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An Insider's Perspective

Kanwal Sibal

By Riaz Mohammad Khan
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2011, pp. 385, Rs.895.00


Riaz Mohammad Khan's book Afghanistan and Pakistan adds to the numerous books already available on the shelves on the linked Afghanistan-Pakistan situation. The Taliban-takeover of Afghanistan, the 9/11 terror attack that provoked U.S. military intervention leading to Taliban's ouster from power, U.S. failure to consoildate its success because of the distraction of the Iraq war, the resurgence of the Taliban and Pakistan's collusion in this, have all been analysed by authors from different perspectives. So when a new book appears it has to offer more than a pastiche of facts, views and analyses that the reader is already familiar with. The author, who was Pakistan's Foreign Secretary from 2005 to 2008, offers an insider's perspective on the subject. His book is not a work of scholarship based on 'rigorous or extensive' research, instead he offers, as he says, a 'broad-brush treatment of events', weaving 'personal experiences, perspectives, and evaluation into the larger narrative', derived from his various assignments in the Pakistani Foreign Office. A former Pakistani diplomat who has officially handled Afghanistan related issues, analysed them on file and in internal discussions, and contributed in some measure to policy making, can be expected to adhere largely to the standard Pakistani view that we know. While this undercurrent in not absent from the book, the sobriety with which the author expounds his views and penetrating reflections on many aspects of Pakistani thinking and policies are striking. The first part of the book covers the post-Soviet withdrawal phase of the Afghanistan conflict from 1989 to 1995, the advent of the Taliban from 1996 to 2001, the developments in Afghanistan post-9/11, with the interests and concerns of the external powers examined in a separate chapter. The second part deals with the Pakistan context of the Afghan situation, with focus on the grave challenge of religious militancy and extremism that the country faces. The intellectual crisis and weak governance in Pakistan is examined with great acuity. The author's 'Conclusions' pinpoint the mistakes made and opportunities missed by western powers in dealing with the developments in Afghanistan at critical moments. This section assesses the exit strategy, the prospects of stabilizing Aghanistan, the reconciliation and reconstruction agenda and the challenge of rebuilding of the Afghan National Army. The December 10 review of the US counter-insurgency strategy is examined, recommendations are made for an Afghnistan-Pakistan modus vivendi, the conundrum of US-Pakistan relations is looked at, with a glance at the expectations of Pakistan ...

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