Dean of Pakistani Politics Warns of Wild Cards in U.S. Strategy

The photographs on the walls of the sprawling house in this city’s diplomatic section tell the story of a life lived in rarefied atmospheres.

Pictures of state dinners at the White House with John F. Kennedy or meetings with former Chinese leader Mao Tse-tung hang next to family portraits taken at the royal palace high in the mountains of northern Pakistan.

On the veranda, overlooking a neatly clipped lawn, Miangul Aurangzeb, 73, lounges like the prince he is. Servants scurry with tea and biscuits. A member of the British High Commission sits at his elbow, scribbling notes about a visit Queen Elizabeth once made to his palace.

Aurangzeb’s title is the Wali of Swat, and at one time he exercised absolute rule over the vast hidden mountain valley of Swat, which straddles the border with Afghanistan on Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier.

Nothing was beyond his purview. "I once heard people complain about cactus needles hurting people’s feet. I ordered all he cactus cut down. It solved the problem," he said, somewhat wistfully.

While he no longer rules with such power, he has played a considerable role in the affairs of his country. Married to the daughter of Ayub Khan, who ruled Pakistan in the 1960s, he has been a U.N. representative, the governor of a tribal province and spent 41 years in the legislature.

He is remembered fondly in the valley as a benevolent ruler who is still popular.

"When he ruled things were good here," said Rayaat Hussein, who lives in Swat.

Aurangzeb is at ease with the often chaotic politics of his country. But now he is worried.

In a wide ranging interview with Fox News, he warned of three things America has misunderstood in its haste to catch Usama bin Laden and punish Afghanistan.

The first is the increasingly pivotal role that Mohammed Zahir Shah, the former king of Afghanistan, is playing in efforts to oust the Taliban.

Asked about the current fervor over the return of Zahir Shah to cobble together an anti-Taliban opposition, he begins his answer in 1877 and traces the lineage of the dynasty that ended when he was overthrown.

These are not idle ramblings. It is these blood connections and the old feuds that seem to be genetically embedded in them, that will determine the success of any future government of Afghanistan.

By the time Aurangzeb gets to 1949, he smiles a little.

"It was then the Zahir Shah did something for which he can never be forgiven. He cast the sole vote against Pakistan’s membership into the United Nations," he shouts.

The history lesson has a point. The years of intrigue and betrayal that he knows so intimately can spell only one outcome.

"Zahir Shah will be killed, definitely," Aurangzeb says. "I know him. I have been his guest. He is a decent man and a modernizer. His wife was a lovely woman. But he was the answer prior to the situation — not now."

He has equally harsh words for the Loya Jirgha, the council that the king would be expected to preside over if he is returned to any form of power.

"It is a council of elders and it is not elected," Aurangzeb says. "It is made up of feudals who will try to maintain a feudal system. It won’t work."

Secondly, he warns that America may be relying too heavily on Pakistan’s intelligence services, which were deeply involved in the creation and success of the Taliban.

In a country where few dare to even speak of the military's feared and powerful intelligence agency, the ISI, he treats it with contempt. He says that reliance on the ISI by the Americans to find bin Laden and help stabilize the country could prove disastrous "because they are incompetent and they have been politicized.

"They no longer look to defend the nation, instead they are seeking to discover the political thoughts of politicians and officials. They are not centered on defense," Aurangzeb warns. "They are unreliable."

Thirdly, he says that Pakistan’s nuclear-equipped military, divided between Islamic fundamentalists and more pro-Western, secular soldiers, could easily fracture in the event of American military action. He warns that the professionalism had dropped as more and more fundamentalists were recruited into the army under President Ziaul Haq Zia.

"Today it is full of zealots," he says. "We are not sure who it will support."

And that, he warns, could mean real trouble.