Sunday, June 29, 2008

Rubin: Ahmed Rashid's New Book, Descent into Chaos

Ahmed Rashid, the Pakistani author of Taliban (the largest selling university press book since the invention of movable type) has published a new book, taking up the story of Afghanistan, its region, and the U.S. where he left off. Descent into Chaos: The United States and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia is, as far as I know, the first attempt at a comprehensive account of international policy toward Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Central Asia since 9/11, and as such is utterly indispensable. (I should note that Ahmed says some nice things about me in the acknowledgments and cites me a few times.)

The book came out in the U.S. on June 3, and Ahmed spent most of the next three weeks touring the U.S. to promote it. For whatever reason, Ahmed's publicist could not manage to get him on Jon Stewart, Steven Colbert, or Oprah, but he did put in appearances on Charlie Rose (video below) and CNN Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer.



Ahmed has since gone on to Canada and the U.K., where his book was reviewed by both the Sunday Times and the Times of London. He was profiled by the New York Times' Jane Perlez for the International Herald Tribune, but as far as I can see this interview never appeared in print on this side of the Atlantic. I find it strange that this first ever comprehensive account of the Bush administration's failure in Afghanistan and the complicity with the Taliban of Pakistan's military regime, written by the author of a former New York Times #1 best-seller, did not receive a single major review in the U.S. The Obama campaign really should mine it -- the book has plenty of evidence to support -- and extend -- the Democratic candidate's criticisms of the Bush administration's failure to focus on Afghanistan and Pakistan. But most of all, anyone even remotely concerned with this region should buy and read it, and then recommend it to any friends and relatives who think they are not concerned with it.

20 comments:

Christian B said...

I guess one obvious factor would be lack of public interest in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia. Another would be that the public prefers un-nuanced attack books by quasi-experts to nuanced critiques by experts.

Too bad he didn't appear on Jon Stewart's show. But The Daily Show, to their credit, did quadruple CBS's Afghanistan coverage for the entire year in one 8 minute segment recently.

Anand said...

Rashid is an amazing author. His book is a must read.

It is important to note that Rashid isn't a pessimist. The Takfiris have many weaknesses that can be targeted.


One major strength that does not get enough attention is the Afghan National Army (even though it remains far too small.) Unfortunately the ANA cannot operate East of the Durand line.

Anonymous said...

I hope that Ahmad Rashid take sufficient note of the fact that when it comes to stablize conditions within Afghanistan, it depends on how much gets to the common Afghan individual from sums earmarked for reconstruction.

Are there any best case studies of
money being well spent either by foreign donors or the local Afghan authorities?

South of Afghanistan is in the most trusted hands Karzai could find i.e. his brother Ahmad Wali Karzai, the governor of Kandahar.
Over a six month period in 2007, Vanity Fair's Sebastian Junger was embedded with the Second Platoon of the 173rd Airborne and was given unprecedented access to the ongoing ground war. In an interview on C-SPAN, Junger shared some candid assessent of what he witnessed first-hand: the daily physical and emotional struggles of these soldiers, some complaining why they need to risk their lives while Wali Karzai raked in the riches by all means fair and foul?
rtsp://video1.c-span.org/
project/ter/ter_wj120907_junger.rm

Do we actually have any place in Afghanistan where good governance is in practice? Until one's own house is put in order, it seems lazy to point a finger at others for one's all follies.

Ron F said...

Anand -

The Afghan National Army (ANA) barely exists. Its only "major strength" is as a black hole sucking in billions of tax dollars to no apparent effect.

As the latest report from the GAO notes -

"The United States has invested over $10 billion to develop the ANA since 2002. However, only 2 of 105 army units are assessed as being fully capable of conducting their primary mission" (1)

The same assessment applies to the Afghan National Police (ANP). Here's the GAO again -

"Since 2002, the United States has provided about $6.2 billion to train and equip the Afghan National Police (ANP). However, as of April 2008, no police unit was assessed as fully capable of performing its mission." (2)

(1) http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d08661.pdf
(2) http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d08883t.pdf

Anonymous said...

Do the fortunes spent to prop up the Afghan Armed Forces bring real value by serving the purpose effectively?

A funding of USD 11 billion was earmarked for indigenous security forces, to be used to train and equip local military and police units in Afghanistan.

An additional sum of up to USD 15 billion are envisaged to be spent 2008–2017 for further boosting Afghanistan's indigenous security forces.

http://www.cbo.gov/ftpdocs/86xx/doc8690/10-24-CostOfWar_Testimony.pdf

A crucial question is what keeps the American soldiers uninformed, unable to mitigate risks hence vulnerable to threats? The episode documented in this clip offers many points to ponder about:

http://influenceops.wordpress.com/2008/06/12/trusted-interpreters/

Are the limitations so poignantly noted in the clip ensue from internal weaknesses and shortcomings or external
dangers. Or do external elements exploit the lack of communication and mistrust to their advantage?

Complementing Rashid's expose, this video clip serves as an eye opener to establish where, after all, the fault really lies. With friends like these, who needs enemies?

Michael A. Innes said...

Dr. Rubin

I noted your entry on Ahmed Rashid's book at the Complex Terrain Lab blog, which earned a response from yet another blogger who commented favorably on Descent into Chaos.

FYI, Rashid is scheduled to speak at London's Frontline Club this week - it'll be interesting to know what he has to say (if anything) about the uneven promotion of his book.

Michael A. Innes
UCL Complex Terrain Lab

m.idrees said...

The Obama campaign really should mine it -- the book has plenty of evidence to support -- and extend -- the Democratic candidate's criticisms of the Bush administration's failure to focus on Afghanistan and Pakistan. But most of all, anyone even remotely concerned with this region should buy and read it, and then recommend it to any friends and relatives who think they are not concerned with it.

Why? Because he says nice things about you?

Rashid, for those who don't know, is a second rate hack who has been propagandizing in favour of Bush's war-on-terror since its inception. He has generally received favourable audience in the West(including garnering a blurb from Tony Blair) because 1. he confirms their stereotypes of the Afghan/Pathan as an infantile savage who could only do harm if it weren't for the benevolent attention of the sort Bush dispenses 2. because his audience generally knows even less than he does.

I'd advise anyone reading this post to watch Rashid's pro-war on terror propaganda on (believe it or not) Democracy Now before they choose to waste their fast devaluing dollars on this crap. I have already addressed some of the nonsense Rashid spews here.

And for those who are serious about understanding the realities of the region, I would recommend the reports of Rahimullah Yusufzai in The News (Pakistan). He doesn't go and speak to three government officials and a general and pass it for area expertise. He knows the culture, speaks the language and reports from the ground. (You could also check an excellent interview David Barsamian did with him last december on Alternative Radio).

The problem with most Western commentators is that when they want to study a foreign region they seek out sources in their own image -- anglophone, liberal, pro-western. The whole cultural dynamic is lost. When you get a Punjabi liberal from Lahore or Islamabad dispensing 'expert opinion' on developments in the North-West or Baluchistan, you are not very likely to hear about the grievances that fuel their rage. Instead you hear catch-phrases -- 'extremist', 'fundamentalist', 'taliban' etc. Questions of identity, ethnicity or class are rarely broached in such analyses.

Anonymous said...

Idrees is spot on to identify some limitations Ahmad Rasheed works with such as: Rasheed doesn't have any first hand access to any real Taliban. Rashid is yet to prove how confident he is in understanding the dynamics of Afghan tribes that count so significantly. Can he distinctively distinguish between the one's backing Karzai as compared to those backing Karzai's opponents? What Pushto sources Rashid monitors to abreast himself with latest speeches and statement of the figures he write about?

It will be a treat to have a programme that hosts Rashid with Rahimullah Yusufzai where questions such as the above help
the viewers establish who has the right credentials, language command and first-hand contacts to offer?

Banger said...

Thanks for this entry.

The reason why it was not reviewed here is that the Politburo here didn't want to a) mess up the "good war" cachet of the Afghan War and therefore completely discredit military adventurism in the future; and b) the story behind the "strategy" mainly about the massive corruption involving key elements of the American and Pakistani state mainly the intelligence services that, for their own reasons want global instability and profits for themselves (the reason why they want this instability is too long a story for here); in short, a deep look into this thing would stir up a whole peck of trouble. It's sad because Rashid clearly understands the political situation in his region but doesn't understand what is going on here at all.

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