Descent into Chaos: How the War Against Islamic Extremism is Being Lost in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia Hardcover – 3 Jul 2008
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'Ahmed Rashid, a journalist of the highest narrative and analytical gifts...tells a story from the viewpoint of a highly informed Pakistani who knows intimately almost all the leading players'
-- The Sunday Times
'Ahmed Rashid...has over the decades turned out to be something of a prophet in the region'
-- International Herald Tribune
'Compulsively readable.' -- The Evening Standard
'Descent into Chaos [is] a well-researched and urgently written account of the chronic problems of Afghanistan, Pakistan and their Central Asian neighbours... [A] remarkable book.'
-- Literary Review
'I've never had so many people queuing wanting to review a book in all the ten years I've been here. They were fighting over it.' -- The Economist, Literary editor
'The War and Peace of the early 21st century has yet to be written but, while we wait...Ahmed Rashid will nicely fill the gap' -- The Observer
Fascinating...should be required reading for the next president in Washington and all Nato leaders who have put the future of their military alliance on the line -- Financial Times
`...superbly researched account of post-9/11 Asia... Oustanding' -- Telegraph Review
`His knowledge of events and people [in Central Asia] is second to none' -- The Independent
`Rashid is a distinguished...international journalist who emerges from this book as both author and participant... [he] tells a story from which everyone can learn'
-- New Statesman
Since 9/11, the war in Afghanistan and the invasion of Iraq, the West has been fighting a 'War on Terror', through force and through the building of new societies in the region. In this clear and devastating account, with unparalleled access and intimate knowledge of the political players, "Descent into Chaos" chronicles our failure. Having reported from central Asia for a quarter of a century, Ahmed Rashid shows clearly why the war in Iraq is just a sideshow to the main event. Rather, it is Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the five Central Asian states that make up the crisis zone, for it is here that terrorism and Islamic extremism are growing stronger. Documenting with precision how intimately linked Pakistan is with the Taliban and other extremist movements, while remaining the US' main ally in the region, Rashid brings into focus the role of many regional issues in supporting extremism, from nuclear programmes to local rivalries, ineffectual peace-keeping to tyrannical rulers. For Rashid, at the heart of the failure in Iraq is the US' refusal to accept the need to build nations.Ambitious and urgent, analyzing events, policies and personalities across the largest landmass in the world, "Descent into Chaos" chronicles with chilling accuracy why Islamic extremism is now stronger than ever. See all Product description
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The book is divided into 4 parts: `9/11 and War', `The Politics of the 9/11 World', `The Failure of Nation Building' and `Descent Into Chaos'. These sections are further sub-divided into chapters. I found the first two, and last sections, to be the most engaging.
The difficulties so far in the war on terror are described through the political framework of Afghanistan. First, the life of Afghanistan, after the US pullout at the end of the Soviet invasion, all the way through to 9/11, then post-9/11 through the attempted freeing of the country from the Taliban; then, through the attempted democratic political process which followed.
As ever, Rashid's expertise of his home country is second to none. Pakistan's role in creating al-Qaida and the Taliban is explained, Pakistan's continual escape from international condemnation and gaining the upper-political-hand in Afghanistan, sponsoring terror organisations - while the US was in neighbouring Afghanistan fighting those same organisations - has to be read to be believed. On the other hand what doesn't have to be read to be believed is the American administration's strategic blunders in Afghanistan, as is all too painfully evident. I felt the conclusion was a little short on substance considering the book is named after the last part of this book, but this is probably just anti-climax considering the revelations I had just read.
Recently, after having gone through a spate of books written in foreign languages and then translated into English, Rashid's phrasing and style was a joy to behold. However, in stark contrast to the intelligent analysis of the goings on in Pakistan and Afghanistan, are the descriptions of the US administration. Rashid possesses an extreme anti-American bias which does become tiresome after a while. This is probably due to him having simply used other writers such as Bob Woodward and Noam Chomsky. America bungles and hesitates to put troops on the ground, not because it is attempting to apply lessons from the Vietnam conflict or lessons from the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan (which has become known as the Soviet's Vietnam), but because America is an `empirical colonist.'
Whatever reputation Rashid acquired in the upper echelons of international diplomacy with Taliban, he's sure to have squandered it with the introduction to this book alone. Whatever his reasons for his anti-American outlook, it is bizarre that a book intended as a wake-up call and plead for the US to rebuild Afghanistan (not to mention the whole of Central Asia) should descend into polemic and other conspiracy theories which do him no favours.
An example of this contrasting viewpoint is when Rashid describes a Pakistani operation in southern Waziristan, and his descriptions in the following chapter of the US:
Following a fatwa by Ayman Al Zawahiri (al-Qaida's number 2) decreeing the assassination of president Musharaf, Pakistan finally became convinced of the need for action against the Taliban, allegedly. What followed was an operation into the region; Two weeks of fighting later - with helicopter gunships, fighter jets and tanks, along with 50,000 refugees from surrounding villages - the total lack of coordination between the Pakistani ISI and the Frontier Corps on the ground seemed strange. US officials knew the ISI had deep knowledge of the enemy's armaments and numbers, yet none of this intelligence seemed to have reached the forces on the ground. US officials in Kabul and Islamabad wondered if the failed operation was due to a lack of coordination or deliberate...
Turn the page after this, and Rashid describes a decision which was a step backwards for mankind. Not the chaos and misery the ISI inflicted upon its own people in the previous chapter, nor beheadings shown on al-Qaida websites, nor the instructions by the Taliban that young boys should kill their parents if they refuse to let them become martyrs, but because George W Bush did not grant al-Qaida or the Taliban POW status.
A useful clue for the reasons for this bias is Rashid's claim that radical Islamic group Hizb ut-Tahrir are non-violent. He also explains that Hizb ut-Tahrir shares many tenets with Wahabism. This is a bit like saying although Hitler shared many beliefs with Mussolini; Hitler wasn't as bad because he was a vegetarian. This reveals Rashid is more than likely a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir and probably goes a long way towards explaining why he does not reveal anything about Pakistani/Saudi relations, which would've given this book added depth and a new dimension. You will not see Rashid talk about the single greatest obstacle in solving the War On Terror: Pakistan's nuclear weapons.
Amazingly enough, in the context of the war on terror, it seems that the condemnation of the Taliban or al-Qaida is enough for those in the British establishment to `prove' oneself as a moderate Muslim. No wonder MI6 unknowingly employed al-Qaida's top man in Europe for intelligence gathering...
While this book will fill many peoples' knowledge gap in this area, due to the bias, it is deliberately limited. This makes it long on details, long on dispair but short on answers.
However, I still feel the information on Pakistan is brilliant and the analysis eye-opening. I would've liked some proper insights as to some of the Bush administrations' seemingly bizarre decisions, however until something more rounded comes along, I have rated this a 4 star read.