Arab Today, arab today pakistan on the brink by ahmed rashid
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Pakistan on the Brink by Ahmed Rashid

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Arab Today, arab today Pakistan on the Brink by Ahmed Rashid

London - Arabstoday

At the start of Pakistan on the Brink, Ahmed Rashid confesses that he didn\'t really want to write the book and that it was \"forced\" out of \"a very reluctant author\" by editors and publishers. To which one might uncharitably reply: we didn\'t want to read it either. The third book in a trilogy, following Taliban and Descent into Chaos, is a compendium of statistics, bomb counts and Wiki knowledge. If you\'ve paid attention to the news during the past 12 years, you already know most of this. It\'s also a little out of date. The killing of Burhanuddin Rabbani, the deadly attacks on Pakistan\'s naval and military bases over the past year, the rise of the Punjabi Taliban, and the murder of Afghan president Hamid Karzai\'s brother are only fleetingly described; the coming US elections are ignored and Osama bin Laden\'s death in Pakistan last spring is given only a cursory glance. But the book\'s central fault is that Rashid\'s teleology is dedicatedly western. And it is precisely this sort of thinking that got us into the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq in the first place. There is no context that is not westernised for clarity (Bin Laden\'s retirement home of Abbottabad is like a \"British country seat\", a Pakistani military academy is a \"West Point\"). Rashid, whom his fellow Pakistani author Tariq Ali once called a \"prize cock of the US defence establishment and videosphere\", may have soured slightly in his views of the American government and its war in Afghanistan, but he still uses its language. For Rashid the problem seems to be not that US and European troops are mired in a bloody, imperially designed and unwinnable war, but that there aren\'t enough of them to get the job done in good time. Only once is the conflict noticeably described in less than necessary terms, when Mullah Baradar of the Taliban is quoted as calling it a \"game of colonisation\". Rashid berates Obama for not \"personalising\" the war in Afghanistan and for not telling in any detail stories of Afghans and their plight. Yet he doesn\'t either. There\'s not one account of how people have suffered under Operation Enduring Freedom, merely statistics of doom. Rashid made his name by bringing to light forgotten stories, but he has now become the story. The book\'s acknowledgments offer thanks to \"all manner\" of \"bureaucrats, politicians and heads of state\". Countless anecdotes begin with him advising the world\'s most powerful men on how to run their war (only for them to do the opposite). In his histories, power has replaced the people. The chapter on the 2009 war in the Swat valley between the Pakistani army and Islamist militants is titled \"A sliver of hope\", but Rashid devotes hardly any space to the awful conditions 1.4 million internal refugees were held in after they had fled from the fighting. The UN called it \"one of the world\'s worst displacement crises\" and journalists, both international and local, were deliberately denied access. For Rashid, however, Pakistan gets an A grade for the war. Pakistan and India are depicted one-dimensionally as paranoid powers unable to consider each other outside destructive paradigms – which indeed they might be, but their populations have long wanted peace, and are currently engaged in many hopeful people-to-people initiatives. Sotto vocce, he tells us that anti-American sentiment in Pakistan is whipped up by the military and the nefarious Inter-Services Intelligence. According to Rashid, intelligence agencies manipulated the violent protests against Nato last November, following the airstrike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers (and for which the Pentagon grudgingly expressed \"deepest regret\"). But the author fails to understand that after a 12-year war, diplomatic dealings that are a perpetual exercise in humiliation, and hundreds, if not thousands, of innocent civilian deaths at the hands of drones, the one thing the Pakistani army need not manipulate is anti-American sentiment. The US military, with its trigger-happy contractors and recent renegade shooters, Raymond Davis and Sgt Robert Bales, does a fine job of whipping that up all by itself. At least, if belatedly, Rashid has cooled off in his affection for President Karzai. Gone are the days when he wrote articles entitled \"How my friend outwitted the mullahs\", as he did for the Daily Telegraph in 2001. Karzai, who has presided over gross corruption, factionalism and dashed hopes for Afghanistan for the past eight years, is finally described as he is: \"increasingly paranoid\" and \"controversial\". Rashid deserves credit, too, for going after Pakistan\'s villainous elite, often celebrated as the country\'s last hope. Readers of his previous work will know that Rashid possesses a sophisticated understanding of Pakistan, Afghanistan and the US, but here he offers disappointingly bite-sized analyses of places one would expect him to delve deeper into. On the decades-long secessionist insurgency in Balochistan, he references only a Human Rights Watch director called Brad: he doesn\'t speak to any Baloch groups or survivors of the army\'s campaign of violence. Karachi, Rashid surmises in a hurry, could easily be taken over by the Taliban \"when they feel the time is right\". Such foggy analysis is a betrayal of centuries of the city\'s syncretic, tolerant history, during which it has offered space to Christians, Hindus, Jews, Parsis and Sufis. We need to know more, but no nuance is available when an author is being pressed to complete a trilogy.

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