Tariq Ali. The Duel: Pakistan On the Flight Path of American Power (New York: Scribner, 2008)
Reviewed by T. Hatch
During one of the seemingly endless Democratic debates in 2007 when Senator Christopher Dodd opined that General Musharraf “was certainly no Thomas Jefferson” he was firmly in the tradition of U.S. policy towards Pakistan.” Dodd was not complimenting the General for not owning slaves. Rather, he was observing a longstanding continuity of U.S. policy makers backing the military of Pakistan at the expense of that country's chances at genuine democracy and its democratic institutions. That support of the Pakistani military was based on the threat of Soviet expansionism during the Cold War but is now predicated on the “pure fantasy” that there is a jihadi finger ready to squeeze the nuclear trigger.
Ali convincingly places Pakistan's history into a regional context. From the founding of the state which he characterizes as “a big thank-you present to the Muslim League” from the British, to Pakistan's role in the Afghan war against the Soviet Empire in its waning days, to its geopolitical position in the global war on terror, Pakistan suffers from both its propinquity to Afghanistan and its relationship with the United States. Far more of a concern than the jihadists seizing power from the 500,000 man army in Pakistan is the real possibility that by widening the war in Afghanistan (including attacks inside Pakistan itself as proposed by candidate Obama) the sufficient condition is put into place to create a fissure inside the military of Pakistan.
War is about unintended and unforeseen consequences. Operation Enduring Freedom which Ali sees as ensuring that violence and the heroin trade endure is a case in point. An example of the meaty-fisted irony associated with the conduct of war is the fact that the current jihadi manuals being used against NATO and U.S. Forces in Afghanistan were printed at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. The manuals which once made the rounds of the refugee camps, when the mujhadeen were seen as plucky freedom fighters, are now lethal reminders of the consequences of what Chalmers Johnson labeled as “blowback.”
This is a useful book that I'll wager is not on the shelves of the public library in Wassila, Alaska anytime soon.