"Descenso al caos. EE. UU. y el fracaso de la construcción nacional en Pakistán, Afganistán y Asia Central"; Ahmed Rashid; 728 pgs; 29'9 €; Península, 2009.
"Descens al caos. Els Estats Units i el fracàs de la construcció nacional al Pakistan, l´Afganistan i l´Àsia Central"; Ahmed Rashid; 639 pgs; 29'9 €; Empúries, 2009.
"Descent Into Chaos The United States and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia"; Ahmed Rashid; 484 pages. $27.95, Viking; £25, Allen Lane.
Veteran Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid explains how the US ally Pakistan has armed and financed the Taliban after the US invasion of Afghanistan; how the CIA pays Pakistan to arrest al-Qaeda operatives, but Pakistan uses the money to fund the Taliban resurgence in northwest Pakistan; and how the US and NATO’s failure to deal with Afghan civil society has led directly to the huge rise of the opium trade that funds the Taliban. [includes rush transcript]
June 6, 2008
CSIS, B-1 Conference Level
When Bill Clinton briefed President-elect George Bush at the White House in December 2000, he enumerated six major security threats facing the United States. Three were: Al Qaeda, nuclear tensions between Pakistan and India, and Pakistan's links to the Taliban and Al Qaeda.
In his appropriately titled "Descent Into Chaos," Ahmed Rashid says the Clinton administration bears some responsibility for where we find ourselves today in South and Central Asia. It had blown "hot and cold when it came to Afghanistan and chasing Al Qaeda," had "no coherent strategy for undermining the Taliban regime" and had tilted strongly toward India over Pakistan. CIA officers had made only a few trips to Afghanistan during the Clinton years, according to Rashid, and no one in the agency spoke Pashto, the language of the Pashtuns, the country's largest ethnic group.
But the real target of Rashid's blistering critique is the Bush administration, and particularly Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Rumsfeld insisted on bringing Afghanistan's notorious warlords into the government. He blocked a "Marshall Plan" for Afghanistan. He opposed expanding the multinational International Security Assistance Force to work beyond Kabul because, he claimed, Europeans did not want to. "A lie," says Rashid, a journalist who has also been a participant in some of the events he writes about. And the litany goes on throughout this timely book.
Pakistan, Rashid explains, supported the Taliban when they were in power, to keep Afghanistan in Pakistan's corner against India. Since Sept. 11, 2001, the country's spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, better known as ISI, has been duplicitous, at best. It continues to provide sanctuary and military support for the Taliban, even to this day, while arresting some Arabs among their fighters to appease Washington.
Rashid's indictment of the Bush administration, and his scathing criticism of General Pervez Musharraf, are persuasive. But in making his case, he sometimes reaches too far. He says, for instance, that the White House sought the extradition of Ahmed Omar Sheikh, the convicted murderer of the Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. "Pakistan refused," Rashid writes, disapprovingly.
The United States did in fact make a request for his extradition, but it was largely pro forma, I was told later by a senior American official who had been involved in the negotiations. The Bush administration wanted Sheikh tried in Pakistan, the official said, so that he would not have the legal rights he would enjoy in the United States, and so that he could more easily be sentenced to death if convicted. (He was indeed tried and sentenced to death, though the sentence has not yet been carried out.)
Rashid's earlier book, "Taliban" (2000), was an invaluable introduction to a group that most Americans were only vaguely aware of before 9/11. "Descent Into Chaos" does not measure up. It is a well-written, encyclopedic history of Pakistan and Afghanistan, but it is much too long; any impact the book might have is diluted by an avalanche of details and names - and that's a pity since the public needs to know more about Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Senators John McCain and Barack Obama have both said they will send more troops to Afghanistan. Their agreement on this issue makes a real debate unlikely. Yet, if there is one thing we should have learned from Iraq, it is that we should have a serious debate before we go to war or, in this case, expand a war. Rashid supports a greater military commitment, as well as more money for development. The Taliban resurgency could have been avoided with more troops for security and with more money, better spent, for nation building, Rashid argues. But maybe the United States is just not capable of nation building. It is certainly hard to find a success since Germany and Japan. This book is likely to leave many readers with the feeling, "Whoa, do we want to send more Americans to fight and die there?"
Try this for a sobering thought. According to Rashid, "Afghanistan is not going to be able to pay for its own army for many years to come - perhaps never." The country remains in the grip of warlords and drug traffickers. Rashid generally admires President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, whom he calls "my friend." Ultimately, however, he acknowledges that Karzai has been unwilling to take on the drug traffickers. Many were "his political allies or close friends," and, Rashid writes, Karzai's brother Wali was said to be mixed up with the drug lords.
The problems in Pakistan may be worse. The country suffers from an "identity crisis," Rashid says, and has removed from its schoolbooks references to the tolerance and secularism preached by its revered founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Pakistan's elite have shown little concern for the poor. "Sixty years after independence, Pakistan's literacy rate is an appalling 54 percent, with female literacy at less than 30 percent," Rashid notes. Indentured labor is still pervasive; I personally saw women and children making bricks in the blazing sun for a few dollars a day.
The current political situation is unstable. The Bush administration considered Musharraf, who took power in a bloodless coup in 1999, indispensable, and so did not push for democratic reforms, Rashid observes. But given the record of civilian governments in Pakistan, might this have been a reasonable conclusion? For most of the decade before Musharraf, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif were the prime ministers. Their governments were marked by enormous corruption (Bhutto's more so than Sharif's) and ineffectiveness. Today, the most powerful civilian leaders in the country are Bhutto's husband, Asif Ali Zardari, and Sharif, whom Rashid describes as "right-wing, anti-American and close to the Islamic parties."
Clearly, we need to have a debate about America's strategic interests in the region. We want to keep Afghanistan and Pakistan from becoming havens for terrorist groups, and that may require limited military assistance. But as Rashid suggests, the next administration will have to make a major diplomatic effort as well.
One of the most valuable contributions of "Descent Into Chaos" is its discussion of Kashmir, the region that has been in dispute between India and Pakistan since independence in 1947. It is the linchpin of the tense relations between Pakistan and India, and Pakistan, as Rashid explains, basically views its Afghan policy through the prism of India. It seems evident that the United States will have to become more involved in achieving a settlement in Kashmir, perhaps through a special envoy like Christopher Hill, who, with patience and persistence, has achieved breakthroughs in negotiations with North Korea.
"Descent Into Chaos" can help the next administration understand the mistakes of the past, but it will have to do more than that to achieve stability in the future. For example, a President McCain or President Obama should consider negotiating with the Taliban, as repugnant as that sounds. Rashid notes that there are moderates among them who want no truck with Al Qaeda. Similarly, the next secretary of state should consider something equally radical: rotating the ranking diplomats among Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, with, say, two years in each capital. This will help ward off "clientitis," an occupational disease that weakens the effectiveness of too many ambassadors.
Such bold, imaginative initiatives will be necessary, whoever becomes president. Otherwise, four or eight years from now, an outgoing McCain or Obama administration will probably be delivering the same briefing that Clinton gave Bush in 2000.
Raymond Bonner is a New York Times correspondent living in London.
5-VIII-08, Raymond Bonner, iht.com