Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Book Review - Despardes.com

The Drift
By Leo Najdi
http://www.despardes.com/books/hassan-abbas.asp
Book review:
Pakistan's drift into Extremism
-Allah, the Army and America's War on Terror
M. E. Sharpe, cloth, $69.95; paper, $25.95.

If you manage to hang out in the corridors of power in Islamabad long enough by dint of being a career government servant, all possibilities are that you will fall into or be privy to all kinds of situations and will bump into different shades of people and personalities, and their stories, lifestyles, idiosyncrasies, etc. ranging from the not-so-normal to the bizarre. And, if you have a flair for writing and a vast memory bank, available time, patience, secret notes, tape recordings, etc. you may be able to churn out a best-seller (in Pakistan) depending on who the hero and the villain are and what the setting is.

Mr. Hassan Abbas is no exception to the rule. Last time any one tried to spin a political best-seller out of the graffitis and shadows of Islamabad's corridor of absolute and corrupt power, were Altaf Gauhar and Brig. Siddiq Salek, to name a few. Then followed "Parliament seh Bazaar e Husn tak" by Zaheer Ahmed in Urdu. Now book stores in Pakistan are said to carry many, a dime a dozen. In all these instances however, a best seller did not show up.

But the latest by Hassan Abbas, written in English, may eventually turn out to be an exception to the rule. With the passage of time, his book "Pakistan's drift into extremism" will stand out among its contemporaries not only for its facts, engaging but not so quirky style, and thrilling discussions of Pakistan's critical political events, but for its candid presentations, and for the first time, the who-is-who in the hierarchy of the country's run up to becoming almost a "failed state".

Abbas' book seems to be aptly titled "Pakistan's drift into extremism". In short I call it "The Drift". Throw in the subtitle of the book into the equation, and you get a perfect background story and a plot for an "independent Hollywood suspense action thriller" with all possibilities of runaway success like any other present day anti-terrorist-oriented-Islamic-fundamentalism-Arab-Muslim-bashing celluloid delights.

The book is a highly informative account of Pakistan's radical Islamic groups, their birth, operations, demises and reincarnations. Having been an insider, as a former officer in President Pervez Musharraf's anti-corruption police force, Abbas managed to collect enough data and evidences to build his prognosis and present his viewpoint intelligently which is not only intellectually exciting but useful to those strategists, pundits out there who keep groping for scenarios, evidences, historical events, precedents, etc. to build a case, an analysis or a "game plan" for or against a given political scenario in a troubled country like Pakistan.

The 276 paged book describes in detail the rise of religious extremism in Pakistan in the backdrop of the American financed Afghan war, and its close connections to the leadership and policies of the country's military and security establishments. It also confirms military's domination on country's political system, CIA's role in facilitating it, and the fluctuating U.S.-Pakistan relations driven by its short term goals.

Drawing on the author's intimate knowledge of, and interviews with, Pakistani military and intelligence officials, the book contains new historical materials on important events that presaged the advent, rise and spread of extremism in Pakistan.

These include the failed military coup by Islamic fundamentalists in 1993-94, the symbiotic relationship between the country's national security establishment and extremist religious elements who gave birth to the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan, and the way in which General Musharraf handled the volatile albeit unpredictable situation in his country after the September 11 attacks.

His detailed analysis works through the country’s complicated history, starting in 1947 with the wrenching partition of British colonial India and ending with today’s impoverished, graft-addled government, which seems closer to falling into a maelstrom of religious radicalism every day.

An important thread running through this history is the way American foreign policy—at times misguided or self-serving—magnified Pakistan’s homegrown ills.

During the early 1980s, for instance, Pakistan’s pro-Western popular opinion appeared rock solid. "Only indifference, myopia and incompetence of flawless pedigree could have reversed this," Abbas writes. "But Pakistan and the United States would combine to produce the missing ingredient"—a policy of statewide "Islamization" orchestrated by Pakistan’s then leader, General Zia Ul-Haq, and amplified by Washington’s parallel support of the anti-Soviet mujahideen movement. That's when, where and how "Jihad" as an instrument of state and international war against "communism" was hence advanced, according to the book.

Abbas offers valuable descriptions of today’s most active jihadi movements in Pakistan. More importantly, he shows how the Kashmir conflict, South Asia’s most aggravated political wound, has come to express numerous, overlapping national humiliations—often underestimated by Washington and exploited by Islamabad. "If Pakistan is to be saved from its future," Abbas concludes, "It must start by coming to a sincere accommodation with India over Kashmir."

The book's final chapter recounts behind-the-scenes American dealings with Pakistan after September 11, when Secretary of State Colin Powell succeeded in reversing Pakistan's previous support for the Taliban.

The author also concludes that Pakistan's domestic and regional predicament can be improved only if it succeeds in reducing the role of the military in politics. Who will disagree with that!

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