by PETER VINE
It is the year 2008 and there is trouble in southern Afghanistan. NATO forces have been engulfed in a violent and bloody struggle with the Taliban and other insurgent forces. In Pakistan, the Pakistani army is slowly turning its war machine away from its border from India and against the same terrorist groups it had once funded and cultivated. In Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, new insurgent groups plot campaigns to take advantage of instability and revolution.
The situation in the region is desperate and despite immense amounts of blood and treasure invested it is difficult to foresee any positive change soon. This is the rather depressing message Ahmed Rashid delivers in his new book Descent into Chaos.
Ahmed Rashid is a noted expert on the region and his previous books Jihad! and Taliban have been praised for their accuracy and research. The man must have a warehouse full of interview notes and copied documents, as he is able to recall numerous conversations and interviews he had with some of the most important players in the region.
Descent into Chaos therefore provides the reader with an in-depth and well-researched background into the recent history of Afghanistan, Pakistan and all of Central Asia. It also describes in disturbing detail how governments — both democratic and republican, American and European — are consistently failing to get a grip of the problems threatening to tear the region apart.
Descent into Chaos is a sobering reminder both of the serious misadventures of neo-conservatism but also of the disinterested nature to which Clinton’s administration and the Social Democratic governments of Europe tended to view India and Pakistan, even when they threatened to ignite a nuclear holocaust in 1999.
The book covers the duplicitous and frankly astonishing nature in which Pakistan’s military sowed the seeds of its own demise, as the multiple terrorist groups it had nurtured and funded turned against them in such spectacular fashion. It describes how, despite multiple attempts to force President Pervez Musharraf to abandon terror, both the Pakistani Army and ISI managed to ensure the survival of its sponsored terrorist groups sometimes right under the noses of their American counterparts.
Further along it talks about how funding from America and Russia supporting totalitarian regimes in Uzbekistan and elsewhere in Central Asia is fomenting Islamic extremism, leading to a widening of the conflict.
It also covers the baffling incompetence first of the CIA and then of the Rumsfeld-era Pentagon in refusing to create a nation-building strategy (or in fact any post-war strategy) for winning the peace in Afghanistan — the kind of mistakes which would later cause America much pain and hardship in Iraq.
It later covers the confused and at times fractious nature of the NATO mission as it expanded across the country, resulting in British, Canadian and Dutch troops fighting for their lives in the south while other contingents in the north were confined to barracks at night, as part of concessions necessary to persuade them to join the mission.
The tone of the book is of frustration at missed opportunities and mistakes. All point to an experienced journalist who has witnessed war after war and broken promise after broken promise.