Books: Pakistan on the Brink

Shortly after 9/11, author Owen Bennett Jones observed in the introduction to his book, Pakistan: Eye of the Storm (Yale University Press, 2002): “Ever since its creation [by the United Nations in 1947], Pakistan’s political development has been turbulent and chaotic. The country has been under military rule for nearly half its existence. No elected government has ever completed its term in office. It has had three wars with India and has lost around half of its territory. Its economy has never flourished. Nearly half its vast population is illiterate and 20 percent is undernourished. The country’s largest city, Karachi, has witnessed thousands of politically motivated murders. Religious extremists have been given free reign.”

Today, ten years after he wrote that, the leading journalist on Pakistan argues that matters have only gotten worse – and that President Obama, with whom he has met on the issue of Pakistan, is to blame.

Laying out America’s options with Pakistan and Afghanistan in the post-Bin Laden years in Pakistan on the Brink: The Future of America, Pakistan, and Afghanistan ($26.95, Viking, March 19, 2012), Ahmed Rashid reports that Pakistan’s society is near collapse, hardship is widespread and the Islamic dictatorship is, in his words, immeasurably corrupt. “In the past twenty years, it has not developed a single new industry or cultivated a major new crop, even though it is an agricultural country.” U.S.-Pakistan relations, he argues, are a house of cards. With nuclear weapons – Pakistan is bordered by India, Iran, Afghanistan, the Arabian Sea and Communist China – its fall could trigger a catastrophe.

Rashid, a correspondent for the Wall Street Journal who has been covering Afghanistan, Pakistan, and central Asia for more than 20 years, is a leftist who previously wrote Taliban. He was invited by then-President-elect Obama to meet and discuss the region, so his criticism of Obama’s foreign policy as lacking clarity and being full of contradictions is especially interesting. Citing the President’s praise for Pakistan for cooperating on killing Osama bin Laden despite the fact that Pakistan had not cooperated, he all but admits that Obama is dishonest. As for Obama’s supposed triumph in picking off the Moslem terrorist responsible for killing thousands of Americans, his description of the aftermath ought to put that kill in its disgustingly proper and puny context. After Bin Laden’s corpse was taken to a U.S. aircraft carrier in the Arabian Sea, he notes, “his body was washed according to Islamic custom, placed in a white sheet, and weighted. His funeral prayers were read, and in the early hours of Monday morning, he was slipped into the sea from the lower deck.” He adds that Obama declared in an address to the nation that “justice had been done.”

What Rashid does not say is that, by honoring the mass murderer, justice had been undone.

There are numerous errors and apologies for Islamism throughout the otherwise informative book but Rashid, considered a leading authority on the Taliban and author of Descent into Chaos, is clearly frustrated by the once-adored Obama. He is also right to blame Bush and previous administrations for creating the radical Islamicization of Pakistan in Pakistan on the Brink, which reveals that Bush’s last ambassador to the volatile nation told Rashid in 2007 that he had never received an order from Washington to raise the issue of harboring the Taliban with his hosts. Rashid foresaw that the Iraq war would be reframed by intervention in Afghanistan and that Pakistan would emerge as the leading player through which American interests and actions would have to be directed. Now, with nuclear-armed Pakistan propelled by U.S. taxpayer dollars – over $20 billion between 2001 and 2010 – teetering on collapse and Islamist takeover and aiding the weaponization of the West’s Communist and Islamist adversaries, the primitive state made by the United Nations is decidedly on the brink of setting off a worldwide war.

In the words of William F. Butler in 1889, a prelude to Pakistan on the Brink: The Future of America, Pakistan, and Afghanistan: “The nation that will insist upon drawing a broad line of demarcation between the fighting man and the thinking man is liable to find its fighting done by fools and its thinking by cowards.” At least Ahmed Rashid, who has traveled, reported, written and spoken about what he has witnessed in Pakistan and the region’s wars for 30 years, lays blame squarely at the feet of the not-so-almighty Obama, about whom, it is worth noting, he fondly remembers on the basis of the President’s blood and proximity to Islam and multiculturalism: “He was black with a white mother and an African Muslim father; had lived in Indonesia; had traveled to Pakistan, India, and Kenya; and had Muslim relatives – a unique and engaging background.”

In the end, the author merely pleads for “democracy”, tags “bad government” and what he calls a “poor distribution of resources” and proposes what he calls changing the narrative. But his chapter title’s ominous alternative – preparing for the worst – is a potent reminder that proper actions based on rational ideals, not mixed signals from a liar with an exotic background, offer the only hope for change in this wretched and combustible part of the world.

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