Shortly after the September 11 attacks, I went to live and report for The New York Times in Afghanistan. I would spend most of the next 12 years there. In December 2006, I flew to Quetta. After our first day, we noticed that an intelligence agent on a motorbike was following us, and everyone we interviewed was visited afterward by ISI agents.
We visited a neighbourhood called Pashtunabad, home to several members of the Taliban, who live in houses behind high walls, often next to mosques and madrasas they run. One of the madrasas, the Jamiya Islamiya, is a brick-and-concrete building three storeys high, with classrooms that can accommodate 280 students. At least three of the suicide bombers we were tracing had been students here. Senior figures from Pakistani religious parties and provincial-government officials were frequent visitors, and Taliban members would often visit in the dark, in fleets of SUVs.
A female journalist would not be permitted inside, so I passed some questions to the Pakistani reporter with me, and he and the photographer went in. After returning, they told me that words of praise were painted across the wall of the inner courtyard for the madrasa’s political patron, a Pakistani religious-party leader, and the Taliban leader Mullah Muhammad Omar.
“The madrasas are a cover, a camouflage,” a Pashtun legislator from the area told me. Behind the curtain, hidden in the shadows, lurked the ISI.
On our fifth and last day in Quetta, four plainclothes agents broke through the door of my hotel room. They snatched my laptop from my hands, went through my clothes and seized my notebooks and a cellphone. When one of the men grabbed my handbag, I protested. He punched me twice, hard, in the face and temple.
The officer told me that I was not permitted to visit Pashtunabad and that it was forbidden to interview members of the Taliban. As they were leaving, I said my photographer colleague, whom they had detained at his hotel earlier, had to stay with me. “He is Pakistani,” the officer said. “We can do with him whatever we want.”
Benazir Bhutto had long warned that a conglomeration of opponents wanted her dead and were all linked in some way. They were the same forces behind the insurgency in Afghanistan: Taliban and Pakistani militant groups and al-Qaeda, as well as the Pak military establishment, which included top generals Pervez Musharraf and Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.
The chief state prosecutor in Bhutto’s murder trial, Chaudhry Zulfiqar Ali, told me there was “overwhelming circumstantial evidence” that Musharraf did not provide her with adequate security because he wanted to ensure her death in an inevitable assassination continued…