Pakistan is the sixth most populous country in the world. It is the only Islamic state to have nuclear weapons. Its border with Afghanistan extends over one thousand miles and is the likely hideout of Osama bin Laden. It has been under military dictatorship for thirty-three of its fiftyyear existence. Yet it is the linchpin in the United States' war on terror, receiving over $10 billion of American aid since 2001 and purchasing more than $5 billion of U.S. weaponry in 2006 alone.
These days, relations between the two countries are never less than tense. Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf reported that U.S. deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage threatened to "bomb Pakistan back to the Stone Age" if it did not commit fully to the alliance in the wake of 9/11. Presidential hopeful Barack Obama said he would have no hesitation in bombing Al Qaeda inside the country, "with or without" approval of the Pakistani government. Recent surveys show that more than 70 percent of Pakistanis fear the United States as a military threat to their country.
The Bush administration spent much of 2007 promoting a "dream ticket" of Musharraf and Benazir Bhutto to run Pakistan together. That strategy, with Bhutto assassinated and the general's party winning less than 15 percent of the contested seats in the 2008 election, is now in tatters.
With increasingly bold attacks by Taliban supporters in the border regions threatening to split the Pakistan army, with the only political alternatives -- Nawaz Sharif and Benazir's widower Asif Ali Zardari -- being as corrupt as the regime they seek to replace, and with a newly radicalized movement of lawyers testing its strength as championsof the rule of law, the chances of sustained stability in Pakistan look slim.
The scion of a famous Punjabi political family, with extraordinary contacts inside the country and internationally, Tariq Ali has long been acknowledged as a leading commentator on Pakistan. In these pages he combines deep understanding of the country's history with extensive firsthand research and unsparing political judgment to weigh the prospects of those contending for power today. The labyrinthine path between a secure world and global conflagration runs right through Pakistan. No one is better placed to trace its contours.read more
Reviews forThe Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power
Tariq Ali has become an institution in of himself and therein lies the strength and weakness of this book. By now anyone with even a fleeting acquaintance with his articles, books, speeches or political activism will know more or less what to expect – a scathing leftist critique of the Pakistani governing elite and of US foreign policy mixed in with a generalized summary of the history of the relationship between the two countries. The problem is that the critique itself is so generalized that one starts to feel that it lacks incisiveness. Its not that I necessarily disagree with what Ali says but when he paints with such broad brush strokes, there isn’t really a great deal of substance to engage critically with. The problem is that Tariq Ali is not a journalist and comes across as somewhat out of touch with the day to day evolution of the troublesome Pakistani-American relationship since 9/11. In fact the book is strongest when he recounts events that he has a first-hand knowledge of (his description of students organizing for political agitation in the lead up to the Bangladeshi war of independence in 1971 for example) or his conversations with those great icons of disappointed liberal Pakistani aspirations – Zulfiqar and Benazir Bhutto.Its difficult to say who precisely will get the most out of this book. Someone looking for a readable and general summary of the Pakistani-American relationship and its effects on Pakistan could do worse than pick this up, though those looking for nuance might be frustrated by some sweeping assertions presented as indisputable fact. Those looking for a comprehensive or detailed account will probably not get what they want here, while specialists in the region will find little that is new (with the possible exceptions where Tariq Ali writes of his own experiences). I suspect the readers who will get the most out of the book will be those who already essentially agree with Tariq Ali’s analysis and are looking for an eloquent articulation of the views they already hold – that the ruling American and Pakistani elites are locked in an mutually beneficial relationship which has proved in the case of Pakistan to be disastrous for the country, strangling the development of democratic institutions and progressive social movements.read more
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