WASHINGTON, Dec. 26 (UPI) -- In his century-old Wonderland classic, Lewis Carroll has Alice saying, "I wonder if I've been changed in the night? Let me think. Was I the same when I got up this morning? I almost think I can remember feeling a little different. But if I'm not the same, the next question is, 'Who in the world am I?' Ah, that's the great puzzle." Substitute Alice for Pakistan and one begins to understand Pakistan's alternating personality syndrome.
Depressive disorders affect 34 percent of Pakistan's 165 million people. The range is 29 percent to 66 percent for women and 10 percent to 33 percent for men vs. 25 percent for both men and women 18 and older in the United States. The outpourings of Pakistan's TV news talk shows may be part of the problem. They embrace anger, hatred and divisiveness and make Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly (on the right) and Thom Hartmann, Al Franken and Randi Rhodes (on the left) sound like paragons of matchless objectivity. And 80 million Pakistanis -- half the population -- watch TV.
On Urdu talk shows, Pakistan's Muslim fundamentalists explain Islamist extremists who launched 61 suicide bombers in 2008 against political parties and their rallies as reactions against their spineless anti-Americanism. Terrorist attacks on military installations are rationalized as understandable reactions against an army chief who is pro-American. The three English schools torched in Peshawar recently were described as "nests of paganism."
A majority of Pakistanis believe Sept. 11 was a CIA-Mossad plot to justify a crusade against Islam. Which helps explain why there is no shortage of volunteers for suicide missions. Tens of thousands of 16-year-old boys, who have completed 10 years of Koranic studies in madrassa schools, brainwashed against the United States, India and Israel, are mentally conditioned to believe that martyrdom is the highest calling against the heathen.
Every major city in Pakistan and all seven tribal agencies on the Pak-Afghan border have been hit by suicide attacks. In the Swat Valley, once Pakistan's tourist garden spot, security forces have been battling Taliban guerrillas for the past year.
About 25 percent of Pakistan's population is middle class, for the most part oriented toward Britain and the United States. But that doesn't necessarily mean their children share Western values. British security services have been tracking some 30 terrorist plots to attack Western targets, almost all of them traced to Pakistani Britons.
Some 400,000 Pakistanis travel between Pakistan and the United Kingdom each year. Those with British passports can enter the United States without visas. Most Pakistanis reject the seriousness of the situation as explained by non-Pakistanis familiar with the gravity of what madrassas continue to produce. The coalition of six politico-religious parties known as MMA was defeated in last February's elections and lost its grip on two of Pakistan's four provinces. But they have a chokehold on mullah-run madrassas and have sabotaged numerous attempts to widen the curriculum to other disciplines.
Lives are being lost in Afghanistan because the Pak army cannot control the tribal areas where the two Taliban wings -- Pak and Afghan -- and al-Qaida enjoy relatively safe havens and much local support. The border itself is sievelike, jagged mountains, narrow gorges and some 60,000 Pakistani soldiers deployed in isolated posts along 1,400 miles. Another 60,000 are assigned to the interior of the seven tribal agencies where they are, for the most part, unwelcome.
The Pakistanis have sovereignty but can't seem to exercise it because the mostly Punjabi Pakistani army has few Pashto speakers to communicate with 3.5 million, mostly illiterate, Pashtuns. But the army still thinks of them as Pakistanis and resents having to kill those who protect Taliban. Pashtuns see the Pakistani army as an alien force, and some fundamentalist talk show voices argue the army should redeploy whence it came -- on the Indian border.
Senators endorsed the idea, rejecting as a "cock and bull story" the claim by India that a group of 10 Pakistanis had traveled on a boast from Karachi to reach Mumbai to carry out attacks against leading hotels, defying India's entire security apparatus for three days. U.S. insistence that known Pak culprits be brought to justice is proof for the talkmeisters Washington has sided with India against Pakistan.
In the tribal agencies, unmanned U.S. Predators inevitably kill innocent women and children in the compounds where Taliban fighters gather to plan their next attack. And these raids, in turn, add fuel to the anti-American mood of the Pakistani people. Some Pakistani senators, immediately echoed on TV gabfests, called for Pakistan's "immediate withdrawal" from America's war on terror, as it was "not in the national interest."
The U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan receive 70 percent of their supplies over land from Karachi, Pakistan's port city of 15 million, now the world's most vulnerable lifeline. Each day more than 350 trucks and oil tankers transit the Khyber Pass, where Afghan drivers take over from Pakistanis. Earlier in December Taliban guerrillas firebombed more than 200 trucks and Humvees in a gigantic parking lot, and the battle for the allied supply line was joined.
Until now, Pakistani militant attacks against the convoys were kept secret, e.g., 42 oil tankers destroyed in one day last spring. Now they are taking place between Peshawar, the capital of the North-West Frontier province next to the Khyber tribal agency, and the Khyber Pass itself, normally less than an hour by car. U.N. workers are pulling out of Peshawar, described by "The News," a Pakistani daily, as "a city under siege" and "the kidnapping capital of the world."
Increasingly brazen, some Taliban commanders now bypass the need to attack convoys protected by private security guards by charging tolls to let them through safely into Afghanistan. The London Times' Tom Coghlan discovered some convoys got through roadblocks with a Taliban commander in the lead vehicle after paying $1,000 per truck, which is then added to NATO and U.S. bills.
All food, fuel and equipment for 70,000 foreign soldiers come by road from Karachi. Some 30,000 additional U.S. troops are due in before summer, for a total of 65,000 Americans, bringing the total of foreign troops to about 100,000. They will all be dependent on the world's most vulnerable lifeline.
The United States is looking for alternative supply routes from the Georgian Black Sea port of Poti through former Soviet republics. This presupposes a new quid pro quo between the Kremlin and President Obama. Given the Soviet Union's 1989 defeat in Afghanistan and what it sees as U.S. marauding in its former "near abroad," the price may be too high.