Thursday, February 26, 2015

Book Spotlight #4: Descent into Chaos

"Descent into Chaos" 
by: Ahmed Rashid

Quote Highlight: "Six weeks before 9/11, an old Afghan friend of mine came to spend the day with me at my home in Lahore... At issue was his future, his safety, and the fate of his country... My friend was Hamid Karzai..." - Ahmed Rashid

What a whirlwind. I finally put this book down after a month of on and off reading, but wow, this was well worth it. Ahmed Rashid, a Pakistani journalist has put together a treasure trove of information on the US struggles against terrorist groups in the Middle East since 9/11. This book provides an in-depth review of who the Taliban are, why the US has been largely  unsuccessful in curtailing the terrorist groups in the region, as well as giving great insight into the Pakistani's role in aiding and funding militant groups. Ever wonder what Bin-Laden was doing holed up in Pakistan, only just miles away from Pakistan's version of West Point? This book has answers, and shines a light on the country's double dealings and serious misgivings in the fight against terrorism since 9/11. It seems the fight against the Taliban and other extremist groups, can not be analyzed without taking into account Pakistan's fight for Kashmir and great fear of arch-rival India. 

Rashid is able to intricately wind the reader through the links between state actors and terrorist groups in the region. He is highly critical of the Bush Administration, specifically Vice President Dick Cheney, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in his analysis; the neo-con masterminds of the previous decade. Although it's very easy to follow his logic and see the ways in which the administration fumbled certain aspects of the war in Afghanistan post 9/11, I'm almost certain there are rebuttals to some of his arguments. At some points, Rashid is entirely too black and white, when there are clear shades of gray involved in the Administration's decision making. However, it's important to understand that this book is written through a true Pakistani viewpoint, and taking that into account, it's easy to see how frustrated those in the region can be with the United States. That said, it's clear that through Rashid's eyes, the Bush Administration squandered some great opportunities to turn Afghanistan around right after 9/11. The US was able to win the War against the Taliban under Operation Anaconda with great success, utilizing limited troops and funding early on. Unfortunately, Rashid says, the US then got distracted with the upcoming War in Iraq, and refused to begin the subsequent nation building and security provisions to the Afghan populace that were necessary in the aftermath of the victory. This, coupled with Pakistan's reluctance to stamp out the Taliban, led to a resurgence just a few years later of the Taliban and an emergence of new groups as well.

This book opened my eyes up to a lot of views that are somewhat known, but not mentioned a lot in the mainstream. Specifically, Rashid sheds an enormous spotlight on the state of Pakistan. It's hard to come away from this book optimistic, as it's now 2015, and we see the reign of ISIS and other groups in the region. While specifically in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Taliban have not been crushed either. Unfortunately, the state of Pakistan, through the ISI (Pakistan's intelligence service) and the army, has been funding and providing safe haven for Taliban militants pre-9/11 and continues to do so post 9/11. According to Rashid, the Bush Administration failed to adequately pressure the Musharaf regime to clamp down on the ISI's support of the Taliban. After 9/11, the Taliban were able to escape into the FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) of Pakistan and not only regroup, but set up shop. This is all intricately linked to the struggle between Pakistan and India in their fight over Kashmir. The Bush Administration, and the West, seem to be inclined to not pressure Pakistan too much because they fear the fall of a stable regime within the country. A worse case scenario that would see a country with nuclear weapons fall into instability and create a significant likelihood that powerful weapons could fall into bad hands. Although that makes strategic sense, it severely hampers the fight against the Taliban and other militant groups because of the support these groups are able to receive from elements inside of the Pakistani army and Intelligence services. So, although this is a known phenomenon, it's rarely discussed in the mainstream and this book opened up the details to the relationship between Pakistan and the Taliban. If you're someone who is at all interested in an in-depth and eye opening analysis of the War in Afghanistan and the fight against the Taliban, this is certainly the book for you. My only disclaimer is to be aware of the US foreign policy bashing, and bear with the incessant amount of names you will be opened up to.

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