Magazine article The Spectator

Dangerous Territory

Magazine article The Spectator

Dangerous Territory

Article excerpt

Pakistan on the Brink by Ahmed Rashid Penguin, £20, pp. 256, ISBN 9781846145858

Fifteen years ago Ahmed Rashid wrote an original, groundbreaking and wonderful book about the Taleban, a subject about which few people at the time knew or cared.

Then along came 9/11 and Rashid turned overnight from obscure scribbler into global sage. He was courted (as he reminds us from time to time in this book) by presidents and celebrated by Washington think-tanks. But all this recognition, while well deserved, has had a terrible effect on his prose.

Instead of writing very good books, he now writes very bad ones. His Descent into Chaos, published in 2008, an account of the years after 9/11, was ponderous and loaded with received wisdom. This volume is no better. Rashid has ceased to be a subversive reporter and instead has swallowed almost entire the conventional categorisation of the war on terror. Writing in the breezy tones of an astute western diplomat, he does not see Afghanistan and Pakistan on their own terms but rather as inert subjects for western intervention. Thus, he chides the United States and Nato for failing to 'create' an indigenous Afghan economy. He has embraced the jargon of the visiting expert, calling for a 'multi-dimensional political, diplomatic, economic and military strategy'. Rashid, a native of Pakistan, has been converted to the lofty world-view of Washington and London. Pakistan, he asserts, as become 'an abnormal state that uses Islamic militants - jihadi groups, non-state actors - in addition to diplomacy and trade to pursue its defence and foreign policies'.

Had he given this claim more than a moment's thought he would have realised it made no sense. For decades the United States, Britain, Iran, Saudi Arabia, India and Israel have pursued foreign policy aims by proxy.

There is nothing abnormal in Pakistan doing the same, and deeply unfair to single it out.

He buys wholesale into George W. Bush's vision of the war on terror. 'After al-Qa'eda's attack on the US mainland, ' writes Rashid in a section criticising the obdurate Pakistan military establishment, 'the world was clearly going to consider Islamic extremism the new enemy, and the United States would clearly use that threat to justify military intervention in other states. …

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