74 of 84 people found the following review helpful
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.
36 of 42 people found the following review helpful
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.
20 of 24 people found the following review helpful
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.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
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.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
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.
9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on October 3, 2012
Mr. Ahmed Rashid is probably one of the most resourceful and arguably the most knowledgeable Pakistani journalists on Afghan affairs. He has access to some key informants in both the US and Afghanistan which enable him to give inside account of various behind the science events. Pakistan on the Brink is his third publication in a row on the Afghan conflict and its various dynamics including repercussions for Pakistan. The book does not offer anything new but captures the events quite well giving in-depth analysis and discussing possible scenarios (most of them quite bleak) for the region and for Pakistan.
Mr. Rashid rightly points to Pakistan's flawed political strategy emanating from its military doctrine for the current mess that the country is in and holds the army's high command responsible for it. Through various examples, he tries to proves the point that Pakistan army has been keeping Afghan peace process hostage ensuring that the US, NATO and Afghan efforts to reconcile with Taliban remain unsuccessful until Pakistan gets its due share in deciding the future of its Western neighbor.
The book's main audience is the readers in the US and other western countries hence apart from a few rare occasions; Mr. Rashid clearly avoids holding US responsible to any degree for the situation in Afghanistan or what we see in today's Pakistan. He gives quite a detailed account of how Pakistan army has been milking US taxpayer's money for its ulterior motives without mentioning the fact that US is partly responsible for the many ills in country- thanks to its blind support for respective military dictators in Pakistan and its goal of keeping Iran and China in check. There are elaborate accounts of how ISI supported Taliban have been killing coalition forces but no mention of the hundreds and thousands of Afghans and now thousands of Pakistanis that have died due to a war whose objectives are yet to be defined. Swat operation to rid the tourist destination of Taliban has been mentioned in the book but again without any reference to the fact that its leadership is being protected by Afghanistan and the NATO forces.
Despite this almost one sided picture, the book is a good reference to the current day Pakistan and can offer a reality check about some flawed Pakistani policies that have landed the country in quagmire of problems.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
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".
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on August 9, 2012
This is a book that offers a lot of insight into the state of Afghanistan, Pakistan and the other countries in the region which are embroiled in the complex situation that prevails in South Asia. The mistakes in the foreign policy on the United States have also been very vividly described in this very serious work on foreign policy in the region.
Ahmed Rashid is a veteran Pakistani journalist, who has lot of insight into the situation that prevails in the Af Pak region. His, Descent into Chaos, a narrative of the situation in Afghanistan following the US invasion of the country in the aftermath of the 9/11 is considered to be one of the most seminal works about the deeply troubled country. In, Pakistan on the Brink, the author provides a ring side view into the problems facing the region, in view of the impending US and NATO forces withdrawal from the country which is now tentatively scheduled for 2014. This has led to the intense brinkmanship by all the countries that have stakes in Afghanistan. The author not only focuses on the machinations of Pakistan, but also throws light on the confusion that is being created by India, Iran, China and the Central Asian Republics who all have a stake in Afghanistan. The main concern of most of the countries in the region seems to be the uncertainty that is likely to prevail in Afghanistan in the aftermath of the vacuum that is created by the withdrawal western forces in 2014.
The author explains in detail the part played by Pakistan in propping up the Taliban in Afghanistan, especially the Haqqani group, in order to further its own interests. This has led to a situation where the country is now at loggerheads with its main ally in the war on terrorism, the United States. The Americans have an intense suspicion of the Pakistanis, especially after the discovery and subsequent elimination of Osama Bin Laden in a safe house in Abbotobad in Pakistan. This was when the Pakistanis where all along denying the sheltering of the dreaded terrorist on their soil. The Americans perceived this as a double game by the Pakistanis, wherein they were accepting all kinds of financial and material help from the Americans for the purported war on terror and at the same time had sheltered the main perpetrator of the horrific events of September 2001. The short-sightedness of the Pakistani establishment in indulging in this kind of brinkmanship has been vividly brought out by the author. The country has reached a situation where in it is being looked upon as an epicenter of terror and as kind of a pariah state, which it can ill afford considering the precarious state of its economy and the turmoil in which the civil society is in the country on account of the divisive policies of the Army and political establishment.
Even though the author analyses the situation in South Asia in a very clinical manner, he is at loss to suggest definitive solutions to overcome the quagmire that the world finds itself in the region, thus posing a real threat to world peace and stability. However, considering the emphasis that he places on the double game that Pakistan is playing in the region, it is obvious that it is implied that the country has to come to terms with the situation and has to mend its act and avoid the double game that it indulges itself in. A solution to the problem seems to be quite difficult to be provided by the Pakistanis considering the various divisive forces at work in the country in the form of the powerful Army establishment, the corrupt politicians and the dangerous Islamists, who fail to see reason beyond the narrow confines of militant Islam. The situation at times looks really beyond redemption and Pakistan seems to be forever teetering at the edge of a deep abyss, from which one sincerely hopes that it is able to save itself. The situation in Pakistan is of particular importance to us due to dire security consequences that the country has on the Indian subcontinent.
The book is really educative and the narrative has an engaging style. The mention of facts and the history of the region are not in the least boring at any point in time. I really enjoyed the book and am looking forward to reading the Taliban and Descent into Chaos by the same author, which again deals with the situation prevailing in the region.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
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.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on May 2, 2012
I finished one book, which described the strained relationship the US has with Pakistan and needed to read more on the future of our relations with Pakistan due to our extended period of conflict within Afghanistan. When reading Ahmed Rashid you get an insight that is not really covered in other literature on the subject, a sensitive subject a matter of fact because of our constant willingness or need to work with Pakistan even knowing what they have continued to fail to provide with the US in terms of assistance. The provide us what keeps us satisfied but have not crossed the line in really working to provide the assistance that would warrant the amount of money and assistance we have been providing of a decade. The book does a great job in understanding the delicate balance both countries have been working to please each other while keeping the public at bay. Even with the work the CIA has done within Pakistan and Afghanistan the geopolitics and regional players that have stepped in have created a framework in understanding how foreign policy and the "war on terrorism" will continue to be a factor in the development of the globalized world.