Monday, July 14, 2008

Ahmed Rashid on Descent into Chaos

Rashid, Ahmed. 2008. Descent into Chaos: The United States and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia. New York: Viking.

I have now read every word in this book [but not all the notes, yet]. It is many things: a documented indictment of leaders in many places: they are shown to be incompetent, obdurate, arrogant, often totally unable to face the urgent necessities before them, incapable of addressing the rising needs and frustrations of peoples in the Middle East/Central Asia/South Asia.

This book is also a cry of the heart. Rashid quotes Benazir Bhutto’s last speech in terms that are, I believe, his own: “Wake up, my brothers! This country [Pakistan] faces great dangers. This is your country! My country! We have to save it.” I suppose that the plight of Pakistan weighs deeply on him, not only because it is his home, his country, but because it seems to be the vortex of an ever more acute regional crisis. I join him in concern for what is happening to the peoples of Central and South Asia; and of course the implications reach to my own country. Indeed, the scale of duplicity, dishonesty, perfidy, and ineptness among those leading our country and many other countries in recent decades has been so great as to induce one to wonder what can be done now. We have seen a collapse of responsible leadership in many contexts at a time when the mutual connections among the peoples of the world are gaining in intensity ever more rapidly.

Rashid’s book is an indictment of the high crimes and misdemeanors by many of the leaders of the modern world – notably, of course, the Bush administration but also, especially, the Musharraf government. In fact, it is not only the urgency and intensity of Rashid’s detailed and extensively documented critique that strikes the reader, but -- for those of us familiar with what happens to those who expose the truth about powerful figures in Pakistan -- it is the danger to himself (and to his family?) that Rashid has risked by this book. He has risked his life by telling so much, revealing so much, with such zeal, such particularity. Such a detailed description of the perfidy and outright dishonesty of the leaders of Pakistan has to make him the most despised citizen of the country -- despised, that is by Pervez Musharaf (the man who made himself President), despised by the generals of the army (who stand behind Musharraf), despised by the intelligence officers of the ISI (who have effectively constituted themselves as an independent government) --leaving aside the Taliban and Al Qaeda, who have their own reasons for wanting him dead.

If anything can save Rashid it is that he has been equally unsparing of the leaders of virtually all other government officials mentioned in his tale: George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Richard Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Tony Blair, and many other leaders of the great powers in Europe. All get their due. This work specifies how these leaders have been guilty of stupidity, incompetence, ignorance, arrogance, and deliberate and repeated lies. Even Hamed Karzai, a personal friend of Rashid who comes off slightly better, is described as indecisive and tolerant of corrupt friends and relatives.

Here are some samples of his critique:

On the Musharraf government:

  • p. 379: “In 2007 there had been 56 suicide bombings in Pakistan, which killed 419 security officials and 217 civilians … [And yet] the regime had failed to track down a single culprit. Now the public was expected to believe that the military had resolved the Bhutto murder in a couple of days … [Moreover, there was] Musharraf’s failure to show any remorse over Bhutto’s death. Instead he blamed her for sticking her head out of the sunroof and said the army had never liked her anyway.”

On George W. Bush:

  • 293: [T[he decision by President Bush on February 7, 2002, to deny captured al Qaeda, Taliban, and other terrorist suspects prisoner-of-war status or any access to justice was a step backward for the United States and for mankind – one that has haunted the United States, its allies, and the international legal system ever since. Whereas in the West it created a furious debate about civil liberties, in the Muslim world it further entrenched dictatorship and abuse of civilizations.”

On US Secretary of Defense Richard Rumsfeld:

  • 342: “…Uzbekistan promised again to pursue democratic reforms. Yet its crackdown on political dissent had already reached new heights. … [E]leven prisoners had died as a result of torture in Uzbek jails that year, even as the State Department claimed that the country was making progress in human rights. No longer were just the accused tortured, but also their families if they dared ask where relatives were imprisoned. … Rumsfeld continued to heap praise on [President] Karimov. … [A]s major US NGOs were being thrown out of the country, he spoke of “the wonderful cooperation we’ve received from the government of Uzbekistan and promised $57 million in aid for 2004.”

On Tony Blair:

  • 356: [Blair] followed the Americans so unquestioningly and blindly into Iraq that he lost his influence in the White House. The neocons saw Blair as their poodle … Attempts by Foreign Secretary Jack Straw to prop up Colin Powell to take on the neocons were constantly undermined by Blair ….”

There is so much here that I can only urge everyone possible to take the time to read this book. I repeatedly had to put the book down because of my own anger and exasperation. You will too.

1 comment:

Nadia said...

I've just heard an imterview with Rashid on the radoi 90.9 FM1 while driving. I came home with a determination to find and buy the book. And here i got to this site through Google. I find this site a wonderful idea - we really have to know what is going on in the world. i will read more of publications here.