Rafia Zakaria in The Guardian:
No man who has read a page of Indian history will ever prophesy about the Frontier. We shall doubtless have trouble there again.” So wrote Lord Curzon, then viceroy, in 1904. The British were by then a little weary of the burdens of empire; they were having trouble with the tribespeople of the Frontier, who seemed uninterested in the sort of governance the colonialists wished for them. The smugly racist Curzon blamed it on the “fanaticism and turbulence” that “ferment in the blood” of the Pashtun. The neocolonialists of today cannot explain things away so easily. As Steve Coll documents in Directorate S, the current war has for ever altered the fates of all three countries involved – the US, Afghanistan and Pakistan – and, after 15 years, there is no end to the “trouble” in sight.
Directorate S, from which the book gets its title, lies buried deep in the bureaucracy of the ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence), Pakistan’s spy agency. Ensconced thus, the directorate works to “enlarge Pakistan’s sphere of influence in Afghanistan”. It goes about this task, Coll explains, by supplying, arming, training and generally seeking to legitimise the Taliban, the AK-47 toting terrorists who took over Afghanistan in 1992, stringing up decapitated corpses in town squares and shoving women into the confines of their homes. Nobody paid much attention then, and perhaps never would have, had the Taliban not become host to Osama bin Laden.
Bin Laden, the architect and financier of the 9/11 attacks, was the US’s most obvious target, and in order to get him, sights had to be set on Afghanistan. The scene Coll paints is riveting.