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News of Pakistan's doom greatly exaggerated

Analysis: Fears that the Taliban are about to overrun Pakistan's seat of power seem unfounded.

Pakistani Taliban fighters sit with their weapons on the back of a truck in Buner, about 60 miles northwest of Islamabad April 24, 2009. (Reuters)

NEW YORK — A bronze statue of Giuseppe Garibaldi stands in Washington Square Park, recognizing the 19th-century Italian war hero who assembled the first recruits for his Red Shirts militia here in New York City.

The fighters, known for their matching flannel outfits, traveled to Italy by sea to help Garibaldi fight in the Italian unification wars that led to the creation of the modern European nation state.

The Red Shirts became the inspiration for Mussolini’s Black Shirts and Hitler’s Brown Shirts, the armed groups that muscled the fascist political parties to power in a warring Europe decades later.

While the Taliban in Pakistan prefer the traditional shalwar-kameez to flannel and don’t bother much with matching outfits, they do bear some resemblance to the armed bands that brought revolutionary change in Europe in the past century.

I flew back to New York last month after a six-month reporting tour in Pakistan. During my time in the Islamic republic I covered more than a few major-league fiascoes — the attacks in Mumbai that ignited an international political crisis in nuclear South Asia; the march by hundreds of thousands of lawyers and political activists on the capital while threatening to overthrow the government; the day that terrorists took to the streets of Pakistan’s second largest city, Lahore, in broad daylight and machine gunned a busload of international athletes.

But the biggest news was often about the encroaching Taliban militias in the north, the same militias that have now reportedly reached within 60 miles of the capital, Islamabad.

Incredibly, the sense of impending doom felt by those outside the country was rarely felt from within. While based in Islamabad — with its wide tree-lined avenues, glitzy restaurants and sky-high real estate market — or while visiting Lahore — a city of 10 million with a thriving art and music scene — or reporting from Karachi — with its buzzing nightlife and daytime financial bustle — or even inside the war-torn tribal areas or in the city of Peshawar that is under the barrel of the Taliban gun — I never feared that the country would soon be ruled by the small Pashtun guerrilla force.

Maybe because it likely won't.