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Descent Into Chaos: The United States and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asiaby Ahmed Rashid
Synopses & Reviews
The #1 New York Times bestselling author provides a shocking analysis of the crisis in Pakistan and the renewed radicalism threatening Afghanistan and the West.
Ahmed Rashid is “Pakistan’s best and bravest reporter” (Christopher Hitchens). His unique knowledge of this vast and complex region allows him a panoramic vision and nuance that no Western writer can emulate.
His book Taliban first introduced American readers to the brutal regime that hijacked Afghanistan and harbored the terrorist group responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Now, Rashid examines the region and the corridors of power in Washington and Europe to see how the promised nation building in these countries has pro-gressed. His conclusions are devastating: An unstable and nuclear-armed Pakistan, a renewed al’ Qaeda profiting from a booming opium trade, and a Taliban resurgence and reconquest. While Iraq continues to attract most of American media and military might, Rashid argues that Pakistan and Afghanistan are where the conflict will finally be played out and that these failing states pose a graver threat to global security than the Middle East.
Benazir Bhutto’s assassination and the crisis in Pakistan are only the beginning. Rashid assesses what her death means for the region and the future. Rashid has unparalleled access to the figures in this global drama, and provides up-to-the-minute analysis better than anyone else. Descent Into Chaos will do for Central Asia what Thomas Rick’s Fiasco did for Iraq — offer a blistering critique of the Bush administration and an impassioned call to correct our failed strategy in the region.
"Long overshadowed by the Iraq War, the ongoing turmoil in Afghanistan and Central Asia finally receives a searching retrospective as Rashid (Taliban) surveys the region to reveal a thicket of ominous threats and lost opportunities — in Pakistan, a rickety dictatorship colludes with militants, and Afghanistan's weak government is besieged by warlords, an exploding drug economy and a powerful Taliban insurgency. The author blames the unwillingness of American policymakers to shoulder the burden of nation building. According to Rashid, the U.S. invaded Afghanistan and subsequently refused to commit the forces and money needed to rebuild it; instead the U.S. government made corrupt alliances with warlords to impose a superficial calm, while continuing to ignore the Pakistani government's support of the Taliban and the other Islamic extremists who have virtually taken over Pakistan's western provinces. With his unparalleled access to sources — 'I constantly berated [Afghan President] Karzai for his failure to understand the usefulness of political parties' — Rashid is an authoritative guide to the region's politics and his is an insightful, at times explosive, indictment of the U.S. government's hand in the region's degeneration. (June)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
There was a brief period after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, when history seemed to offer Afghanistan a chance for deliverance from years of bloodshed and draconian rule. In short order, American and Afghan forces routed the Taliban regime. The military rulers of neighboring Pakistan reversed policy and embraced the Western war on terror. International support poured in to both countries,... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) Afghanistan held elections, and hopes for political and economic modernization surged. In "Descent into Chaos," Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid lays out the policies, prejudices and plots that sabotaged those hopes. His title may seem melodramatic, but it becomes less so with each new report of suicide bombings, drug trafficking and U.S. casualties in Afghanistan, as well as of militant attacks and creeping Talibanization in Pakistan. Much of the factual material here is not new, and at times Rashid falls into I-told-you-so mode. A keen observer of regional politics, he recognized sooner than most of us that the momentary promise of 2002 could be undermined by American shortsightedness, Pakistani perfidy and Afghan exhaustion. But the value of "Descent into Chaos" is its compelling narrative, laced with tantalizing insights into the regional leaders who reinvented themselves as the Cold War gave way to the war on terror. Rashid notes, for example, that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed — the terrorist who confessed to masterminding the 9/11 attacks and decapitating Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl — had been, in the 1980s, a close aide to an anti-Soviet Afghan militia leader on the CIA payroll. Rashid's sharpest criticism is of Pakistan's military and its murky covert arm, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), which he blames for sabotaging democracy, fomenting Islamic extremism and pursuing a destructive foreign policy based on fear of India and development of nuclear weapons. It was one thing to send young jihadis abroad to fight in Kashmir or Kandahar, but by 2004, when terrorists began beheading tribal elders and bombing military convoys inside Pakistan, he writes, "it was clear that the ISI no longer controlled the monster of extremism it had created." As Rashid sees it, the Bush administration was both accomplice and victim of Pakistan's two-faced strategy after 9/11. For six years, he writes, Washington ignored a litany of abuses and blunders under Gen. Pervez Musharraf as long as he cooperated in the hunt for al-Qaeda. The ISI seized this opportunity, offering up terrorist suspects to the United States while secretly sponsoring Taliban insurgents and making deals with militants in Pakistan's tribal belt. Meanwhile, Rashid writes, U.S. officials committed their own mistakes. One was the decision to eschew "nation building" and rely on Afghan warlords to keep order in the hinterlands. Pocketing millions in CIA handouts, these militia leaders extorted and bullied their way back into power, enriching themselves while most Afghans struggled in poverty. A second U.S. error was to declare victory too soon and ignore evidence that the revived Taliban movement was gaining strength. Rashid portrays Afghan President Hamid Karzai as charming but weak. In a telling anecdote, he describes the newly installed Karzai greeting his first defense minister, a former warlord who had once held him prisoner. As Karzai stepped off a plane in Kabul in December 2001, the militia boss asked him, "Where are your men?" With a disarming smile, Karzai replied, "Why general, you are my men, all of you." In "Crossed Swords," Pakistani American scholar Shuja Nawaz fleshes out the history of the Pakistani army in a dense but carefully researched book that bolsters several of Rashid's key points. Both authors conclude that the military domination of Pakistani society has stunted the country's political growth, and that the army's obsession with Indian hegemony has perverted relations with neighbors and allies. On the other hand, Nawaz is generally supportive of the Pakistani military as an institution. He comes from a family of officers and dedicates the book in part to his brother, Gen. Asif Nawaz, who died of a heart attack in 1993 while serving as Pakistan's army chief. The author portrays Asif as liberal and incorruptible, and he argues that the gradual replacement of such old-school, British-educated officers with political intriguers and Islamists is what poisoned Pakistan's relationship with Afghanistan. Like Rashid, Nawaz explores the flaws in U.S. and Pakistani thinking that helped allow the Taliban's comeback. To Pakistan, the Afghan militants and their ethnic Pashtun supporters were a bulwark against India; to the Bush administration, they were a junior menace compared to the high-priority goal of catching Osama bin Laden. The United States was quietly dealing with the Taliban until 9/11, and Pakistan actively assisted its leaders long after publicly shunning them. The upshot of all this, Rashid concludes, is looming disaster. As popular frustration with corruption and insecurity grows among Afghans, the Taliban's tentacles have reached further into their society. U.S. military forces in Afghanistan have been thinned by the conflict in Iraq, while NATO troops are hamstrung by rules of engagement imposed by European governments, making them seem like "scared rabbits." Both Afghanistan and Pakistan are now governed by civilians, but they are still at each other's throats. And although U.S. officials have belatedly realized that the insurgents are a serious threat, it may be too late for the anti-corruption reforms, security improvements and more visible aid delivery that could have sapped their popular support. Millions of dollars have been spent and thousands of lives sacrificed, Rashid writes, while Muslim states are failing, Islamic terror is spreading, and U.S. credibility lies in ruins across Central Asia and the Mideast. We can only hope that his thesis, like his book's title, is a deliberately overstated warning rather than an accurate prediction of what is to come. Pamela Constable, a Washington Post staff writer, has reported frequently from Pakistan and Afghanistan since 1998. Reviewed by Pamela Constable, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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The #1 "New York Times"-bestselling author provides a shocking analysis of the crisis in Pakistan and the renewed radicalism threatening Afghanistan and the West.
An urgent, on-the-ground report from Pakistanandmdash;from the bestselling author of Descent Into Chaos and Taliban
Ahmed Rashid, one of the world's leading experts on the social and political situations in Pakistan and Afghanistan, offers a highly anticipated update on the possibilitiesandmdash;and hazardsandmdash;facing the United States after the death of Osama bin Laden and as Operation Enduring Freedom winds down. With the characteristic professionalism that has made him the preeminent independent journalist in Pakistan for three decades, Rashid asks the important questions and delivers informed insights about the future of U.S. relations with the troubled region. His most urgent book to date, Pakistan on the Brink is the third volume in a comprehensive series that is a call to action to our nation's leaders and an exposition of this conflict's impact on the security of the world.
After September 11th , Ahmed Rashid's crucial book Taliban introduced American readers to that now notorious regime. In this new work, he returns to Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia to review the catastrophic aftermath of America's failed war on terror. Called "Pakistan's best and bravest reporter" by Christopher Hitchens, Rashid has shown himself to be a voice of reason amid the chaos of present-day Central Asia. Descent Into Chaos is his blistering critique of American policy-a dire warning and an impassioned call to correct these disasterous strategies before these failing states threaten global stability and bring devastation to our world.
About the Author
Ahmed Rashid is a Pakistani journalist based in Lahore who writes for the The Washington Post, Daily Telegraph (London), the International Herald Tribune, The New York Review of Books, BBC Online, and The Nation. His previous books include Jihad, Taliban, and The Resurgence of Cetral Asia. He appears regularly on NPR, CNN, and the BBC World Service.
Table of Contents
Descent into Chaos Maps
Countries and Cities of Central Asia
Ethnic Distribution Within Pakistan and Afghanistan
Afghan Provinces and Federally Administered Tribal Areas
NATO Deployment and Provincial Reconstruction Team Locations in Afghanistan, 2007
Opium Poppy Cultivation in Afghanistan, 2007
Military Offensives Launched by the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan, 2007-2008
Imperial Overreach and Nation Building
Part One: 9/11 And War
1. A Man With A Mission
The Unending Conflict in Afghanistan
2. "The U.S. Will Act Like a Wounded Bear"
Pakistan's Long Search for Its Soul
3. The Chief Executive's Schizophrenia
Pakistan, the United Nations, and the United States Before 9/11
Retaliation and Invasion
5. The Search for a Settlement
Afghanistan and Pakistan at Odds
Part Two: The Politics of the Post-9/11 World
6. A Nuclear State of Mind
India, Pakistan, and the War of Permanent Instability
7. The One-Billion-Dollar Warlords
The War Within Afghanistan
8. Musharraf's Lost Moment
Political Expediency and Authoritarian Rule
Part Three: The Failure of Nation Building
9. Afghanistan I
10. Afghanistan II
11. Double-Dealing with Islamic Extremism
Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistan
12. Taliban Resurgent
The Taliban Return Home
Part Four: Descent Into Chaos
13. Al Qaeda's Bolt-Hole
Pakistan's Tribal Areas
14. America Shows The Way
The Disappeared and the Rendered
15. Drugs and Thugs
Opium Fuels the Insurgency
16. Who Lost Uzbekistan?
Tyranny in Central Asia
17. The Taliban Offensive
Battling for Control of Afghanistan, 2006-2007
18. The Death of an Icon
Pakistan Struggles to Survive
A Fragile Future
What Our Readers Are Saying
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History and Social Science » Asia » Central Asia