Consulting the crystal ball: Pakistan on the Brink by Ahmed Rashid

Pakistan on the Brink: The Future of America, Pakistan and AfghanistanYears ago at a used book sale I picked up a paperback copy of Ahmed Rashid’s Jihad: The Rise of Militant Islam in Central Asia. After letting it collect dust in my bookshelf for who knows long, one day I finally pulled it out and began reading it. Published in 2002, I found the book to be straight-up, no-frills but considerably detailed and insightful look at the five former Soviet Republics of Central Asia. Fast forward to the present and what did I come across in the new books section of my public library but Rashid’s 2012 book Pakistan on the Brink: The Future of America, Pakistan and Afghanistan. In this most recent book by Rashid, as its subtitle declares, by carefully examining the words and actions of political leaders as well as events on the ground, weighs in on the future of both countries as United States and allied troops slowly but surely begin to leave Afghanistan, while at the same time US policy makers reassess our nation’s relationship with Pakistan-a relationship  complicated by a number of factors including the killing of Osama bin Laden, a growing Islamic militancy within Pakistan and an overall inability of Pakistani leaders and institutions to create an orderly, democratic and cohesive nation-state.

Just like his 2002 effort Jihad, I found Pakistan on the Brink to be informative but not dry and even though it didn’t keep me on the edge of my seat, nevertheless I found it readable. For years a respected journalist and contributor to a number of top-flight publications like the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and the Financial Times I suspect those journalistic bona fides provide him with access to many of the world’s movers and shakers, since Rashid spends no small amount of time analyzing high-level discussions and interviewing significant leaders. (By the end of the book I began to see him as a kind of Pakistani Bob Woodward or Seymour Hersh.) While he, just like British journalist James Fergusson, favors negotiating with the Afghan Taliban, he unlike Fergusson doesn’t white-wash their violent history. And while Rashid seems considerably less passionate than his fellow Pakistani writer Tariq Ali, he’s also less opinionated and ideological. Plus, I found Ali’s 2008 book The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power a bit disjointed and poorly edited. Thankfully Rashid’s book is not.

My old professor of Latin American politics used to say there’s no assurance in politics. Honestly, who knows what the future holds for Pakistan and Afghanistan. But I have confidence that if anyone can help show us the way, it’s probably Ahmed Rashid.

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