on March 24, 2012
Ahmed Rashid, rebel (who organized uprisings against Ayub Khan and Yahya Khan governments) turned journalist (20 years with Daily Telegraph out of Lahore), provides a balanced analysis of the end game scenario in the US, Afghanistan and Pakistan imbroglio. You dont need to have read his previous masterpieces (Taliban and Descent into Chaos). You can read any chapter at random. I had to read the entire book in one go. Quite an engaging analysis.
United States is in a logjam. US has to exit Afghanistan soon. There is no popular support. The adventure is a drain on national purse at the time of recession. In order to make elegant exit US needs a legitimate government acceptable to various ethnic groups in Afghanistan that is capable of enforcing law and order. The bets US made on (a) armed force (b) friendly Afghan government (c) animosity with Taliban and (d) trusting Pakistan to support its war efforts in destroying Al Qaeda are not working. Throwing money into Afghanistan or Pakistan has been a waste. Can US exit Pakistan elegantly? Or will it just "switch off the lights" and make for the door unmindful of the post exit mess?
Afghanistan is in a logjam. It is an ethnically divided society where Pashtuns (the majority) and non-Pashtuns do not get along well. The current government came to power in a sham election with insufficient representation for the majority Pashtun; and is very corrupt. The Afghan army is not well balanced (disproportionately low Pashtuns); is weak and suffers high desertion. Government maintains rule with the help of US led forces. In the last ten years, thanks to US money, the non-Pashtuns have gotten rich; and the Pashtuns have remained poor. 97% of the economy depends on international military spending. When US exits, Afghanistan will slip into a deep recession.
Afghan Taliban is in a logjam. They are Afghan nationalists; not global jihadists. Their only fault was supporting Al Qaeda. They are willing to talk and participate in the Afghan government. However, they were removed from power by US army and are residing in Pakistan based sanctuaries under the control of Pakistan's ISI. ISI pressured them to launch fresh insurgencies against US army from Pakistan providing them money, ammunition and training. They suffer US retaliation. It has become a war of US drones v Taliban IEDs. Both are losing. Germany and Qatar organized clandestine peace talks between Taliban and US without the knowledge of Pakistan. This has stalled. Taliban paid a price for their friendship with Al Qaeda; and are paying a price for their friendship with Pakistan. US is interested in fighting them; Pakistan is not.
Pakistani Taliban are not in a logjam. They were born when Afghan Taliban started recruiting from Pashtuns in Pakistan (13 million Pashtuns in Afghanistan; 30 million Pashtuns in Afghanistan) to provide manpower support. They were joined by militants from Kashmir (who found life boring after Pakistan made a temporary truce with India to deal with the mess in Afghan border) and by militants from Punjab, Sind and other provinces. Pakistani Taliban killed more than 1,000 traditional tribal leaders friendly to Pakistan state, see Pakistan State as an enemy (for tacit support to US drone attack on the Taliban) and pursue terrorism within Pakistan (with a sophisticated, educated and urban edge from their Punjab/Sind brethren). Their aim is to establish an Islamic caliphate ignoring political borders. Pakistan is interested in fighting them; US is not.
Al Qaeda is not in a logjam. They are avowed global jihadists. They inherited all training camps for militants in Afghanistan from the Taliban. They provided inspiration, training and equipment to a multitude of radical youth (some from US/Europe). Their leader Osama bin Laden was killed. However, they have morphed into a network of tiny cells and can cause damage if they are provided a place to stay. Pakistan, under pressure from US, has been "outing" Al Qaeda leaders. However, Pakistan are unable to explain whether bin Laden's residence near Pakistan's capital is due to culpability or incompetence. Mystery remains.
Jalaluddin Haqqani's network is not in a logjam. The network enjoys Pakistan ISI support; is held in high esteem by both Afghan Taliban and Pakistani Taliban; is a friend of Al Qaeda; and is clear about inimical interests against US. US is unable to defeat the network since US is unable to pursue the network's warriors into Pakistani soil.
Pakistan is in a logjam.
1. Pakistan's political framework is continuing to be dominated by its army. Civil government is weak, corrupt and powerless. Apart from ruling PPP there is no other national party; all other parties are either ethnic or regional making democracy difficult in a society where Punjab (thanks to constituting 60% of population) dominates civil service and army and others feel underprivileged.
2. Pakistan political elite have failed to create a national identity that unifies the country. The army's anti-India security paradigm has filled the void to define national identity making the army the most important component of the country.
3. Army commandeers 30% of Pakistan budget, 70% of all aid and has grown to be an empire of tax free industries and real estate with motivation and ability to exercise power over defense and foreign policy.
4. Pakistan army has been using proxy forces (tribals and jihadists) to achieve security objectives. Pakistan army used proxies to liberate Kashmir in 1947 and 1965; to subdue secession in 1971; to evict (this time with success) Soviet Union from Afghanistan in 1988; and to unleash insurgency in Kashmir in 1989. Pakistan sees Afghan Taliban as a very useful proxy to retain influence in Afghanistan and an assortment of militant outfits as very useful to bleed India in Kashmir. However, these initiatives have created the 40,000 strong Pakistani Taliban, which is not under state control and is attempting to destroy Pakistan state itself.
5. Pakistan, in attempting to secure a strategic depth against India (not really necessary given that both have nuclear bombs) has destabilized Afghanistan by supporting one ethnic group (Pashtuns) and antagonizing other ethnic groups (Tajiks/Uzbeks). Pakistan is dreaming of an Afghan state that is neither too weak (to be dominated by inimical interests) nor too strong (to threaten Pakistan's borders and claim sovereignty over Pashtuns in Pakistan). Pakistan is dreaming of an Afghan state where Pashtuns dominate. Pakistan is dreaming of an Afghan state where Iran will not have influence over the Shias (Iran has invested significantly into nation building in Afghanistan) and India over Tajiks/Uzbeks (India has invested significantly into nation building; 50% of goods leaving for India now use roads to Iran and bypass Karachi). Pakistan is an impediment to Afghan stability; and therefore to Pakistan's stability.
6. Pakistan army and civil government have been feeding popular opinion with false narratives against US, Israel and India whipping up paranoia about the very existence of Pakistan being at stake. This prevents evolution of a good choice of policies for Pakistan.
7. Pakistan can no longer depend upon US as a hedge against India. Nor can Pakistan rely on China for monetary support. China is not known to give cash; nor is China comfortable with terrorism as state policy.
Ahmed Rashid provides an excellent insight into the tapestry of interlinked and conflicting motivations.
It would take a confident President, a wise General and a compassionate Mullah to break the logjams and bring stability and end to the "New Great Game". Until then, everyone would suffer in each other's duplicity.
on March 15, 2012
The focus of Rashid's earlier books, "Taliban" (2000; revised edition 2010) and "Descent into Chaos" (2008) - see my reviews on Amazon - was Afghanistan. It was made clear in both books that the ISI, Pakistan's all-powerful intelligence service, had allowed the Afghan Taliban safe havens in Pakistan to which it could retreat after it was ousted in 2001, where it could regroup, and from where it could stage its increasingly successful comeback from 2003 onwards.
Despite its title, Pakistan is a very uncertain focus of this third part of the trilogy - uncertain only in part because, just as it is impossible to discuss Afghanistan without extensive excursions into the history of Pakistan, the reverse is equally true. At least a third of the book is more of a continuation of Rashid's earlier books on Afghanistan than it is an analysis of what is wrong with Pakistan.
It continues and extends the catalogue of US ineptitude that we saw in "Descent into Chaos". The Obama administration has handled Afghanistan as incompetently as the Bush administrations had done. The Washington turf battles over policy were worse than ever, and although sound policy papers were produced, they were not acted upon. Obama seems as much captive to US military thinking as Zardari is to that of the Pakistani military. In 2009 Obama announced surges at the same time as he signalled a specific date by which a draw-down of American troops would begin - encouraging the Taliban to hold out against the surge with the confidence that soon the field would be clear for them. There was a build-up of the Afghan Army and police, who were supposed to take over when the Americans left, but the desertion rate was staggering. American relations with Karzai are as tense as those with Pakistan. Karzai "frequently" said that he had three main enemies: the United States, the international community and the Taliban, and that of those three he would side first with the Taliban! The quagmire could hardly be deeper!
It was in fact Karzai who had initiated contacts with the Taliban as early as 2004. After Obama had signalled that the Americans would start pulling out in 2011, even the Americans, hitherto resisting the idea, came round to it, and secret talks began in late 2010. The narrative of these is fascinating, though it should have been told in a more chronological manner. The Afghan Taliban was anxious to escape from the control of the ISI. The Americans are not including the Pakistanis in these talks, which infuriates Pakistan which wants to be the chief broker in any settlement, but has done nothing to facilitate contacts between Karzai and the Afghan leadership in Pakistan. In 2010 the ISI even arrested the Taliban's No.2 for talking to Karzai's brothers, and he is still in their custody. This chapter ends with the suspension of the talks after the murder of Karzai's chief negotiator, the former Afghan president Rabbani, in September 2011 (but they have renewed since the book was written).
When Rashid does focus on Pakistan, the picture is just as bleak. The overall message is of competing power structures with policies so absurdly devious and illogical that they get into tangles entirely of their own making. The covert support given by the ISI (and always denied by the Pakistan government) to the Afghan Taliban and its allies, the Haqqani network in tribal North Waziristan, has not only skewed Pakistan's relationship with the United States (brought to breaking point by the killing of Osama bin Laden, with which this book opens), but it has also reared a cuckoo in the nest, in that the Pakistani Taliban in the tribal areas, even more extreme and more jihadist than its Afghan counterpart, escaped from its control, tries to overthrow the Pakistani government and is at war with the Pakistani army and the ISI - one way in which Pakistan is "on the brink" of disaster.
But Pakistan is "on the brink" even without the Afghan dimension. Rashid shows all the other internal strains: a crumbling economy, totally dependent on IMF bail-outs, which cannot sustain its rapidly growing population; a political system corrupt from the very top to the bottom; a civilian government which cannot curb the Army which absorbs between 25% and 30% of the budget (at the expense of the pathetic educational and social services) and 80% of the aid, and which is so obsessed with a perceived threat from India that it frustrates any rapprochement with that country (which does indeed cultivate ties with the Afghan government and absolutely refuses to put the Kashmir issue on any negotiating table); an army which cannot (or will not) curb the ISI, nor can it control the tribal areas where it is at war with the Pakistani Taliban while supporting the Afghan Taliban; separatism in Baluchistan; increased sectarianism; minority religions - even Muslim ones - terrorized, with the government not daring to crack down on this; suicide bombings (87 in 2010); the murder of journalists (eight in 2010); in 2009 the civilians killed by insurgents in Pakistan exceeding by 25% those killed in Afghanistan (!); a frightened and reclusive President out of touch with his people; Pakistan's poor relationship with all the other states in the region; and massive natural disasters.
In the last few pages, Rashid lists the attitudes and policies of the many players that must change if the region is to be rescued from further disasters. The previous narrative shows that chance of such changes happening are absolutely miniscule.
This is as devastating an account of the region's self-inflicted suppurating wounds as were its predecessors, though the mass of material is here not quite as well organized. And given that the forthright author is a Pakistani citizen, these books are quite extraordinary acts of courage.
Five stars, though, as one of the dedicatees, I have to declare an interest.
on February 26, 2014
I bought this book because it came up as a recommendation based on my reading of Little America by Rajiv Chandrasekharan. Unlike that book, which properly cites credible sources, I found this book to offer much opinion and faulty logic. I get the impression that Rashid, who does identify shortcomings of the Karzais and the Afghan people, still thinks that all of the problems of the Afghans are the responsibility of others. As though Afghanistan is owed something by the rest of the world? For what, producing poppies and an incubator for Islamic extremism? Just like Karzai blaming everything but himself for the state of affairs, Mr. Rashid's loose citations of foreign intrigue to the detriment of Afghanistan aren't completely credible.
on April 2, 2012
Like the first two books by Rashid, "Taliban" and "Decent in Chaos", he offers a perspective most of us from the West often overlook. As a Pakistani with historical insights to what happened in the past provides a vision for what is happening now and for the future.
That said, I worked Paktia and Khost provinces early 2003 with involvement in the standing up the 1st Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Gardez. Although, it was a long time ago (and followed by Iraq), my perspective at long term national building, democratic institutions and essentially long term stability had a faint chance..even back then of success. Today, the issues remain the same....infrastructure development, sustain peace and security, credible government and leadership at the national and provincial levels.
I do take exception to Rashid's posture that the West is responsible for all or most of the mistakes with the elements of nation building as mentioned in the previous paragraph. The Afghan's themselves have yet to experience the "Arab Spring" kind of momentum at any level. In general, the population stands aside and allows the international community to do what they do. Certainly, some blame rests on our mentality..."do it our way" kind of mandate.
Feudalism mixed with tribal and cultural/language issues result in Afghanistan being many different countries in one. That is how it is now and will be for generations.
And as for Pakistan...the country has never fully dedicated its resources to assisting the west in eliminating the Taliban from the tribal areas adjacent to Afghanistan. This we all know...so, how can ISAF attain any sense of stability along the border areas when training camps continue to breed extremist jihadist.
But, the most critical component to Afghanistan sliding back into chaos was the invasion of Iraq. I watched while critical personnel assets and funding commitments melted away because of the Iraq War..a war of choice.
If and when the historians cast blame for the failure of Afghanistan...and Iraq..it must be due to the Bush-Cheney decision to "free the people of Iraq". Those two also contributed to the financial disasters which remain at issue during the upcoming election. I only hope the faceless souls of those lost visit Bush, Cheney and Rumsfelt each and every night of their collective lives.
The faces of those lost in Iraq and Afghanistan..many I knew..... maybe lost in history, but to their dedication and sacrifice..and to their families who suffer everyday...we will never forget.
on July 9, 2012
This is the book that the intelligent American needs today-this year, this very minute- to understand the sad political, diplomatic, military and social realities that we are finding ourselves engulfed in in Afghanistan. Ahmed Rashid's "Pakistan on the Brink" weaves together the occasionally confusing conditions of South and much of Central Asia into a subtly textured fabric, from whose stark colors we dare not distract our eyes or attention. Each of the book's chapters might be read independently of the others, but all of them tell the same tale: the betrayal of our inititives in Afghanistan by Presidential ideology and high-handedness.Betrayal by the feudal shortsightedness and cynicism of President Karzai in Kabul. Betrayal by interfering neighbor countries. And, most of all, and central to Rashid's argument, betrayal of the Pakistanis, the Afghans, and the US/NATO troops still "in country" by the imploding death star of Pakistan, its government cowardly and clueless and crawling before its military and intelligence sectors who enjoy complete power at home and who exercise unrelenting terrorism against all of their foes at home and abroad, its economy crumbling, its infrastructure unfunded,its citizens mired in poverty and corruption, and all of Islamabad's energies commited to endless, pointless war against India and preserving or ensuring a Pakistani regime in Afghanistan, care of the Taliban.
If you read only one book about Afgahanistan today, Rashid's "Pakistan on the Brink" is that one. If you would like to read another book giving a background to events in Afghanistan, I would heartedly reccmmend Rashid's equally fine book, "Taliban".
on June 22, 2012
For anyone who has studied or worked alongside Pakistanis in the West, it is always a bit a puzzle to see how such a resourceful and savvy population can come out of a country that always seems on the brink of some catastrophe. Ahmed Rashid is a Lahore-based journalist and offers a clear report of all the problems plaguing the nation. Some of these problems are imposed from outside, such as excessive American reliance on the Pakistani Army - but he reserves most of his ire for Pakistani leadership's short-sightedness. While other once testy neighbors, such as Greece & Turkey or France & Germany have settled their differences - Pakistan continuously sees India as waiting to attack, and thereby justifies the military consuming most of the nation's limited resources. For anyone who thinks that once the U.S. leaves Afghanistan that we can sleep easily will not be re-assured by Rashid's book.
This is Ahmed Rashid’s follow up to Taliban and Decent into Chaos coving the events from 2009-2013-14. Pakistan on the Brink really ties the problems of Afghanistan and Pakistan together in this soup of dysfunction, in that Afghanistan’s failures coupled with Pakistan’s questionable foreign policy decisions of support for the Taliban mixed with eliminating those Taliban who haven’t promised not to attack Afghanistan has created quite a mess for both the Stans and the United States.
I think Rashid really hit the nail on the head in this book in that the United States as a country cannot solve Afghanistan without solving Pakistan. Given the current relationship between the two countries, such a solution does not seem likely in coming. This problem strikes me as a human problem and how do you change the thoughts and perceptions of an entity like the Pakistan Army, Taliban, or even American politicians? These are so entrenched that the situation becomes hopeless.
An informative book on a depressing situation.
on October 4, 2013
Rather than go on about the book and relate what Mr Rashid has written let me pique your curiosity by saying this. Mr Rashid is truly a brave man to come out writing his books that do not paint a flattering picture of either Afghanistan, the US, or Pakistan. He lives in country, has the knowledge and connections to write a book that explains the shortcomings of all three nations and their interactions. This is a worthwhile read for those that want to comprehend a bit of what has transpired and could happen. Granted it is the third of his books in this theme but one gets a vivid picture by reading this, and then you can pick up the others.
on November 30, 2014
If, like me, you have been totally confused by the on-going fiasco of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan for the last 13 years - and longer with Pakistan - this book clearly lays out the seemingly unending list of policy failures by both the Bush and Obama administrations, and how hundreds of billions of dollars were poured down various rat holes. Rashid has had unusual access to all the major players on this chess board and has been very prescient in his earlier books about where events were headed. This is not a blame-game book (although there is plenty to go around), rather how well-intentioned, if totally naïve, policies failed but nevertheless continued to march on because of sheer momentum and unquestioned funding from Washington. About the only person Rashid credits with understanding the situation in the region and possibly had a strategy for a favorable outcome was Richard Holbrooke. Unfortunately, Holbrooke unexpectedly died - not that anyone in D.C. gave his ideas any serious thought as various cabals in the foreign policy apparatus were each pursuing their own agendas. Unfortunately, the hubris of the Project for the New American Century, even after lessons hopefully learned from Iraq to Afghanistan-Pakistan, remains at the center of our foreign policy - see Ukraine and probably more to come.
on May 3, 2012
In his book "Deadly Embrace", Bruce Riedel, an expert on South Asia, makes a strong case that the U.S. goal of transforming Afghanistan into viable and prosperous nation state is dependent on the cooperation and constructive involvement of Pakistan. This book by Pakistani journalist and scholar Ahmed Rashid demonstrates why this may not be possible. As such it makes a good companion piece to Riedel's book.
Rashid believes that Pakistan may be on the brink of becoming a failed state which, given its arsenal of nuclear weapons would be catastrophic for the entire region. Rashid bases this gloomy prediction on several complex factors. Perhaps the most important of these is political disarray. He considers that the Pakistani government since the 1947 independence and especially over the last thirty years as alternating between weak and hopelessly corrupt civilian rule and myopic and hopelessly corrupt military rule. This untenable political situation is made worse by the military preoccupation with India as an existential threat to Pakistan. Because of their perception, the Pakistani Army and the semi-autonomous Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate have chosen to play the dangerous game of sponsoring some Islamic Extremists movements. Add to this Pakistan's slow, but potentially disastrous economic collapse. Rashid may be too pessimistic, but he has an excellent grasp of realities of 21st Century Pakistan.
When the Indian sub-continent gained independence from the UK in 1947, M.K. Ghandi was absolutely opposed to creating a separate Pakistani (i.e. Muslim State). He believed that an independent India could reconcile its religiously complex society and build an example for the world. Perhaps he was right.