Frontline Pakistan : The Path to Catastrophe and the Killing of Benazir Bhutto Paperback
After the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan stands on the edge of an abyss, in to which it may plunge the world.
As this nuclear power nation, the front line of the West's struggle against Al Qaeda, enters the worst political crisis in its history, Zahid Hussain's acclaimed and updated book unravels the key questions: who really controls the country?
Will Pakistan be Talibanized? Has Al Qaeda infilitrated the state?After 9/11, Pakistan's controversial President, Pervez Musharraf stunned the world by announcing his support for America's 'War on Terror'.
But in Pakistan, as Zahid Hussain reveals, nothing is as it seems.Hussain documents for the first time in detail the incestuous relationship between Pakistan's jihadis and its all-powerful military intelligence agency - the ISI.Based on exclusive interviews with key players, he shows us the fall-out from Musharraf's momentous decision to support America.
He penetrates the jihadi networks, revealing their sources of funding, and their links with the Taliban and Al Qaeda. From the dangerous mountain passes of Waziristan to the mess tables of Rawalpindi and the sectarian madrassas of the Punjab, Hussain portrays a country which was already seething with unrest before political violence claimed its highest profile victim in December 2007.As Hussain shows, whoever was behind the assasination of Benazir Bhutto, its main effect has been to accelerate the country's fragmentation, creating a level of uncertainty and chaos from which only extremists and terrorists can benefit.
Whatever lies in wait for Pakistan - Talibanization, civil war or worse - it will have grave implications for the entire world.
- Format: Paperback
- Pages: 240 pages
- Publisher: I.B.Tauris & Co Ltd.
- Publication Date: 30/01/2008
- Category: Asian history
- ISBN: 9781845118020
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Review by iftyzaidi
There’s a passage on page 139 in my edition of this riveting and informative look at militancy and the War on Terror in Pakistan that throws light on the international kerfuffle that started brewing after Osama Bin Laden was executed by US special forces in the Pakistani city of Abottabad a couple of weeks ago:“The possibility of seizing bin Laden presented a serious dilemma for (Pakistani President) Musharraf. While his capture would further boost US support for the Pakistani President, it could also cause a serious public backlash. The Islamists could use the issue to whip up anti-government and anti-American sentiments in the country and this might have been one of the reasons behind the insistence by Musharraf and other senior Pakistani government officials that bin Laden was not in the country, and their attempts to keep Pakistan’s participation in the manhunt as low-key as possible. In an interview with Time magazine in October 2005, Musharraf acknowledged that he was not eager for bin Laden to be caught in his country. ‘One would prefer that he is captured somewhere outside Pakistan, by some other people,’ he said.”Ironically, 6 years after the interview and following a massive surge in militant attacks on Pakistani civilians, Bin Laden’s death went largely un-mourned in Pakistan, while the circumstances in which he was living, and the manner in which he was killed, seems to be leading to a meltdown in relations between the USA and Pakistan, the two countries most deeply involved in the War on Terror. As the headline in a Pakistani daily ruefully noted the day after the raid, ‘Even in Death, Osama Haunts Pakistan’. But to what extent are American accusations of Pakistani duplicity true and how realistic are their exhortations to the Pakistani military to do more? And to what extent is the Pakistani assertion that they are fighting and suffering and sacrificing their own national interests for the sake of America’s war true? This book does much to illuminate both these questions and the contours of their answers.Frontline Pakistan has been on my radar for a while now. It was first published in 2006, with a slightly revised paperback edition released in 2008, after the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. The bulk of it deals with the events in Pakistan between 9/11 2001 and 2006. I was finally prompted me into picking it up after I bought the author’s follow-up book, The Scorpion’s Tail: The Relentless Rise of Islamic Militants in Pakistan which focuses on events from 2006 to 2010.The rise of Islamist militancy in Pakistan can be traced back to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 and the decision by the United States and Saudi Arabia to make use of Pakistani military dictator Zia-ul Haq and his covert intelligence organization, the ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) to create and nurture an Afghan ‘Islamic’ resistance to the communists. Billions of dollars worth of arms and training were poured into recruiting young Afghans from the refugee camps that had been set up for Afghans fleeing the Soviet invasion. The call for Jihad was promoted around the world by networks of mosques and religious schools funded and controlled by Saudi oil money, so that impressionable young men from around the Muslim world traveled to Pakistan to participate in the war against Godless communism (This was how Al-Qaeda was founded). Once the war was won and the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989, the Americans declared victory and left, Afghanistan descended into a bloody civil war, which would eventually be all but won by the Taliban, and this apparatus of holy war was put into use by the ISI for its own regional goals (mainly to try and force India to withdraw from Kashmir). Meanwhile Al-Qaeda lived on in Afghanistan and turned its guns on the USA. After 9/11 the USA returned to the region with a vengeance, seeking to destroy Al-Qaeda and bringing down the Taliban regime that had sheltered it. In this war, Pakistan could either side with the Americans, or the Taliban. It tried to do both.For a while this strategy of running with the hares and hunting with the hounds seemed to be work. While helping the US in hunting down Al-Qaeda members (a hunt which is well chronicled, and which after 2002 finds most Al-Qaeda high-ups hiding out in Pakistan’s teeming cities, not in isolated caves as the popular imagination usually pictures), the ISI also tries to shelter certain sections of the Taliban, with an eye to what would happen in Afghanistan after the Americans left. But after a few years the strategy starts to break down and the cross-pollination of Islamist militant groups means that the Pakistani division between good militants and bad militants makes less and less sense. Militants of all stripes increasingly started turning their guns on Pakistan. The mess is made worse by military dictator Pervez Musharraf’s reliance on right-wing (including Islamist) political parties to stay in power, despite himself being resolutely secular in his personal life. Under American pressure to ‘do more’, he launches a military crackdown on the Tribal Areas – large, mountainous wilderlands on the border with Afghanistan ruled not by Pakistani law but the Pashtun tribal system, where militants have taken shelter after being driven out of Afghanistan. This leads to virtual civil war and growing disquiet within the army about fighting its own people at the behest of an outside power.So to answer the questions posed above it would seem as if on the one hand Pakistan's involvement in America's war in the region has done much to destabilize the country and lead to a great deal of Pakistani deaths and suffering - something does not quiet get the appreciation it deserves or even needs in the USA given that Pakistan is after all a nuclear-armed state. Meanwhile the idea that Islamic militants can and should be fostered as military assets for geo-strategic reasons is increasingly revealed as a terrible idea and must be re-thought by the Pakistani military - as is the idea that the violence within Pakistan will simply die out once America leaves the region. Pakistan does need to be more proactive in addressing the militant threat.There’s far more to the story than can comfortably fit in a summary here. But rest assured by the end of the book one is left shaking one’s held at the growing sense that things are going well and truly wrong. Zahid Hussain, who is an excellent journalist, is well connected and has good sources both in the military and outside it. The book is well organized and very, very informative and was deservingly selected as a Wall Street Journal Book of the Year. I’m fairly well read on the region and the topic and I would say this is the best single summary of the War on Terror in Pakistan in this period. I’m certainly looking forward to reading The Scorpion’s Tail now.