“Welcome to the Federally Administered Tribal Region of Pakistan,” the colonel said, greeting me in the airport.
He was short, stocky, and sporting a gray beard. If you squinted your eyes you might have thought he was the Most Interesting Man in the World.
“We don’t have a lot of time. Follow me,” he said.
We got in the colonel’s car and he began to weave a tale as he drove.
“In 1979 the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. It inflamed the Muslim world. Jihadists from around the world poured into Peshawar. They would help the Afghan mujahideen liberate their country from the godless invaders. The Arabs among them came to be known as the Arab Afghans. You will have heard of some of them: Osama bin Laden, Ayman al- Zawahiri,” he said with a wry smile.
“They were all here to help facilitate the support for the Afghan campaign.”
After a few minutes, we stopped in front of a run-down compound. The windows were broken, bullet holes riddled the exterior and part of one wall was completely collapsed.
We got out of the car. The colonel continued his soliloquy.
“In the 1980s with the help of Palestinian radical Abdullah Azzam, bin Laden founded the Maktab Khadamat al-Mujahidin al-’Arab, otherwise known as the Afghan Services Bureau. From here, they coordinated Arab fighters for the Afghan jihad. What you are looking at is its headquarters. This is where the Arabs planned their role. This is where the Arab fighters who flowed into Pakistan in transit to Afghanistan stayed. This is where American enemy number one Osama bin Laden lived for much of the 1980s.”