Pakistan on the Brink: The future of Pakistan, Afghanistan and the West

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 06 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 06 May, 2012, 12:00am

Pakistan on the Brink: The future of Pakistan, Afghanistan and the West
by Ahmed Rashid
Viking Manreet

On April 15, in what is being called the biggest jailbreak in Pakistani history, Taliban fighters stormed a prison in the Northwest Frontier Province of Pakistan and freed almost 400 prisoners. The raid was efficiently organised: a blockade of all roads leading to the prison kept the security forces at bay even as the fugitives escaped into neighbouring North Waziristan, a lawless tribal area rife with al-Qaeda and several militant groups that straddle the Afghan-Pakistani border.

If you're wondering how the Taliban, who started as a militant Islamic group within Afghanistan, morphed into a rallying force for pan-Islamic militants and jihadis operating out of Pakistan, then this is the book for you.

Ahmed Rashid is a respected Pakistani journalist who has reported on the Afghan-Pakistan region for 30 years. Pakistan on the Brink is the third book in a trilogy that has seen him chronicle the rise of the Taliban and al-Qaeda beginning in the 1980s, the US war in Afghanistan following 9/11, and the lead-up to the current crises in the region.

Divided into nine essays, the book examines the conflict from the perspectives of the parties involved - key countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the US, and other critical players such as Iran, India and the 'Stans' of Central Asia.

An insurgency is growing within Afghanistan even as the US timeline for withdrawal of its forces approaches. Meanwhile, Hamid Karzai's government is corrupt and has little authority beyond Kabul. An economy dependent on aid will go into a deep recession upon the US exit in 2014, and worse, see a civil war as its neighbours replay the Great Game.

One key neighbour, Pakistan, has contributed significantly to the current Afghan crisis. To keep the US happy, it put pressure on al-Qaeda in the war on terror, received billions of dollars in aid, but continued to provide sanctuary to Afghan Taliban in its Baluchistan province. Pakistan wants to retain leverage on Taliban who, it believes, will be in control once the US departs Afghanistan.

Despite having a civilian government, Pakistan is run by its army and intelligence service, the ISI. Rashid worries that the ISI has become a 'state within a state' which advocates a hostile foreign policy towards neighbouring countries even as Pakistani society has become increasingly radicalised. The nuclear-armed nation needs a new narrative, 'one that does not perpetually blame the evergreen troika of India, the United States, and Israel for its own ills'.

What then is the way out of this quagmire?

During the course of this book Rashid mentions meeting personally with Barack Obama, Angela Merkel, Asif Ali Zardari and Karzai. Descent Into Chaos, his previous authoritative work on the region, was a prescient look at the future.

In Pakistan on the Brink he attempts to put some solutions on the table, suggesting that Turkey could be a role model for Pakistan's leaders as a nation that turned itself from a 'military dictatorship into a thriving democracy'.

However, this might be a case of wishful thinking: the self-serving nexus of army-jihadi-spies-political cronies looks unlikely to yield a better ruler.

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