A dispassionate analysis of the most sensitive region in the context of extremism in the world, the book, coming from the former foreign secretary of Pakistan, is a breath of fresh air in the plethora of literature on the subject. Without prejudice for or against Pakistan, the book is an exception to the usually mundane literature produced by the former Pakistani diplomats. Then, it is not sensational but rather precise in giving a cool-headed analysis of the current situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Divided into three parts, with a dose of history in the first part, it delves into the origin of the intellectual crisis gripping Pakistan in the second part and leads to the author’s perspective on the possible recipe for resolution of the issue in the region. One doesn’t see the usual Pakistani narrative of being threatened by India as a reason for becoming a security state. The author, instead, focuses on the internal dynamics of the Pakistani politics, the weakness of its political institutions, the role of its military elite and the subsequent Afghan jihad as the reason for this development. India, while playing a part in this development, has not been singled out as the sole factor of this degeneration. He specially mentions the role of General Zia ul Haq, the Pakistani dictator in 1980s, in the drastic radicalization of the Pakistani society. General Zia introduced the draconian Hudood laws in Pakistan and supported the religious organizations, including the militant ones, for his own convictions and political expediency. The Americans and the Saudis in particular supported this phenomenon to counter the former USSR in Afghanistan. Subsequent policies in Kashmir and Afghanistan in 1990s, dictated by the army in Pakistan, only aggravated the situation. Taliban and al-Qaeda, were the products of this helpful environment.
In the second part, the author focuses on the prevalent ideological confusion in Pakistan with regard to the nature of extremism and the likely responses to it. The author goes back to the origin of the militancy, starting with the student wings of the religious parties on the University campuses in Pakistan. These outfits gained strength during the dictatorship of General Zia in 1980s. Encouragement by the state also led to gradual increase in influence of the religious organizations within army, bureaucracy and media. A spawning network of the madressas, the religious seminaries, added to the constituency of the religious organizations. This expanded influence resulted in the policy confusion post-9/11, when the Pakistani state had to revisit its policy regarding Afghanistan and India. The state could not own the war on terror as its own for quite some time. This only emboldened the militants, who hid behind the cover of Islam and termed any action against their activities as the steps by a puppet government against Mujahideen at the behest of the Americans. The lack of political direction and army’s fascination with flawed doctrines of strategic depth only added to the procrastination and formation of a national consensus.
After a brief analysis of the interests of the regional countries that peace in Afghanistan is good for all of them. He urges Pakistan not to interfere in the Afghan matters in any way. It should not even ask for a role for itself in the reconciliation process and should only help if asked for it explicitly by Afghanistan. Pakistan’s concerns should be limited to ensure that the Afghan territory is not used for any activity against peace and stability in Pakistan. It should focus more on the development and progress of its people, in which an opening up to the world, including over-land trade between Afghanistan and India will be beneficial to it. The role of the international community, as he sees it in the context of Pakistan, may be restricted to meaningful economic help in terms of market access, health and educational reforms. He singles out Saudis for special responsibility for the de-radicalization of the Paksitani society as he sees their charities and funds as an important factor in promoting extremism in Pakistan.
Afghanistan, he believes, will need some time to consolidate on its own. The drawdown of the US’ forces will be helpful in creating an environment for reconciliation efforts of the Afghan government to succeed. Exclusion of the Taliban from the political setup, he says, never was an option. Similarly, the NATO’s plans for raising a 250,000 strong Afghan-national army were unrealistic in view of the poor economic conditions of the country. He foresees a loose arrangement of quasi-autonomous regions under influence of various tribes owing allegiance to Kabul as a short term arrangement.
The book is highly recommended for anyone interested in the region.