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Ahmed Rashid, Descent into Chaos: The United States and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia (New York: Viking, June 2008). [A revised edition was published by Penguin in April 2009, retitled Descent into Chaos: The U.S. and the Disaster in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia.]
[Thesis. This book about South and Central Asia (referred to in this volume as "the region) is "a mixture of reportage, analysis, and the accumulation of decades of knowledge and experience traveling in the region and to Western capitals"(xl). Its "attempt to define history in the making . . . shows how the United States ignored consolidating South and Central Asia—the homeland of global terrorism—in favor of invading Iraq" (xl-xli). This "tragedy" was due to neoconservatives; now "American power lies shattered. The U.S. Army is overstretched and broken, the American people are disillusioned and rudderless, U.S. credibility lies in ruins, and the world is a far more dangerous place" (lvii).] Maps. 6 maps. Glossary. 11 pp. Acronyms. 2 pp. Introduction: Imperial Overreach and Nation Building. The U.S.'s post-9/11 invasion failed to realize its aims and created a regional crisis, and the prospect of "state failure" now faces all the countries of the region (xxxvii-xl). The U.S. devoted to Iraq resources it should have devoted to South and Central Asia (xli). "[C]ompared to what is at stake in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Iraq may well turn out to be a mere sideshow" (xlii). Rashid supported the war in Afghanistan in 2001 as "a just war and not an imperialist intervention, because only external intervention could save the Afghan people from the Taliban and al Qaeda and prevent the spread of al Qaeda ideology" (xliii). Review of the recent history of the region and how the reign of the Pentagonenabling neoconservatives in Washington affected politics both in the region and at home (where they "aimed to terrify the American public" [xlviii]) while ignoring the need to facilitate nation building in Ch. 2: "The U.S. Will Act like a Wounded Bear": Pakistan's Long Search for Its Soul. After 9/11, Pakistan adopted a "Yesbut" approach to cooperation with the U.S. (24-33). A review of Pakistan's history, with emphasis on the "long-lasting and damaging effect on Pakistani society" of the 11-year rule (1978-1988) of Gen. Zia, who claimed to have "a mission, given, by God, to bring Islamic order to Pakistan," and who enjoyed "unstinting support" from the Reagan administration (37; 38; 33-43). Ch. 3: The Chief Executive's Schizophrenia: Pakistan, the United Nations, and the United States before 9/11. After seizing power in a 1999 coup, Musharraf backed the Afghan Taliban unstintingly (44-60). Ch. 4: Attack! Retaliation and Invasion. The U.S. plan of attack on Afghanistan was an attempt by the CIA to recover its standing post-9/11, but neoconservative leadership resulted in a crucial failures (61-70). Setting up nearby bases in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan to support its invasion of Afghanistan, "[t]he United States had arrived in Central Asia— Afghanistan, which could have been done for $4-5bn a year (xliii-lviii). PART ONE: 9/11 AND WAR Ch. 1: A Man with a Mission: The Unending Conflict in Afghanistan. Hamid Karzai (b. 1957) visited the author six weeks before 9/11 (3-6). Geography and history of Afghanistan (6-13). Karzai on the Taliban: "They were good people initially, but the tragedy was that very soon after [I helped them] they were taken over by the ISI [Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence, a powerful paramilitary intelligence agency] and became a proxy" (13). The U.S. ignored the growth of al Qaeda's influence with the Taliban, despite warnings (13-23).
the first Western army to penetrate the region since the Greek armies of Alexander the Great" (70). But Pakistan's ISI was playing a double game (70-83). Ch. 5: The Search for a Settlement: Afghanistan and Pakistan at Odds. When invading Afghanistan, "[t]he Americans had decided to give an unprecedented commitment to Karzai as the only Pashtun fighting the Taliban and a potential leader of the country" (86). The Taliban's killing of Abdul Haq (87-88). Pakistan facilitated the "Great Escape" of Taliban during the invasion (89-93). Massacres (93-95). Karzai's actions (95-96). Military analysis (97-98). Gen. Tommy Franks allowed bin Laden to escape but denied it during the 2004 presidential campaign (98-100). The U.S. installed Karzai in power (101-06). PART TWO: THE POLITICS OF THE POST9/11 WORLD Ch. 6: A Nuclear State of Mind: India, Pakistan, and the War of Permanent Instability. The dispute over Kashmir is "crucial" to the region's stability, but no U.S. administration has ever recognized this (10924). "After 9/11, India was stunned at how easily and quickly the United States embraced Pakistan as a strategic ally" (115). But Pakistan "lost the war of influence in Washington, as the United States built a new and long-lasting relationship with India, which had become the main U.S. ally in the region" (123). Ch. 7: The One-Billion-Dollar Warlords: The War within Afghanistan. In 2002, in the aftermath of the war, the U.S. institutionalized divisions among prosperous warlords, while Karzai lacked state income; the U.S. under Rumsfeld, who operated independently, "legalize[d] warlord authority" and funded them through the CIA's $1bn budget—his "most fatal mistake" (135; 125-39). A Loya Jirga held in Germany elected Karzai president in June 2002 (13944). Ch. 8: Musharraf's Lost Moment: Political Expediency and Authoritarian Rule. In Pakistan, the ISI continued its
double game (145-51). The kidnapping and killing of Daniel Pearl in 2002 was followed by a wave of terror attacks (151-57). The success of an anti-American party, Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) shocked the ISI (15761). The U.S. set up bases in Central Asia, esp. Uzbekistan (161-68). PART THREE: THE FAILURE OF NATION BUILDING Ch. 9: Afghanistan I: Economic Reconstruction. Bush allowed a Presidential Decision Directive establishing an interagency process for nation building to expire (171-73). The good advice of the author was ignored (173-75). A genuine opportunity for rebuilding was tragically lost for lack of leadership (176-82). There were a few successful programs (182-87). "The real hindrance was still the CIA" (185). Zalmay Khalilzad was not up to speed (188-89). There was no "coordination with European countries, the UN, or even the Afghan government" (190; 190-95). Ch. 10: Afghanistan II: Rebuilding Security. At a 2002 G8 meeting, the U.S. shocked other countries by saying it would not get involved in nation building in Afghanistan (197). Inadequate Provincial Reconstruction Teams were later set up, but were underfunded (197-201). Building an Afghan army, and, more importantly, a police force, proved difficult (201-05). The Afghan government was riven with factions (206-09). The U.S. interfered with a U.N. program to disarm warlords (209-11). A "modern and democratic" constitution was adopted in January 2004 (211-18). Ch. 11: Double-Dealing with Islamic Extremism: Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistan. The ISI continued to help the Taliban (219-22). The capture on Mar. 28, 2002, and subsequent torture of Abu Zubaydah led to the capture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed on Mar. 1, 2003 (224-26). "To this day none of the Islamic parties making up the MMA acknowledge the existence of al Qaeda and they maintain that 9/11 was carried out by the CIA and Israel" and they were not contradicted by Musharraf (227; 227-29). U.S. forces grew increasingly impatient with Pakistani assistance to extremists (229). Assassination attempts on
Musharraf frightened the West (230-33). Pakistan's problematic educational system (234-36). The A.Q. Khan scandal broke in the spring of 2004 (236). A new terrorist group formed by well-educated professionals, Jundallah, emerged (237). Pakistani politics (238-39). Ch. 12: Taliban Resurgent: The Taliban Returns Home. The Taliban regrouped and returned to the field in 2003 in Helmand and Zabul provinces, but the U.S. was preoccupied with Iraq (240-49). "The Taliban leaders treated Quetta [in Pakistan] as their new capital" (250). They were no more sophisticated in 2004 than in 1994 (251). The U.S. was complacent (252-53). Afghan elections (254-61). PART FOUR: DESCENT INTO CHAOS Ch. 13: Al Qaeda's Bolt-Hole: Pakistan's Tribal Areas. Pakistan's FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) (265-67). After the 1947 Partition, Afghanistan refused to recognize the Durand Line (the border drawn in 1893 by Sir Mortimer Durand) (267-68). South Waziristan was al Qaeda's first sanctuary (268-70). Pakistan's first move against al Qaeda in March 2004 failed disastrously (270-71). U.S. involvement in the area (via Pakistan) was incompetent and helped Islamist forces (272-74). Fighting led to a stalemate (274-76). Enmity between Karzai and Musharraf (277-78). "Almost all latter-day al Qaeda terrorist plots around the world had a FATA connection" (278; 278-80). Pakistan's army had ceased looking for bin Laden after 2004; the al Qaeda menace was growing again (280-82). Balochistan is markedly secular (283-87). Pakistan's nuclear program (287-90). "Musharraf's most significant achievement in this period was to convince the army of the need for peace with India and a resolution of the Kashmir dispute" (291). An October 2005 earthquake in northern Pakistan killed 73,000 people; extremist groups took the opportunity to reactivate as NGOs providing relief (291-92). Ch. 14: America Shows the Way: The Disappeared and the Rendered. The disavowal of the Geneva Conventions "was a step backward for the United States" that was part of a neoconservative project to
expand the authority of the executive (293; 293-97). U.S. handling of prisoners; torture (297-307). "Pakistan's military regime learned American methods most quickly" (307; 307-10). Human rights abuses in Uzbekistan (310-11). Uighurs (311-12). Guantanamo's "monstrosity" (312-16). Ch. 15: Drugs and Thugs: Opium Fuels the Insurgency. Afghanistan is the world's largest heroin provider; the drug trade is centered in Helmand, in the 1960s a bastion of Western-style progress (317-25). U.S. & U.K. efforts to address opium poppy cultivation were ineffectual; Karzai shares the blame (325-32).Drug money's role in elections (332-37). Ch. 16: Who Lost Uzbekistan? Tyranny in Central Asia. The overthrow of Kyrgyz's president in 2005 (338-40). Turkmenistan (341). A major crisis in Uzbekistan; the U.S. lacked a strategy (341-48). Ch. 17: The Taliban Offensive: Battling for Control of Afghanistan, 2006-2007. Joschka Fischer played a key role in NATO's August 2003 assumption of the Afghan war as a way to compensate for Germany's opposition to the Iraq war (349-51). But it proved difficult to find soldiers, and Rumsfeld announced U.S. troop cuts in Afghanistan from 19,000 to 16,000 in February 2005, at an inopportune moment (351-54). NATO troops "acted like scared rabbits" (354; 35458). NATO intelligence on the Taliban was appallingly bad (359-60). Unwillingness to take casualties led to a reliance on air power that alienated the population (361-62). The Taliban began to set up alternative institutions of government, the war began again, and links to Pakistan were unmistakable (362-71). Problems led to a crisis inside NATO (371-73). Ch. 18: Conclusion: The Death of an Icon and a Fragile Future. The assassination of Benazir Bhutto on Dec. 27, 2007 (374-79). The spring 2007 lawyers' demonstrations (380-81). The fall of the Red Mosque in July 2007 (381-83). With the situation unraveling in both Pakistan and Afghanistan, Washington grew concerned (383-93). NATO lacked an overall strategy (393-97). International development plans for Afghanistan were not being coordinated
(397-99). "The Taliban were seeking to outlast NATO, and they were succeeding" (399). "What the country still needed was an effective security apparatus and a functioning judicial and policing system that could face up to the Taliban and deal with local issues such as land disputes and criminality" (400). The West is failing in Afghanistan (400-02). "The region of South and Central Asia will not see stability unless there is a new global compact among the leading players—the United States, the European Union, NATO, and the UN—to help the region resolve its problems, which range from the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan to funding a massive education and job-creating program" (402). Much depends on the new U.S. president (403). Advice for the Pakistani army, the Afghan élite, Central Asia; a call for "greater democracy" (404; 403-04). Acknowledgments. Pashtun researcher Abu Bakr Siddique, without whom the book would have been impossible. Barnett Rubin [an NYU Afghanistan expert], friend and inspiration. Sources; agent; editor; wife who "nursed me back to health through two major illnesses so I could finish the manuscript" (405). Notes. 49 pp. Suggested Reading. 5 pp. (Digging Deeper has read about a dozen of the books mentioned). Index. 22 pp. About the Author. Ahmed Rashid is a mainstream Pakistani journalist. He has written three previous books: The Resurgence of Central Asia (St. Martin's, 1994), Taliban (Yale UP, 2000), and Jihad (Yale UP, 2002). [Additional information. Ahmed Rashid was born in 1948 in Rawalpindi. He attended elite schools in Great Britain, then became
an internationally known journalist reporting for many mainstream publications, notably for the New York Review of Books (22 pieces, 2002-2019); he appears regularly on TV. He lives with his wife and two children in Lahore, Pakistan. His ethnicity is Punjabi. Fellow Cambridge grad William Dalrymple has described Rashid as an "urbane, witty, bookish, Cambridge-educated bon viveur, with a Spanish Galician wife," whose "high spirits can easily make one forget both the immense bravery of his consistently fearless reporting in such a dangerous environment— Rashid was recently sentenced to death in absentia by the Pakistan Taliban—and the deep scholarship and research that give his work its depth" (New York Review of Books, Feb. 12, 2009).] [Critique. Descent into Chaos consists of narrative interspersed with potted history and analysis that is well-informed (Rashid knows and is known by many of the leaders he writes about) but also plodding, highly opinionated, and not very well organized. One can feel Rashid paging through his files, writing summaries of past news developments. Rashid is anything but evenhanded; he is (1) a strong supporter of the 2001 invasion (which denies was imperialist; it would be better to say that Rashid is proimperialist, however, regarding the disintegration of state power as a great evil to be avoided at any cost); (2) a mildly critical admirer and friend of Hamid Karzai: (3) a strong critic of the ISI; (4) a severe critic of subsequent U.S. bungling; (5) an admirer of historic American core values; (6) an enthusiastic admirer of the Afghan constitution; and (7) an urgent proponent of deeper Western involvement in what he calls "the region." — Rashid is a competent writer, but he has not mastered the subtle art of drawing portraits and selecting telling details; as a result there is a flatness to his prose. — There are some curious nearabsences from the narrative in this book; among them are Iran, Israel, and the oil industry.]
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