In the center of the biggest traffic circle of every major city in Pakistan sits a craggy, Gibraltarish replica of a nameless peak in the Chagai range. This mountain is the home of Pakistan's nuclear test site. The development, in 1998, of the "Islamic Bomb," intended as a counter to India's nuclear capability, is Pakistan's only celebrated achievement since its formation, in 1947. The mountain replicas, about three stories tall, are surrounded by flower beds that are lovingly weeded, watered, and manicured. At dusk, when the streetlights come on, so do the mountains, glowing a weird molten yellow.
Islamabad's monument to the atomic bomb occupies a rotary between the airport and the city center. Nearby stand models of Pakistan's two classes of missile: Shaheen and Ghauri. The Islamabad nuclear shrine stands at a place where the city is dissolving into an incoherent edge town of shabby strip malls and empty boulevards and rows of desolate government buildings. A little farther in one comes to the gridded blocks of gated homes. The neighborhoods are called sectors. The streets are numbered, not named.
Late last year, after nearly two months in Pakistan, I paid the last of many visits to house No. 8 on street 19, sector F-8/2, a modern white mansion known as Zardari House. The house has been used by Asif Ali Zardari, the imprisoned husband of Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan's exiled former Prime Minister. Neither Zardari nor Bhutto has been there for a long time. Zardari has been confined for five years, most recently in Attock Fort, a medieval fortress perched over the Indus River between Islamabad and Peshawar. He is charged with a slew of crimes: large-scale corruption; conspiracy in the murder of Bhutto's brother Mir Murtaza; conspiracy to smuggle narcotics. Bhutto, who also faces corruption charges in Pakistan, lives in Dubai with their three children. Pakistan's leader, General Pervez Musharraf, has promised to have her arrested and tried if she ever returns to Pakistan. Outside the gate to the empty Zardari House sits a man with his back to the wall, a sawed-off shotgun across his knees.