziristan.
There are two key words here that I would like to challenge -- "ungoverned" and "lawless."
I think what the Post means is that these tribal areas are not ruled by the government or the laws of Pakistan. But that does not mean that these tribal regions have no rulers and, above all, no courts. That's the point, isn't it? These regions are ruled by Islamists who do not recognize Pakistan as a nation that is sufficiently Muslim. There are courts. There are Sharia courts that are sympathetic to Osama and, perhaps, controlled by people loyal to him.
"Lawless" and "ungoverned"? Not really. That's the actual heart of the story, right there.