Journalist Ahmed Rashid has been at his project for much of his adult life. He knows we just don't seem to get it. He's determined to explain war-ravaged Afghanistan and his loved homeland of Pakistan to Western English-speaking readers. First there was Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia (2000) which became a best seller after 9/11. Then there was disillusionment chronicled in Descent into Chaos: The United States and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia (2008). (More here.) Now the engulfing war and social and political collapse has crept yet closer to home as he explains in Pakistan on the Brink: The Future of America, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.
This volume is unstinting in its examination of U.S. failure in Central Asia. The arrival of the Obama administration did nothing to turn the tide in Afghanistan.
That is -- the inertial energies of an empire always confidently expecting to make its own reality won the day. Rashid is a clear eyed observer, but also often seems the ultimate Pollyanna who hopes beyond reason that the U.S. empire's better angels will somehow override the demons it looses on the world.
As a U.S. and NATO withdrawal from the region becomes inevitable (the war without purpose is lost, whether we admit it or not), there remain more questions than answers.
What distinguishes this book is its attempt to offer a kind of "Pakistan for beginners." Considering its size, importance and complexity, in the U.S. we usually allow ourselves to be vague about Pakistan. It has the sixth largest population among nations and the seventh largest army -- an army armed with nuclear weapons. It is the world's second largest Islamic country (Indonesia is the largest). Ostensibly a developing democracy, it seems very close to sinking into the chaos of a failed state.
Whatever else a reader may take away from this book, it makes it impossible to doubt that dealing with Pakistan requires knowledge, subtlety and patience. U.S. forces blundering about in Central Asia since 9/11 have showed none of these attributes. Rashid has written a cri de coeur, an anguished cry from his heart, describing the dangerous instability of his country. If U.S. policies contribute to collapse and horror in Pakistan, U.S. authorities will likely claim we couldn't have known things would get so bad. Rashid has done his best to make that claim unsustainable.
Cross posted at Can It Happen Here?
The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the entire War Times project
Jan Adams has worked with WarTimes/Tiempo de Guerras since its beginning, coordinating distribution during the three years when the organization published an antiwar tabloid newspaper. She is a lifelong political activist who has worked for justice in Central America (Nicaragua and El Salvador), in South Africa, in the fields of California with the United Farmworkers Union, and for racial and economic equality with electoral and advocacy campaigns in many areas of the United States.
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