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Painting the Big Picture

Gulshan Dietl

By Aijaz Ahmad
Leftword, New Delhi, 2004, pp. 285, Rs. 450.00


Away from the battlefields, wartime is a time of intellectual churning. The letters to the editors to journalistic articles to academic papers all the way to full-length books—there has been a great outpouring of literature on the US wars on Afghanistan and Iraq in the past two years and more. Aijaz Ahmad observed the wars mostly from New Delhi and recorded his observations in a series of commentaries/essays in Frontline, one of the best newsmagazines in the country. The book is a compendium of select essays from there. The author has decided to leave them as they were published and has added footnotes at places either to update or to clarify a point in the light of the subsequent developments; or to revise an earlier argument; and once to withdraw a harsh opinion about a fellow-author. The essays, therefore, retain the flavour of the times as they moved on. There are a few inevitable repetitions; but no inconsistency in arguments. And certainly no contradictions.   Ahmad is the author of several very well received books, In Theory: Nations, Literatures, Lineages of the Present, a classic, among them. His theoretical context is clear and forthright. Through the twentieth century, the US has fought wars for three objectives: containment/disappearance of communist states; its own primacy over other leading capitalist countries; and the defeat of economic nationalism in the Third World. Consolidation of its dominance over possible competitors and permanent disarray of the Third World nationalism are its current objectives. To that end, it seeks hegemony in its tri-continental imperial realm in Asia, Africa and Latin America to monopolize its vast strategic resources. An imperial global state with demonstrably globalized military capability is an objective requirement of the system itself, quite aside from the ambitions of US rulers. An increasingly interventionist global state is a structural imperative of the current composition of global capital. The wars on Afghanistan and Iraq were inevitable, preordained even—if one accepts Ahmad’s position.   Ahmad’s reading of Afghan history flows directly from this position. “The Afghans have never taken kindly to foreign occupation forces, as the British should have known from their own history of the three Afghan wars they fought” (p.32). Ahmad is not trying to gloss over the Soviet occupation; only he perceives it as anything but that. That is the reason he chooses to call the resistance fighters against the Soviet ...

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