The Afghan refugee camps around Peshawar, meanwhile, have become vast jihadist sanctuaries. The Jalozai and Shamshatu camps, each housing some 100,000 Afghan refugees, date back to the war against the Soviets. Complaints from the Afghan government have forced Islamabad and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees to begin the long process of emptying Jalozai, a job that's supposed to be completed by next spring. Many of the camp's high-walled compounds are already abandoned. But few Jalozai residents are returning to Afghanistan when they leave the camps. Most are settling in Peshawar or other towns in the vicinity, which will allow the Taliban more space to operate in. A local mullah was arrested in Jalozai earlier this year after three Pakistani militants blew themselves up while using his house as a bomb factory.
The Shamshatu camp, just south of Peshawar, is the personal fiefdom of the notorious Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. His guerrillas, the Hizb-i-Islami ("Party of Islam"), operate mainly in Afghanistan's Kunar province, but Shamshatu is their power base, in effect an autonomous enclave within Pakistan. Like Jalozai, the place resembles a sprawling, labyrinthine Afghan village of mud-brick houses surrounded by high mud walls, and it's ruled by strict, Taliban-style Islamic law. Music is forbidden—even musical ringtones on cell phones. So is tobacco. Women are banned from venturing outside except in the company of a male relative. (There are girls' schools, though: unlike his Taliban allies, Hekmatyar believes in women's education.)
Shamshatu contains high-security areas that are out of bounds even to camp residents. Camp residents say Hekmatyar's men run private jails in these off- limits areas. Recently a woman who lived in the camp dared to go shopping alone. When she entered a small electronics shop, gunmen followed her. They forced the shopkeeper to close his store, detained the woman and telephoned her husband. "If you won't kill her, we will," they told him, before handing her over with a warning that if they caught her again without an escort, they would kill her. Then they confiscated the shopkeeper's goods and threw him out of the camp.
Musharraf says his forces are doing everything possible to halt the jihadists' spread. Pakistan's president has shown he can deliver when he must. Late last February, just as Vice President Dick Cheney arrived in Islamabad to pressure Musharraf to fight harder against the Islamists, Pakistani military-intelligence agents in Quetta suddenly captured Mullah Obaidullah Akhund. As the Taliban's Defense minister and one of Mullah Omar's key deputies, he was the highest-ranking Taliban official the Pakistanis had ever taken into custody. A couple of months earlier, Pakistan reportedly informed U.S. forces in Afghanistan that another senior Taliban leader, Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Osmani, was heading into Afghanistan from Quetta. A U.S. airstrike promptly killed him, just inside Afghanistan. But those cases remain exceptional.
U.S. government officials say that Musharraf's government still has tight control over the nation's nuclear-weapons program. Still, radicals would not need to steal a whole bomb in order to create havoc. Pakistan has never made a public accounting of its nuclear materials, and last year its Atomic Energy Agency began publishing ads in newspapers instructing the public about how to recognize radioactive materials and their symbols. The ads were quickly withdrawn after they incited fears that fissile material had gone missing. But Pervez Hoodbhoy, a noted nuclear physicist at Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad, says outside experts don't really know how much highly enriched uranium Pakistan has produced in the past and how much remains in existing stocks. "No one has a real idea about that," he says. "That means that stuff could have gotten out. Little bits here or there. But we really don't know."
In Washington, a senior administration official involved in counterterrorism said U.S. intelligence is chronically fearful that Islamists might get hold of nuclear material, equipment or know-how in Pakistan. He recalled that after 9/11, a group of rogue Pakistani nuclear scientists met with Osama bin Laden. "Given that history, we continue to look at this issue very closely," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
It's not surprising that Pakistani authorities might give the Taliban special treatment. The country's intelligence officers and military men have maintained close personal relations with senior Taliban leaders ever since the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s. Western military and diplomatic officials say they doubt that Pakistan is still actively assisting Afghan insurgents—but they don't think it's trying very hard to stop them, either. "I'm not delusional," says a Western military official in Islamabad, not wishing to be quoted by name on such a sensitive topic. "Their [the Pakistani government's] guys are in contact with the Talibs. They may not be assisting them, but they aren't busting them, either." A Western diplomat, speaking off the record because he is not authorized to represent his government's views to the media, says, "I'm sure there are intelligence officials, active and retired, who have dealt with the Taliban in the past and still support their cause. That's the power of personal relationships over time. You don't cut those off abruptly."
The Taliban war effort is also greatly aided by dozens of "retired" former officials in Mullah Omar's defunct Taliban government who now reside in Pakistan, some armed with Pakistani national identity cards. The Taliban don't think they're putting anything past the ISI—"the black snake," as they call the agency. Mullah Shabir Ahmad, a provincial commander, spends upwards of six months of the year inside Pakistan. "The Pakistanis know what we eat for lunch and dinner," he says. Mullah Momin Ahmed, visiting his family in Quetta shortly before his death in September, agreed: "Pakistan knows everything about us, but it seems to ignore us." Maj. Gen. Waheed Arshad, the military's chief spokesman, says that Pakistani forces have arrested and deported 1,500 Taliban to Afghanistan, "but many somehow return."
Until now, most Pakistanis seem to have remained impervious to the jihadist threat, despite the evidence around them. Musharraf himself has seemed preoccupied with other matters. "He has failed to understand the danger of insurgency on both sides of the border, and how to bring the Pakistani people along with him to counter that threat," says retired Pakistani Army Lt. Gen. Talat Masood. "He has been too obsessed with perpetuating his power." Instead, according to Masood and other observers, the president has allowed Pakistanis to lull themselves into thinking that the battle against the jihadists is Musharraf's and America's problem, not theirs. "The greatest danger is that the whole Pakistani nation, including senior politicians, seems to be saying that this is not our watch, this is not our war," says Masood. "Even the Taliban presence in the cities seems to have an acceptance."
Few Pakistanis have any desire to live under the militants' rule. The trouble is, the country's moderate alternatives have become almost as unpopular. Musharraf won a third term as president by a unanimous Electoral Assembly vote on Oct. 6 (heavily boycotted by the opposition). In a recent nationwide poll by the International Republican Institute, however, he earned a dismal 21 percent approval rating. Bhutto fared little better, scoring a pitiful 28 percent. Many Pakistanis were appalled by her willingness to cut a deal with Musharraf so that he would allow her to return from exile.
True, the survey was taken before last week's attack. In the wake of the deadliest terrorist bombing in Pakistan's history, the public might rally once again to her support. "She won't be deterred," her husband told NEWSWEEK, describing Bhutto as "composed" in a phone call after the attack. "She won't be taken hostage by a small minority of people." But that minority of Islamists isn't so small any longer—and it's ready for a long war.