Ahmed Rashid’s Af-Pak

Vijay Prasad in Himal:

Prashad_AfPak_coverIt is always a delight to read Ahmed Rashid, as his highly informative material comes packaged in crisp prose (perhaps under the lasting influence of Derek Davies, the flamboyant editor of the Far East Economic Review and a very capable stylist). What is less pleasurable is his claustrophobic political vision, which gets more and more airless with each of his books. I remember reading with great pleasure Rashid’s The Resurgence of Central Asia (1994), written when Rashid was in full flower at, among others, the Far East Economic Review, and a decade after he had returned from the hills of Balochistan, where he had gone with his comrades from the London Group, including Najam Sethi, to join the armed struggle. Rashid’s superb reporting from Afghanistan informed his book, Taliban (2000), which became a primer on that movement after 9/11. Its partner volume, Jihad, appeared in 2002, and took the story of political Islam further north into Central Asia. Rashid’s next major book, Descent into Chaos (2008), took his work in a different direction. It was a book of great melancholia, worrying that both Pakistan and Afghanistan were on the precipice of disaster. In that book, Rashid laid the onus firmly on the Pakistani elite and on his friend, Afghan president Hamid Karzai. The US received a free pass, coming off as an honest actor trying its best to defeat the remnants of the Taliban.

There is a reason why Rashid frequently tells the reader of the recently released Pakistan on the Brink to go back and read Descent into Chaos. The former book lays out the argument that is simply brought up to date here. It was inDescent into Chaos that Rashid made his point that the Pakistani military had pulled the wool over American eyes, leading the US to believe that it was the only force that stood between the current ‘peace’ and a future Taliban-ruled Af-Pak. Now, in Pakistan on the Brink, Rashid suggests that the US has pulled the wool away, seen things clearly, and decided to act in northern Pakistan (largely through the drone program) and elsewhere without coordinating with the Pakistani military.

More here.