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Detailed Contemporary Portrait of a Troubled Region,
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This review is from: Pakistan on the Brink: The future of Pakistan, Afghanistan and the West (Hardcover)
By the authors admission, the chapters of this book are essentially standalone essays. With that said, they complement each other very well, and when read as a whole the book provides a detailed briefing on the current state of play between Pakistan, Afghanistan and the West. I have no doubt that Ahmed Rashid's knowledge of his topic extends to the highest level, and as you'll see when reading the book, it has allowed him a unique level of access to key politicians and policymakers. Yet the book makes for a very accessible read with little need for any specialist knowledge prior to reading. For the potential reader: the historical context of the issues discussed is only briefly touched upon (if at all), but this is perhaps a strength, and no doubt a deliberate decision by the author, in pursuit of a concise portrait of the contemporary situation and likely prospects for the future.
Of particular merit:
The opening chapters are notable for their coverage not only of Pakistan (as their titles would suggest), but of the deep and complex relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan, and go a long way to helping us understand why the road to peace in Kabul runs largely through Islamabad, as they say.
Chapter four concentrates on the failure to hold free and fair elections and establish legitimate governance in Afghanistan, and the necessity of doing so if any real progress is to be made. Pakistan's sectarian geography and the preponderance of the Taliban in certain areas had meant that electoral turnout among certain groups was virtually non-existent: one of the key factors behind the military surge into Taliban-controlled areas of southern Afghanistan prior to the 2010 parliamentary election.
The fifth chapter illustrates the intense infighting in Washington over policy in and for Afghanistan, and levels a strong critique of ISAF strategy, arguing that the strong focus on Helmand may have been detrimental. Rashid posits that a more sound strategy would have been to fully secure Kabul and then gradually expand outwards.
In the concluding chapter, Rashid offers his analysis of what the future might hold. Commenting on states of Central Asia (Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan), India and China, and also Iran, the author illustrates the wider regional picture, detailing what is at stake for these countries and what their roles might be in moving forward. The Arab Spring, although geographically distant from Pakistan, is argued as a potential threat should a similar sentiment take root among Pakistan's jobless and frustrated youth, while the threat of sectarian revolt and the detrimental impact of 'capture or kill' raids are also covered.
Ahmed Rashid's book excels by not focusing on the particular details of one country or the other, but in analysing them together, on the basis that their futures are intractably linked. Rashid's key contention is that in many ways Pakistan's current position is more perilous than that held by Afghanistan, and that, following Richard Holbrooke's footsteps, Washington and the West must rethink their current strategy toward Pakistan, for the status of Pakistan's fragile democracy is perhaps the key arbiter of Afghanistan's prospects for a stable and democratic future.