I was astonished by what I encountered firsthand: a Taliban mini-state that flourished openly and with impunity.
The Taliban government that had supposedly been eliminated by the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan was alive and thriving.
All along the main roads in North and South Waziristan, Pakistani government outposts had been abandoned, replaced by Taliban checkpoints where young militants detained anyone lacking a Kalashnikov rifle and the right Taliban password. We heard explosions echo across North Waziristan as my guards and other Taliban fighters learned how to make roadside bombs that killed American and NATO troops.
And I found the tribal areas—widely perceived as impoverished and isolated—to have superior roads, electricity and infrastructure compared with what exists in much of Afghanistan.
I suspect that last detail reflects the relative wealth of Pakistan and Afghanistan, not the Taliban's enlightened management. But now I'm curious how the tribal areas' infrastructure compares to the rest of rural Pakistan.