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Beyond the Headlines

K.P. Fabian

Edited by V. Krishnappa , Shanthie Mariet DSouza and Priyanka Singh
Academic Foundation in Association with the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi, 2009, pp. 174, Rs. 595.00


The very title shows the self-confidence and optimism of the editors, and also, of most of the scholars who have contributed to the volume. Such self-confidence and optimism are sadly lacking among decision-makers. Of course, the decision-makers, including the US President Obama, have good reasons for lacking in optimism. The Pentagon finds it difficult to spare the troops asked for by General McChrystal. Nor is there enough money to spend on Afghanistan. A growing number of competent observers in the US and elsewhere are coming to the conclusion that it is an unwinnable war, and, perhaps, unnecessary too. Shades of Vietnam are looming larger and larger. Public support is plummeting. Obama’s recently announced decision to send 33,000 troops with an indication to start pulling out by July 2011 shows the dilemma he is facing. What one expects of scholars is to take the reader beyond the headlines and the media-created impressions of the day. In the present case, the reader would have expected the scholars to raise and seek answers to fundamental questions such as: •Was the US-led war on Afghanistan a necessary one? •Why did Bush decline to negotiate with the Taliban government in Kabul when they asked for proof of Osama bin Laden’s involvement in 9/11? •Will more troops deliver the intended outcome? •What is the intended outcome? •Even if it is a right war and is winnable in the long term, for how long is it sustainable in terms of public support and availability of funds, material, and human power? It is sad that the book under review does not raise any such fundamental questions. But we should not be too harsh on the three editors either. Such is the hold of the conventional wisdom on the rightness of the war and on the belief that in a post-9/11 world there is always a military solution to every problem that most of the books on Afghanistan fail to raise the fundamental questions though there is definitely a change for the better in the United States. The book has its origins in a conference organized by the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) in Delhi on Afghanistan in February 2008. The thoughtful, brief, introduction by Defence Minister A.K. Antony talks about the principal challenges to Asia and other regions which are ‘transnational.’ There is need for ‘active dialogue’ not only among governments, but also among ‘defence establishments.’ Since ...

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