What are the possibilities—and hazards—facing America as it withdraws from Afghanistan and reviews its long engagement in Pakistan? Where is the Taliban now in both of these countries? What does the immediate future hold, and what are America’s choices going forward? These are some of the crucial questions that Ahmed Rashid—Pakistan’s preeminent journalist—takes on in this follow-up to his acclaimed Descent into Chaos.
The escalation of the war in Afghanistan has deepened a long-standing crisis in its neighbor to the east. Pakistan’s political and military leadership has exhibited neither the courage nor the will to carry out major reforms in the country’s foreign and economic policies. The Pakistani state still fosters many extremist jihadi fighters, even as the Pakistani Taliban directly threaten that very state. Social services are near collapse, law enforcement is abysmal, economic hardship is widespread, natural disasters occur with little government assistance, and the majority of the population has no security. During the first years of the Obama administration, the critical U.S.-Pakistan relationship has been in a state of virtual meltdown. American strategy has reflected contradictory policies, intense political infighting, and uncertainty about U.S. aims in the region.
All parties to the conflict in Afghanistan and to the deterioration in Pakistan have made terrible mistakes, acting with arrogance, hubris, rigidity, and stubbornness. While struggles for democracy are occurring in countries that have hitherto known nothing but dictatorship, South and Central Asia, the birthplace of Al Qaeda, remains beset by extremist groups and nuclear weapons. Yet Afghanistan and Pakistan have a greater impact on global stability than anywhere else, and the decisions made by America and the West in the coming years about Pakistan will affect the security and safety of the world.
For three decades, Ahmed Rashid has reported, written, and spoken about the wars and political events he has witnessed and has been lauded internationally for his levelheaded, informed insights. As an up-to-date briefing from one of the world’s leading experts, and as an exhortation toward peace and understanding, Pakistan on the Brink is Rashid’s most urgent book.
©2012 Ahmed Rashid (P)2012 Brilliance Audio, Inc.
This book provides a very useful framework for making some sense of the strange behavior that Pakistan often seems to exhibit in its relations with the US and the Western world. It is also a very informative introduction to the tangled politics, ethnic conflicts, economic backwardness and religious extremism that characterize elements of Pakistani and Afghan society and account for much of the violence that we often see in news headlines. These factors make it clearly wishful thinking to assume that all will be well once the US and NATO forces depart Afghanistan in 2014. Given the presence in Pakistan of nuclear weapons and its apparent inability to control violent extremist and terrorist movements within its own borders, Pakistan will continue to be a serious concern of the US and all countries concerned with the threat posed by international terrorists.
The picture the author paints of Pakistan is not a flattering one: a dysfunctional government in which the civilian politicians defer to the military establishment (including the now-notorious ISI) on national security and foreign policy; a government budget that devotes 60% of its resources to military expenditures largely focused on India rather than economic development or the more serious threat posed by internal militias in the tribal areas; a society in which the political parties are built around influential families rather than broad-based democratic associations; a judiciary that is frightened of convicting terrorists brought into court because of outside threats; and a military that continues to allow the Afghan Taliban sanctuary in Pakistani tribal areas so long as they do not attack Pakistani forces and direct their fire only at US forces in Afghanistan. How could the US not be frustrated and angry with such an ???ally???? To be fair and not mentioned in the book, one should recall that Pakistan was instrumental in capturing some of the high-ranking Al Qaeda members who sought hiding places in Pakistan in 2002 and 2003. How Bin Laden was able to stay undetected so long in Pakistan is a later story and one that is of course at best a major embarrassment to the Pakistani military and security services.
The author is clearly expressing his own views through much of the book and it is difficult without more background to know how accurate he is on all points. Nevertheless, the book provides a sobering introduction to the realities and complexities of dealing with the problems posed by the conflicting parties and movements striving (oftentimes with brutal violence) for power and influence in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
A good listen and mostly confirms what has been reported from various American and Pakistani sources. Rashid's dramatic advocacy of dealing with the Taliban is new and is in lieu of his recognition that the NATO alliance cannot remain in the region in its present from, it is too expensive and deeply unpopular at home. Furthermore, Afghans and Pakistanis have to lead the way for development, reconciliation, and political formation of their democracies to emerge in an evolutionary process that takes generations. It cannot be imposed from distant powers however powerful they may be.
Maybe. I bought this audio book based on Ahmed Rashid being interviewed on NPR. The book is strong from a US point of view but weak (in terms of real insight) from a Pakistan point of view.
It is worthwhile listening to this audio book if you want a very good history lesson.
No not really. Maybe a PBS Frontline episode.
The current assessment from somebody in the know.
Had to read this after having read Ahmed Rashid“s
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