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Descent into Chaos: The United States & the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan & Central Asia

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Ahmed Rashid, "Pakistan's best and bravest reporter" is a voice of reason amid the chaos of Central Asia today. His unique knowledge of this complex, war-torn region gives him a panoramic vision and grasp of nuance that no Western writer can emulate.


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Ahmed Rashid, "Pakistan's best and bravest reporter" is a voice of reason amid the chaos of Central Asia today. His unique knowledge of this complex, war-torn region gives him a panoramic vision and grasp of nuance that no Western writer can emulate.

30 review for Descent into Chaos: The United States & the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan & Central Asia

  1. 4 out of 5

    Will Byrnes

    Even more than a decade after its publication Descent Into Chaos is a must read for anyone interested in ongoing events in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the central Asian “stans” that make up one of the most politically volatile areas on earth. Rashid is both a journalist and a participant, having been a member of various groups and committees attempting to address the ongoing conflicts. As such he brings his own personal list of good guys and bad guys, and should be taken with a grain of salt. But Even more than a decade after its publication Descent Into Chaos is a must read for anyone interested in ongoing events in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the central Asian “stans” that make up one of the most politically volatile areas on earth. Rashid is both a journalist and a participant, having been a member of various groups and committees attempting to address the ongoing conflicts. As such he brings his own personal list of good guys and bad guys, and should be taken with a grain of salt. But the level of detail presented here is impressive and illuminating. Ahmed Rashid - image from Penguin Random House Speakers Bureau The main foci in Descent are Pakistan and Afghanistan. Rashid characterizes Pakistan as being unlike other nations, “The epithet that ‘countries have armies, but in Pakistan the army has a country’ came true…” (p 38) He demonstrates over and over the hold the military has over the nation and shows how it has been nearly impossible for civilian rule to come to much when it must always remain subservient to those with all the guns. One of the major organizations within the military is the ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate). This is the entity that has been responsible for supporting the Taliban in both Afghanistan and now in Pakistan itself, that has seen to it that massive percentages of aid received from the USA and intended for use in anti-terrorist activities have been diverted to supporting the Taliban and to paying for bolstering Pakistan’s traditional defenses against India. Despite USA propaganda about a desire for democracy in Afghanistan, American actions went in an entirely other direction, offering money to warlords at the expense of the central, Karzai-led government, looking the other way at the burgeoning poppy agriculture that was funding the Taliban and corrupt warlords. The USA did nothing about Pakistan providing a safe harbor, training, equipment, expertise and personnel for the Taliban, then sending them back in to Afghanistan to wreak havoc on US-supported forces. The USA left wide swaths of the country unpatrolled, thus allowing escaping Taliban an easy exit during the initial bombardments. I was most taken with the recurring impact of Donald Rumsfeld on events in the area, his pig-headedness in caring not a whit about building back up the nation his army was helping destroy. He consistently made decisions that led to the worst possible outcomes, leading to the situation today, in which Afghanistan remains much less an actual country than a collection of warlords protecting their individual turf, with a national leadership that has compromised so much that there is almost no effective central power to speak of. The poppy crop is doing very nicely, but it could have been otherwise had there been actual investment in developing the available resources to allow and encourage production of non-opium crops. I learned the most about Pakistan. Rashid makes it very clear, in painful detail, how the country has arrived at today’s precipice, with a resurgent Taliban threatening the existence of what government Pakistan still retains. Rashid offers considerable discussion of the role of NATO, and the reluctance of most NATO members to contribute much of anything to an attempt to stabilize war-ravaged Afghanistan. If the USA can be counted on to do the right thing, after all other options have been exhausted, European members of NATO can usually be relied on to delay, and limit any contributions they are called on to make, adding impossible conditions and minimal financial support. Rashid also looks at the situations in the neighboring “stans,” Uzbejkistan, Tajikstan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazahkstan. It is not a pretty picture. The entire area is a mess, with evil dictators virtually enslaving their own populations, while enriching themselves and gaining USA support by offering use of their territory as bases for US action in Afghanistan. He even offers an example of how the USA managed to lose all influence with one of these, as Russia and China swooped in to offer support to one psychotic dictator when the US began demanding that the psycho tone it down a bit. Rashid seemed to be saying that the USA had messed up here in losing access to the nation, but he offers no suggestions for what the US might have done to retain its access. Sometimes Rashid’s judgments are a questionable. He was much impressed with a fellow named Abdul Haq. Rashid sees him as having been a potential leader of Afghanistan, a charismatic leader bent on opposing the Taliban. Yet, despite having no state support, and only personal funding from some American millionaires, Haq pushed ahead with his plans to foment an anti-Taliban insurrection, yet could manage less than three dozen actual fighters. He was soon captured and killed. Surely a truly effective and thoughtful leader would not have made such a rash decision. He must have had a lot less going on within him than Rashid gives him credit for. And if he was so wrong about Haq, one wonders where else Rashid's personal feelings about relevant individuals might have affected his ability to evaluate their intelligence, leadership capacity, or motives. The bottom line here is that the situation in the entire area is intensely depressing. Pakistan is on the edge of becoming a failed state. Afghanistan appears little closer to having a stable, democratic society. The Taliban is the only force in the area that seems to be thriving. Rashid offers only tonics for what one might do. It is clear that opportunities have been lost, and it is not clear that the Obama administration had any better ideas about how to proceed to stabilize the region than Bush did. It seems safe to expect that whatever actions are undertaken by the Trump administration, they will serve Russian more than American interests. One item I found very helpful in the book was a collection of maps in the front. I referred to them frequently. It would have been helpful had there been a glossary at the back. There are many acronyms here and I often had to search back several pages to re-discover what some of them meant. But this is a quibble. The book is illuminating, far reaching, and stands well the test of time. =============================EXTRA STUFF The author’s personal, GR, and Facebook pages

  2. 5 out of 5

    Caroline

    This was one big sprawl of a depressing read, far too complex for my abilities as a reviewer to put neatly into any sort synopsis or overview. Luckily that has already been done brilliantly by Will Byrnes, whose review I highly recommend. Instead I shall note a few points that I picked up from the book, just things that particularly stuck me…. (view spoiler)[ *Nation building: The author viewed nation building as the bedrock for positive progress. War should be followed by help with restructuring; This was one big sprawl of a depressing read, far too complex for my abilities as a reviewer to put neatly into any sort synopsis or overview. Luckily that has already been done brilliantly by Will Byrnes, whose review I highly recommend. Instead I shall note a few points that I picked up from the book, just things that particularly stuck me…. (view spoiler)[ *Nation building: The author viewed nation building as the bedrock for positive progress. War should be followed by help with restructuring; and by endeavours to help create a civil society. With regard to Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the neighbouring ex-Soviet countries he felt that it was vitally important. They needed support. He considered it the best way of opposing The Taliban, the Al Qaeda and poppy/heroin production. But this came too little and too late. Certainly aid to Afghanistan after the Americans invaded was pathetic. Later aid given to Afghanistan was considerably increased, but by then anti-American feeling was entrenched, and things in Afghanistan generally were dire. Time after time Rashid points to a lack of aid and support for ordinary people as being the main cause of failure in the West’s intervention in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Certainly the help given to training the Afghanistan army, police force and the justice system seemed hugely inadequate – and given the strength of the warlords in imposing their rule, proper state security seemed a pretty hopeless fantasy…. And without state security everything else more or less falls by the wayside. Who America Supported: Instead of supporting the general population of Afghanistan and Pakistan, the US supported the warlords in Afghanistan, and in Pakistan it liaised with President Musharraf, who siphoned off most of the aid given by America into the army. The ordinary people of these countries saw very little of the money that was being donated by America, there was very little improvement their lives, or in the way their countries were being run. As a result their dislike of America just grew and grew. President Bush embraced Musharraf and the military….He has created an immense hatred for the U.S. Army and America, a hatred that penetrates all classes of society. Pakistan: With a population of 175 million, Pakistan is the fifth largest country in the world, but it is deeply divided, with ethnic, social and economic differences. And what a can of worms it is when it comes to Pakistan-American relations! After extensive reading I can still barely get my head around it. With one hand Musharraf was supporting America (e.g., giving it airbases to use in anti-Taliban exercises in Afghanistan), but on the other hand Pakistan’s intelligence service and army was supporting the Taliban, even training soldiers for its army, who it saw as being a useful presence in Afghanistan. ("For nearly a decade Pakistan had successfully blocked an Indian presence in Kabul, via the Indian-hating Taliban."). It also tolerated the Al Queda, which had a presence in Pakistan as well as Afghanistan. America was giving large amounts of aid to President Musharraf in its efforts to further the ‘war against terrorism’, and Pakistan was usurping its efforts every bit as much as it was helping them. Warlords in Afghanistan: Until I read this book I had no idea of the power in the hands of these men. They rose up after Russia left Afghanistan, and the in the civil wars that followed. The authority of the government, army and police in Afghanistan all seemed very fragile when compared with their strength. Herewith a description of one of them, Ismel Khan, one of the biggest warlords. *He commanded a territory of five western provinces. *He had an army of some 25,000 men.. *He liaised and made deals first with Iran and then with the Americans. *He earned between $3-$5 million every month in customs revenue from a border crossing. None of this was shared with anyone else, including the central government. Judging from the book, the warlords really seem a law unto themselves, with vast control over the people who live in their fiefdoms. Central Government in Afghanistan So little support was given by the International community to the Afghanistan president – President Karzai - and his government. ”For the first four months, there was no cash from donors to pay the salaries of civil servants and police officers. His presidential palace had been bombed out, and the gaping holes in many of the rooms brought in snow flurries and chilling winds. Some ministers moved into their offices to find no windows, desks, chairs or even pens, whilst others didn’t even have a building to call their own……meanwhile the warlords were rolling in millions of dollars. Finally, I am very ignorant about such things, and found these statistics pretty mind-boggling...... The US Defence Budget: 2001.....$293 billion (More than the put-together budget of the next 15 countries in the world - including all European countries and China.) 2003.....$360 billion. 2006.....$427 billion. (It had grown by 40% since 9/11) 2008.....$647 billion. (Equivalent to what the entire rest of the world spends on defence.) (hide spoiler)] This book deals with an incredibly convoluted situation in a very difficult part of the world - and does a great job of explaining what went on there up to 2008.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Scott

    I had two main reactions to Rashid's book. One was frustration and the other was appreciation. My frustration extended largely from his liberal viewpoint that the war on Afghanistan was a just war and could've gone swimmingly "if only" the various players had made the correct decisions and taken the appropriate actions. His main argument appeared to be that occupation (though he argued that it wasn't) and nation-building can be done successfully "if only" everyone is up front, genuine and on the I had two main reactions to Rashid's book. One was frustration and the other was appreciation. My frustration extended largely from his liberal viewpoint that the war on Afghanistan was a just war and could've gone swimmingly "if only" the various players had made the correct decisions and taken the appropriate actions. His main argument appeared to be that occupation (though he argued that it wasn't) and nation-building can be done successfully "if only" everyone is up front, genuine and on the level. This strikes me as a painfully naïve way of interpreting world events and prescribing solutions. Just as he tried to contextualize Afghanistan with other countries in Central Asia, the U.S. invasion and occupation needs to be contextualized within a discussion of hegemony and capitalism. After the scores of countries the U.S. has invaded, I'm shocked people still think the U.S. actually cares about the Afghan, Iraqi, Guatemalan, Filipino etc., etc. people, and that the "if only" argument is still used. My other frustration was that there was much that seemed to be missing from the book. There was not much of a discussion of the Taliban or Al-Qaeda, what they thought, how they formed, why they were bad. It was just assumed that they were bad and needed no discussion. I think labeling something as bad and worthy of being opposed without much discussion is dangerous, even if the label is appropriate. I was also troubled by his other labeling of things. He doesn't discuss what jihad means, but again it's taken to be bad. He claims "talib" means "religious student" and "madrassa" means "religious school" when both just mean student and school. He doesn't explain his definition of Islamic "extremism" or "fundamentalism". Finally, in the first three chapters (I stopped after that) I counted 16 claims that I felt warranted footnotes where none existed. It all seemed very attuned to inaccurate Western conceptions and instead of using his book as an opportunity to deconstruct them, he reinforces them, which is unfortunate. However, I'm still glad that I read the book. I learned much about the area and it is certainly extremely topical. Now hearing about how the Taliban is operating in the Swat Valley makes a lot more sense. It also provoked some thinking about, well, what is the solution, what should be done. I think it goes back to the first readings for class on Hizbullah and Israel. From my perspective, I oppose the US/European occupation, I think Karzai's an inept puppet, I certainly am not a fan of the Taliban or warlords. I know nothing about Afghanistan's civil society. Do I even know enough to have an opinion? It got me thinking and I appreciate that.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Steve Kettmann

    Read the book that many of Obama's advisers are reading or have recently read - and on which they have clearly relied in helping articulate the details of Obama's call for an emphasis on Afghanistan and Pakistan as the "central front in the war on terror." As Raymond Bonner in the Times and at least one reviewer here has complained, the level of detail can at times be daunting, but it's worth sticking with it. The picture is grim, yes, but only when books like this reach a broad readership will Read the book that many of Obama's advisers are reading or have recently read - and on which they have clearly relied in helping articulate the details of Obama's call for an emphasis on Afghanistan and Pakistan as the "central front in the war on terror." As Raymond Bonner in the Times and at least one reviewer here has complained, the level of detail can at times be daunting, but it's worth sticking with it. The picture is grim, yes, but only when books like this reach a broad readership will we be able to make some more informed, more rational choices moving forward. For more, here is my recent review at the San Francisco Chronicle: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article... And here is a Q and A with author Rashid: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article...

  5. 4 out of 5

    Praj

    In a recent news briefing invalidating American criticism of the anti-extremists campaigns in Pakistan; asserts the Pakistani Army chief that the army (Pakistani) has broken the “backbone” of Islamist militants in the country. Gen. Kayani’s high claims on the resourceful operations against the militants were met with ambiguity by political critic, as the country is consistently shaken by terror attacks with a dominant insurgency stirring on the Afghan-Pak borders. [image error] Central Asia is a r In a recent news briefing invalidating American criticism of the anti-extremists campaigns in Pakistan; asserts the Pakistani Army chief that the army (Pakistani) has broken the “backbone” of Islamist militants in the country. Gen. Kayani’s high claims on the resourceful operations against the militants were met with ambiguity by political critic, as the country is consistently shaken by terror attacks with a dominant insurgency stirring on the Afghan-Pak borders. [image error] Central Asia is a recent example, where the crucial roles of hard and soft powers were cluttered and mismanaged, resulting in the reproduction of terror fertile lands. The roles of hard power (military or any form of coercive authority) and soft power (Soft power can be wielded not just by states, but by all actors in international politics, such as NGOs or international institutions) are critical in risk management areas and the lackadaisical attitude can be detrimental. So, when Rashid emphasizes on Central Asia being the “Terrorism Central” and the most volatile sector propagating terrorist philosophers; the probability certainly should not be disregarded. The Central Asian panorama houses nation –states troubled with political and economic disparities with highly porous borders. It is the most under studied and significantly overlooked area in counter-terror policies. Ethnically diverse, impecunious milieu, geographically tedious and politically corrupt makes it one of the muddled impenetrable landscapes. Chiefly scripted in Musharraf era, it raises question as to why and how Pakistan trickled down to becoming a militant haven.Hounded vastly by troubled bureaucratic governance and the ISI clandestinely supporting terror outfits for strategic benefits is “decapitating political elites and drowning the country in blood”, as Rashid aptly puts it. Moreover, the age-old question of Kashmir that looms in the vulnerable grounds of India-Pak relations does little to hinder the growing terror susceptibilities. Over the years the frequent failure of peaceful strategic talks between the two countries has only fuelled the insurgency in the periphery of Central Asian domain. Rashid speaks as a concerned citizen struggling to find peaceful resolution to the terror pandemonium and laments on missed opportunities that would have helped in curbing the alarming menace. Probing validity of the Iraq War over the actual menace festering at the Afghan border appears reasonable enough to detect the incompetence of imposed foreign policies. The lack of communication and information between the United States, NATO and other major European countries thwarted the reconstruction empowering the people of Afghanistan. On this note, the author claims that at the end the rebuilding of Afghanistan was left to CIA and the Department of Defense; which I found was a bit frenzied. Also, President Karzai’s total dependence on the United States and other major financial institutions to re-build Afghanistan seemed immature. No shameless amount of money can stabilize a structure when the groundwork itself is crippled with treachery and misguidance. Although the concluding passages of the book emphasizes on the fact that the Afghan government must be able to deliver a stable legislative configuration reasonably free of tribalism and bribery; yet it questions the integrity and responsibility of Karzai as a President and a leader to his countrymen. Most of the Asian political landscapes thrive in nasty web of corruption. The influx of foreign currency embracing fraudulent modus operandi of bureaucrats, drug/warlords, ministers and tribal chiefs becomes a deadly unison of political supremacy. The lack of foreign policies and the chaotic nation building in Afghanistan resulted in fertile terror pockets and sheltered dwellings of several extremist leaders. The vicious cycle of opium and heroin trading in the tribal regions of Afghanistan further crippled the economic propelling the landscape in the arms of terrorism. Poor farmers are duty-bound to opium farming by the tribal drug lords as they would rather feed their family than die of hunger. The worst part is when the fertile lands are sprayed by the military; the penurious conditions compel the populace to join various extremist organizations. It is a no-win situation. Terming Uzbekistan as the power keg in defining the role of terrorism in Central Asia and the affinity of terror to proliferate in any kind of political vacuity, it is about time that the political elite of high tier nation-states keep an a vigilance as Islamic extremism flourishes not only in the underprivileged places but also among the erudite and political mind sets

  6. 5 out of 5

    Szplug

    Most recurring thoughts during the course of reading this thoroughly depressing, infuriating, impassioned—and alternately disheartening and inspiring—book: How in God's name has Rashid managed to continue breathing? followed by His insurance premiums must be through the freaking roof. Other thoughts gleaned from the pages of Descent, in no particular order: —The long-suffering Afghanis appear to be an unbelievably resilient people and determined to heal their shattered country; and Rashid's honest Most recurring thoughts during the course of reading this thoroughly depressing, infuriating, impassioned—and alternately disheartening and inspiring—book: How in God's name has Rashid managed to continue breathing? followed by His insurance premiums must be through the freaking roof. Other thoughts gleaned from the pages of Descent, in no particular order: —The long-suffering Afghanis appear to be an unbelievably resilient people and determined to heal their shattered country; and Rashid's honest and deep affection for them and their dream, and his resolute commitment to making sure their story remains in the forefront, is the most moving element of this lengthy reportage. —The Neoconservatives were/are astonishingly disconnected from the real world, possessing, among others, the remarkably deluded belief that modern US warfare can be conducted on the cheap with free market principles. It's a form of ideological insanity that seemingly will not learn from its mistakes or change its erroneous or flawed assumptions. —Announcing one's intent to support freedom and democracy in a country such as Afghanistan whilst staunchly defending and supporting the tyrants and despots whose wracked realms border the object of said desired democratic liberty, whatever the practicality and pragmatism behind such actions, makes for piss poor optics, strengthens and emboldens the autocratic and corrupt, and enervates and dispirits those who would ally themselves—if only out of weakness—to the democratic cause. —NATO is in need of a thorough and serious overhaul—what's more, castigating the Americans for a cowboy military mentality whilst the European component continually runs around like chickens with their heads cut off whenever they are required to do their fair share of the military heavy lifting, reveals a disturbing side of the modern European mindset. —Pakistan is a schizophrenic basket-case of a country, immensely ill-served by its military and political masters during its short but tumultuous existence. - When the United States is facing a challenge that involves operations in or against a foreign country, in the opening phase the advice of the State Department should almost always supersede that of the Defense Department. The latter is skillful and capable at (eventually) adapting strategies and tactics to situations as they are, but is consistently reactionary and outdated when initiating responses to a new development. —We have successfully managed to export our extensive strategic failures in the nebulous and eternal War on Some Drugs to Central and South Central Asia, a dubious achievement that has allowed corruption to metastasize and the Taliban's insurgency funding to skyrocket. - In Afghanistan we come face-to-face with the problems inherent in attempting to graft our conception of participatory liberal democracy onto a rich and long-standing tribal tradition. Even at its most historically cohesive, the Afghan state still functioned as a loose conglomeration of ethnicities where the tribal elders were looked to for guidance and the chieftain for rewards and protection. Trying to pry free this centuries-old iron hand from its pervasive grasp upon the Turkic and Iranian strains that populate the plains and valleys in and around the Hindu Kush will be a project of decades, not years. —Again and again Rashid hammers home how vital an element actual human intel is for any successful intervention by Western powers with Muslim states. All of the high-tech satellites and pilotless drones and transmission intercepts cannot make-up for a lack of personnel who speak the native language, understand the native culture, and can maneuver local citizenry to understand and embrace the long-term solutions, that benefit both parties, that must be included along with those that satisfy immediate problems, needs, and goals. —Rashid has a tendency at times to make broad generalizations and assumptions that aren't necessarily supported with facts or evidence—and seems to occasionally trip himself up with his timelines in certain statements—but he is generally so objective in his assessments, even at their most withering, and so deeply immersed and learned in the cultures and histories that he is writing about, so familiar with the personalities, that I'm willing to give him considerable leeway with this and take him at his word in most cases.

  7. 4 out of 5

    James

    If you only have time to read one book on post-9/11 Afghanistan, Pakistan, and to a lesser extent Central Asia and the subcontinent, this would be the one to buy. Historians and academic courses will start with this book. Dense, well researched, insider journalism from a wise and keen observer of the region and its players, Somehow, this guy gets his enemies to talk to him. I had frequently to wonder why Rashid is still alive. Certainly there's no intelligence agency operating in the region, let If you only have time to read one book on post-9/11 Afghanistan, Pakistan, and to a lesser extent Central Asia and the subcontinent, this would be the one to buy. Historians and academic courses will start with this book. Dense, well researched, insider journalism from a wise and keen observer of the region and its players, Somehow, this guy gets his enemies to talk to him. I had frequently to wonder why Rashid is still alive. Certainly there's no intelligence agency operating in the region, let alone warlord, who wouldn't like some get-back. Even his friends like Afghan President Karzai take a fierce pounding in this book. Suffice it to say that, in Rashid's opinion, there were enough mistakes made by everyone involved in "rebuilding" this region that there's no reason to think that terrorism won't continue to be ruinous to these peoples and to the countries to which it's exported for decades to come. Western efforts in counterterrorism and nation building have deeply exacerbated the indigenous antagonists operative in the region. To top it off, this book was a great read. Sometimes I couldn't put it down and was up til 3AM on weeknights. If this book has a weakness, it is that enough attention is not paid to the interests of multinationals in the resources of the region, a subject Rashid attends to more thoroughly in his invaluable book on the Taliban. Read this book, and if you're a friend of Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton, make sure that they read it. Twice.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Shehreyar

    Read this on my 24 hour long road trip from Islamabad to Kandahar. It's an interesting read--highly anti-American, I must say--but it reveals a great deal of Afghanistan and Pakistan's past going back to the time of Zia, Bhutto, Daoud and the Russian invasion. It pulled me into the world of politics and current affairs, so I guess it worth a 4-star rating, even though I've read better books since. Descent into Chaos is a scathing criticism of the Bush-years, which we all must agree were a fucking Read this on my 24 hour long road trip from Islamabad to Kandahar. It's an interesting read--highly anti-American, I must say--but it reveals a great deal of Afghanistan and Pakistan's past going back to the time of Zia, Bhutto, Daoud and the Russian invasion. It pulled me into the world of politics and current affairs, so I guess it worth a 4-star rating, even though I've read better books since. Descent into Chaos is a scathing criticism of the Bush-years, which we all must agree were a fucking disaster, and it explores the tenuous relationship of Afghanistan with it's neighbors, Pakistan especially, and it's future in World Affairs. It talks a great deal about Pakistan's failures in the past as well as the working of its political parties, and its continuous resurrection of military rule. If you want to know about the Mujaheddin, Taliban and Al-Qaeda, read this. Now. It also delves into a deep discussion of Central Asia, all in the perspective of the current Afghan issue, as well as India and its ties with the Northern Alliance and what not. Oh, and did I mention, he slings a great deal of blame for the current screw up in Afghanistan at the Clinton administration. Apparently, and I didn't know this before, Clinton had a chance to chop off Bin Laden's block, but he pussied out of it, which inevitably led to the fucking war (if you thick Samosa Bin Laden was behind 9/11) that's changed the course of history in South-East and Central Asia. Way to go. Rashid hurt my little patriotic heart by his criticisms of Pakistan and his borderline praise of India, but hey, what the hell, I'm an objective person, aren't I? Ahmed Rashid talks A LOT about the neoconservatives, Dick Cheney and all the other dicks, as well as Bush, the all time redneck screw up president of the United States. Don't get me wrong--nothing against the U.S. I just hate Bush. And the conservatives. But I really don't like the U.S. liberal party either. I guess I hate the politics of the west all together. I'm glad that's settled. A word of advice to the American people. Neoconservatives advocate an aggressive, armed approach toward China. China is not Afghanistan. China is not Iraq. Your 14 trillion dollar debt will go up 30 trillion or more if you try to go up against them, and last time I brushed up on my economics, that'll probably lead to the Great (Gandalf) Depression of the 21st century and leave us all in ruins. Btw, China has enough cash reserves and military power to challenge the United States on every front. DO NOT ELECT NEOCONSERVATIVES! Oh, and one more thing. Neoconservatives are Israeli pawns. I'm not sure who first said that, but one of their central, unwritten policies is to defend Israel. And last time I checked, the U.S. was not Israel. That's an important distinction. I know most of you don't realize that since you share a border, a religion, a past of struggle against Goliath, a lengthy ancestry, and of course, you're both in North America. Yes, I was pointing out your differences. Sorry for the incorrect wording. That happens, like it apparently has in your damn minds. If someone had bothered listening to Michael Lind, I'm sure we wouldn't have had to deal with this shit today, and I wouldn't be up in the middle of the night writing like a coke-crazed addict. But I digress. One thing I think everyone must agree on is that Ahmed Rashid has a wealth of sources within Afghanistan. While the rest of the world was playing "Yay, Russia lost the war", Rashid was rolling dice with the exiled Tom Cruises and Angelina Jolies of Afghanistan who later became Top Guns and Mrs. Smiths in the post-war era. Don't get me started on Rumsfeld. Actually, I'm not going to get started on him. This is getting far too long and the time is far too late. All I have to say is that the book is good, it's packed with relevant knowledge, and though it reads like an academic book, the organization of facts allows for smooth reading. Kudos to Rashid

  9. 4 out of 5

    Roshni

    This was an excellently written, organized, and researched chronicling, mainly post-9/11, the failure of the US in the Middle East region. Mainly how the US was unprepared, uninformed, and uninterested in actual results in the region. Depressing and informative would be the best words to describe this book.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Anna

    One reviewer said reading this book was like taking very bad medicine. I would agree with that. I take a contrarian view regarding this subject. Let's start with the title and the main premise of the book..."the failure of nation building in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia". I don't believe in nation building. We went wrong when we got involved in Afghanistan when the Russians were there. We funded the taliban and war lords. Unforseen consequences are biting us in the rear now. That's obvio One reviewer said reading this book was like taking very bad medicine. I would agree with that. I take a contrarian view regarding this subject. Let's start with the title and the main premise of the book..."the failure of nation building in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia". I don't believe in nation building. We went wrong when we got involved in Afghanistan when the Russians were there. We funded the taliban and war lords. Unforseen consequences are biting us in the rear now. That's obvious. Where does our Constitution make provision for building nations! If you want to know just how incredibly F'd up the whole situation is then read this book. We have given billions to Pakistan.If I was them I would think Americans are morons. They take our money and then work against us. So the "brains" think the solution is to give more money. That is the authors position. He quotes the CFR rag and Richard Haass so I guess Americans are supposed to bleed for the whole world. The head Al-Qaeda guy was living in an army compound????? Supposedly the gov didn't know the whole time where Osama was? Afghanistan has resources. The warlords, others in power are raping and pillaging their own country. If the people of this country wanted to transform their nation it could be done. I for one do not think attempting to impose a Judeo/Christian mindset on these people is EVER gong to work. The people are going to have to decide on their own to save their own country. I don't care HOW much money you throw at them. The Afghanistan oligarchy sucks up the money and the place remains a disaster. Maybe you can compare the tribal mindset to the states having to come together when this nation was formed. Can anyone ever see any document resembling our bill of rights coming out of an Islamic country? Nothing has been accomplished. Lives have been lost and tons of money wasted. In the end I doubt the oligarchs of this country will gain access to the resources in Afghanistan. So much for the globalist intellectual elite and their tinkering in the world. The guy is a good writer and there is a lot of information in this book...you will completely understand the meaning of the word F.U.B.A.R. But I completely disagree with his fundamental premise and the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. “We are grateful to the Washington Post, The New York Times, Time Magazine… whose directors have attended our meetings and respected their promises of discretion for almost forty years. It would have been impossible for us to develop our plan for the world if we had been subjected to the bright lights of publicity during those years. But, the work is now much more sophisticated and prepared to march towards a world government. The supranational sovereignty of an intellectual elite and world bankers is surely preferable to the national auto-determination practiced in past centuries.” David Rockefeller So much for the world vision of the "intellectual elite" and the bankers making money off the debacle.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Mikey B.

    This is a very compelling and instructive account of Afghanistan and Pakistan since September 11/2001. The sordid relationship of Pakistan to the Afghan Taliban is described in detail. Pakistan was responsible for the birth of the Taliban and after 9/11 provided sanctuary for them in the FATA region of Pakistan. Musharraf was playing a double game of pretending to combat terrorism (al Qaeda and the Taliban) and aiding the terrorists at the same time. This would eventually come back to haunt Mush This is a very compelling and instructive account of Afghanistan and Pakistan since September 11/2001. The sordid relationship of Pakistan to the Afghan Taliban is described in detail. Pakistan was responsible for the birth of the Taliban and after 9/11 provided sanctuary for them in the FATA region of Pakistan. Musharraf was playing a double game of pretending to combat terrorism (al Qaeda and the Taliban) and aiding the terrorists at the same time. This would eventually come back to haunt Musharraf and lead to near civil war in Pakistan. Musharraf is not interested in democracy in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. He wants an Afghanistan beholden to Pakistan by way of the Taliban. Mr. Rashid also highlights the short-sightedness and opaqueness of the Bush regime in its continual support of a dictator in Pakistan and its inability to pursue development in “the failed state” of Afghanistan. The U.S. poured more money into development in Bosnia and of course wasted billions in Iraq. The eight year Bush regime was unique in American history in being unable to learn from its’ mistakes. In contrast, to let’s say the Roosevelt era where readjustments were constantly made, this eight year administration regularly espoused and supported Musharraf – and despite much evidence to the contrary, refused to believe that Musharraf and his army were actively aiding the Taliban. In Afghanistan the U.S. continued to support local warlords who had their own armies and were active in the drug trade, instead of developing and supporting a new and ever-struggling Afghanistan government. Bush and Rumsfeld were only interested in using warlords as a cheap mercenary army to go after al Qaeda. Unfortunately President Obama has a tough road ahead and this book should be on his reading list. It illuminates a host of problems that his predecessor made. It also explains the complicated web and interrelationships that exist in this part of the world. Extreme Islam has become a toxic opiate in Pakistan and the government is unraveling. Meanwhile, despite all the money being poured into Afghanistan the people still remain among the poorest in the world. There are faint glimmerings of hope here and there – with girls attending schools and elections being held. The resurgence of the Taliban in both Pakistan and Afghanistan threaten this.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Christopher

    A tremendously outstanding book along the lines of Thomas Ricks' Fiasco that sheds light on the problems Pres. Obama and the U.S. faces in not just Afghanistan, but in the entire region of Central Asia. Rashid's prose is highly articulate, thoroughly researched, and incredibly devastating. By examining the history, current politics, and disheartening consequences of the Western world's foot dragging for the entire region, Rashid makes a compelling case for considering all of Central Asia as the A tremendously outstanding book along the lines of Thomas Ricks' Fiasco that sheds light on the problems Pres. Obama and the U.S. faces in not just Afghanistan, but in the entire region of Central Asia. Rashid's prose is highly articulate, thoroughly researched, and incredibly devastating. By examining the history, current politics, and disheartening consequences of the Western world's foot dragging for the entire region, Rashid makes a compelling case for considering all of Central Asia as the frontline of America's fight against terrorist groups. Despite all of Rashid's criticisms of the U.S., NATO, the UN, Pakistan and Afghanistan (and there is plenty of blame to pass around), he never narrowly lists off a series of wrongs that have have been committed, as some authors in the U.S. like to do. Sometimes he even praises these groups. Rather, he shows what these groups and nations did right and wrong and then shows why it was or is important. Ultimately, Rashid's goal, as he explains in his concluding chapter, is to show what has worked and what must be done. Generally, he cites greater security and nation-building commitments on the part of all Western nations and serious attempts at further democratization and crackdowns on militant extremism on the part of all the nations of Central Asia as prerequisites to stability. To anyone who has a son or daughter being sent to Afghanistan in the coming months or who is just interested in what is going on in the region, this book is a must-read!

  13. 5 out of 5

    Pete Combe

    Wish I could give it zero stars. This guy is biased, inconsistent, and has wildly unrealistic goals and expectations. He may know the basic facts, but his analysis and reasoning are ridiculous, foolhardy, and dangerous in his naïveté. He proves himself little more than a disillusioned Pakistani with an axe to grind.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Hai Quan

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Most people are forget about a simple truth because perhaps this truth is uncomfortable for them : The Russian and American governments, In their expansionism, neo-colinialiism or to use more folksy term, kill and rob, want to subjugate, control Pakistan and Afghanistan and the whole Middle Eastern countries to rob the underground oil.They use a very effective tactic: DIvide / Rule: They support one group against another group, supply them with weapon and cash " assistant" .They gain big profit Most people are forget about a simple truth because perhaps this truth is uncomfortable for them : The Russian and American governments, In their expansionism, neo-colinialiism or to use more folksy term, kill and rob, want to subjugate, control Pakistan and Afghanistan and the whole Middle Eastern countries to rob the underground oil.They use a very effective tactic: DIvide / Rule: They support one group against another group, supply them with weapon and cash " assistant" .They gain big profit from the sale of weapon of all kinds, and at the same time get access to oil at a favorable quantity at low price. They came , bombed the hell out of these countries killed thouSands , hundred thousands of mostly unarmed civilians in what they labeled " anti-communism terrorism ". FRiends , you don't want to admit this truth: The food you stuff in your mouth is soaked with blood of said civilians the liquid you filled your car tank is not really gas alone but laced with blood of said civilians God damn white devils governments, rebuilding ! Why did you fuck it up in the first place ? And now you are discussing about rebuilding ? God damn evil devil governments

  15. 5 out of 5

    Denise

    Thoroughly researched and thoroughly depressing - especially given that ten years after this book was published, a lot of the clusterfuck it describes still remains a clusterfuck. Certainly an excellent resource for anyone wanting to dig into the subject.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jerome

    This was a really good book, a must read for anyone interested in the history of the region. Rashid is very well informed about the region and sheds great light on the complicated matter of its political and economic contradictions. Moreover, he does so in a readily accessible, journalistic style which will enable many readers to learn a lot in a short time about this war-torn part of the world. For those of you interested in the 2001 portion of the war in Afghanistan, there aren't loads of new i This was a really good book, a must read for anyone interested in the history of the region. Rashid is very well informed about the region and sheds great light on the complicated matter of its political and economic contradictions. Moreover, he does so in a readily accessible, journalistic style which will enable many readers to learn a lot in a short time about this war-torn part of the world. For those of you interested in the 2001 portion of the war in Afghanistan, there aren't loads of new information here, but the CIA's operations in 2001-2 were interesting, especially the "Airlift of Evil". He incorrectly states that the initial US invasion suffered only one casualty. WRONG. More like seven. I'm not particularly interested in "nation-building" phase that followed the intensely interesting and vital 2001 portion, but if YOU are, this doesn't disappoint. Interesting information on Abdul Haq's ill-fated mission into Afghanistan. I first read about him in George Tenet's At the Center of the Storm: My Years at the CIA and Eric Blehm's The Only Thing Worth Dying For: How Eleven Green Berets Forged a New Afghanistan I learned a LOT about Pakistan. His recap of the Taliban's rise is wholly unnecessary and boring for those of you that already read Rashid's earlier book Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil And Fundamentalism In Central Asia. Rashid hates the Bush administartion's guts for their disinterest in nation-building and their "unnecessary" and "distracting" focus on Iraq. Some interesting information on Abu Zubaydah's capture. For more interesting details of that operation see The Longest War: A History of the War on Terror and the Battles with Al Qaeda Since 9/11,State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration, and Tenet's memoir. Also some very interesting information on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's capture. For more details on that, see Tenet's memoir,The Longest War: A History of the War on Terror and the Battles with Al Qaeda Since 9/11, and Ghost Plane: The True Story of the CIA Torture Program. Rashid is rightfully critical of the ISI and Musharref but somehow its America's fault that the ISI did what it did. From page 112 (hardback edition): Referring to Kashmiri protests, the author states they were "in response to the harsh and punitive policies and bloody military tactics adopted by the Indians, which included the killing of civilians in reprisal attacks, extrajudicial killings, torture of prisoners, and the systematic use of rape as a weapon of terror by Indian soldiers." The author drops a footnote to this monumental statement which says "Even though the State Department documented these abuses, it put little pressure on India to rectify them. Harsher documentation of these abuses came from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch." The citations? There aren't any. Not from State, not from Amnesty International, and not from Human Rights Watch. [...] Maybe, just maybe Rashid is correct in what he says. But if he is, you would think it would be in his interest to supply the documentation which he claims exists. From page 142: A long list of mistaken and deadly attacks and killing of innocents is set forth, including a claim that four villages were "shot up," "killing 54 people while families were celebrating a wedding;" "eighty civilians were killed" in raids in Uruzghan; "812 Afgan civilians [were] killed by US air strikes in July alone," and a guote from a certain gentleman that "most of the deaths were the result of faulty intellingence ... and over reliance on air power." At the end of this paragraph setting forth these extraordinary statements is a single footnote to a New York Times article easily found online [...]) The NYT article does in fact state that Afghan civilians has been mistakenly killed but it specifically states that the total numbers involved were 400 over a six month period of time ("On-site reviews of 11 locations where airstrikes killed as many as 400 civilians suggest that American commanders have sometimes relied on mistaken information from local Afghans. Also, the Americans' preference for airstrikes instead of riskier ground operations has cut off a way of checking the accuracy of the intelligence. The reviews, over a six-month period, found that the Pentagon's use of overwhelming force meant that even when truly military targets were located, civilians were sometimes killed. The 11 sites visited accounted for many of the principal places where Afghans and human rights groups claim that civilians have been killed.") The article mentions nothing about a wedding party. It does cite a group which claims that overall a total of 812 civilians were killed but the group supplies no further information which can be checked. The word "July" does not appear anywhere in the article. I guess an article saying there were 400 accidental killings over 6 months is pretty close to saying that there were 812 killed in July alone. Pretty close. A glaring unsourced event was when he claims the US Government put pressure on Rabbani to step aside and how we made a veiled threat to the man about taking him out. Then later that day, a Predator strike just barely missed his house on accident of course. No sourcing on this event what so ever. From page 153: The author claims that he isn't certain whether reporter Daniel Pearl was murdered by beheading "because he was Jewish or a a journalist or because he worked for a right wing American newspaper [The Wall Street Journal]." Well, if you have read the transcript of his dying words, Mr. Pearl was forced by his killers to say he was a Jew, that his father was a Jew and that his mother was a Jew. If you read what the killer--Kahlid Sheik Mohammed said--you'll see that KSM said he "decapitated with my blessed right hand, the head of the American Jew, Daniel Pearl." Hum. Nothing about being a journalist...or about working for a right wing American newspaper. Just the references to him being Jewish. [...] 1) The author does not properly define "neo-conservative." He ends up using it as a catch-all perjorative for all hawks that he doesn't like. As a consequence, it is not always clear how his own hawkish beliefs (he argues that we should have invaded Afghanistan before 9/11) differ from those whose policies have clearly failed. 2) He tends to describe "nation building" as though it were a branch of engineering, i.e. something that definitely can be accomplished if we devote enough resources and experts to the problem. At one point, in a momenty of clarity, he admits that, with the exception of the extraordinary examples of Japan and Germany, no nation-building has ever succeeded in producing a viable nation. Just for laughs is this one from pages 299-300: "Female guards began to use the tactics that would become infamous at Abu Gharib--unbuttoning their blouses and displaying cleavage, taunting prisoners by shouting obscenities at them or staring at them through cages." So that's what Abu Gharib is infamous for: cleavage, naughty words and hard looks.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Peter Corrigan

    Whew. There is a lot here and much valuable information from a person with almost encyclopedic knowledge of the people and region. But as several other more diligent reviewers have commented there are weaknesses as well. Shoddy documentation at times as was pointed out, and a tendency to editorialize randomly and eviscerating those he does not approve of. Few escape his long litany of mistakes : the Bush administration and NATO in particular, but Pakistan too and rightfully so. Even Karzai for h Whew. There is a lot here and much valuable information from a person with almost encyclopedic knowledge of the people and region. But as several other more diligent reviewers have commented there are weaknesses as well. Shoddy documentation at times as was pointed out, and a tendency to editorialize randomly and eviscerating those he does not approve of. Few escape his long litany of mistakes : the Bush administration and NATO in particular, but Pakistan too and rightfully so. Even Karzai for his dithering. He seems constantly perplexed and annoyed that western countries don't relish sending their young people halfway around the world to die fighting in what is an Afghan Civil War. The amount of money sunk into this one country has got to be astronomical at this point but I wonder if the place is ANY closer to a lasting peace. I would love to see him do an updated book on the next 10 years, 2009-2018. He was obviously enamored of the incoming Obama yet sitting here in 2018 I don't see that much, if anything has been accomplished. Here is today's headline from a search engine: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articl.... Literally could have been pulled from any page of this book written 10 years ago! The one thing Mr. Rashid really does not acknowledge is the actual role of Islam itself in this entire mess. Yes, he mentions the Wahabis and Deobandis and chronicles in rather detached terms many of the incredible acts of savagery that were carried out (and still are) in its name. But he is either afraid or unwilling to a state just how widespread the attitudes of the Taliban and other 'fundamentalists' are in almost every country with a large Muslim population. Conquest and submission (of the infidel and women of course) is in the DNA of the entire religion and all the 'nation-building' exercises that he pushes constantly will fail in the face of 1500 years of this entrenched idea. Unless or until Islam itself is able to undergo a significant reformation this is not going to end. And the presence of the West in places like Afghanistan will not solve it. I think nearly 20 years has proven that. Oh and by the way the maps are excellent and real surprise!

  18. 5 out of 5

    Philip Riley

    I read this book as a response to what was the big deal in January 2020: presidential elections! While being bombarded from all sides with this topic, and developing my own insight and opinions (at times unwillingly) I remembered being but a child, observing my parents going off on our republican church friends, and vowing to always, forever, steer clear of "politics." 9/11 seems like the catalyst for my generation's political awakening, so the Middle East has always had a strong pull for me whe I read this book as a response to what was the big deal in January 2020: presidential elections! While being bombarded from all sides with this topic, and developing my own insight and opinions (at times unwillingly) I remembered being but a child, observing my parents going off on our republican church friends, and vowing to always, forever, steer clear of "politics." 9/11 seems like the catalyst for my generation's political awakening, so the Middle East has always had a strong pull for me when I think "politics." This book illuminated so many aspects of the conflict for me. The Taliban defense of Kashmir against the Soviet Union was supported ideologically by many citizens of Afghanistan and Pakistan, and financially by the US. I've also found myself drawn towards Islam culture, so this lined up nicely. Also Benazir Bhutto is very inspiring and worth researching more about.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Ryan La Fleur

    News outlets have been trickling out the story of a possible agreement reached between the United States government and representatives of the Taliban in Afghanistan finally to broker a peace deal in the longest war in United States history. This trickle has reached watershed proportions recently with reports that Zalmay Khalilzad, the Special Envoy to Afghanistan, has reached in principle an arrangement that would see the reassignment of some 14,000 United States troops from Afghanistan, bringi News outlets have been trickling out the story of a possible agreement reached between the United States government and representatives of the Taliban in Afghanistan finally to broker a peace deal in the longest war in United States history. This trickle has reached watershed proportions recently with reports that Zalmay Khalilzad, the Special Envoy to Afghanistan, has reached in principle an arrangement that would see the reassignment of some 14,000 United States troops from Afghanistan, bringing them home from this long war. The President himself has said an agreement is likely. Unfortunately, with this administration, which often plays loose with facts and has a history of portraying only what they want to see in the media, it is hard to be certain of anything. We have been down this hopeful road before. Therefore, it is rather appropriate that I have recently finished reading Ahmed Rashid’s Descent Into Chaos: How The War Against Islamic Extremism Is Being Lost In Pakistan, Afghanistan And Central Asia . In trying to look back at what went right and wrong in the United States' “War on Terror," it helps to reach back to a review of the early portion of the conflict. Ahmed Rashid published this book in 2008, some 11 years ago and 7 years into the conflict. This gives us an interesting chance to reflect on three historical points, the beginning of the conflict, roughly halfway through the conflict, and, if the news is correct, the end of the conflict. Looking at these points, we can construct an assessment of the United States and Western powers' efforts against radical Islamic extremism, and in the conclusions and the structure presented in Descent into Chaos. The author states he did not mean his book be a reappraisal of events years after they occurred but an attempt to define history as it occurs without delving into the whys and wherefores of the causes of the conflict. He bases his autobiographical assessment on the fact he was personally present at many of the events occurring in the book and conducted first hand interviews with the participants at many of the other events. As such, we can assume that we have a relatively accurate first hand source, akin to letters and archival footage from other eras. However, we need to be as careful to make sure we take into account the personal bias of the author, both in favor of and against certain aspects of the story he is telling us. This is also something we need to remember regarding other primary source materials. The soldiers at Appomattox and the war correspondent filming either the Tet Offensive in Vietnam, the flag raising on Iwo Jima, or the liberation of Baghdad all had a story they were trying to tell and a point they were attempting to get across to their readers. Ahmed Rashid makes it plain he considers the United States has wasted its opportunity to make a truly significant impact on the fortunes of those in central Asia. The Bush administration was not alone in squandering this opportunity and equal blame can be laid at the feet of the then President of Pakistan, Perez Musharraf, and the eventual first President of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai. There is plenty of blame left over for the rest of the coalition and NATO forces involved in the initial war and subsequent operations. Equally, some responsibility for the present situation rests with the other countries in the “Stans” - as they are collectively known - and the greater international community as they failed to grasp the unique moment of history they occupied, according to Rashid. We need to review some basic questions and assumptions. Those assumptions include how this conflict and the occupation of Afghanistan rate in length and expense to other conflicts with which the United States has been involved. Has the blood and treasure expended by the United States and its coalition allies in this conflict truly been wasted? Is it possible that the United States and NATO forces' use of different tactics or strategic goals would have changed the situation on the ground in Afghanistan in 2019? It is undoubtedly true that the United States and its coalition and NATO allies were not prepared for the extended combat in which they found themselves in Afghanistan. Despite the amazing success and accomplishments in the primary ground war, which led to the collapse of the Taliban regime, the United States was not in a position to conduct long-term counterinsurgency operations. It did not even have a manual to train its officers and men on how to conduct counterinsurgency operations until 2006. The distraction in focus, goal, personnel, and material to Iraq soon after the invasion was completed was a further hindrance to coherent operations in Central Asia as the United States shifted focus to the Middle East. However, the situations in both Iraq and Afghanistan were relatively new and unique, unlike any other insurgency encountered by a major power before. Even the United Kingdom, with a long history in India, Malaysia, and Northern Ireland, was ill prepared to counter this type of combat. Although keeping focus on Afghanistan would most likely have shifted the fortunes of combat, it is still debatable if the tactics themselves were effective or if the coalition applied them as effectively as possible. The primary goal of the invasion of Afghanistan was to dismantle al-Qaeda and capture or kill Osama Bin Laden. Despite the propensity of scorn for how the United States has conducted itself over the last nearly 20 years, few people at the time could find fault with going after al-Qaeda. Few people looking back to critique the situation now most likely find fault in going after an organization which caused one of the greatest losses of life in a single incident since the culminating acts of World War 2. We should always remember that al-Qaeda killed 2,996 people on that fateful day, with some 2,606 in the World Trade Center alone. This is the single worst act of terrorism ever carried out and likely only surpassed by the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in deaths by a single act. Any loss of life is tragic; however, never think about committing yourself to eliminate this threat at the cost of your own life as wasting your life. It should also be noted that the loss of life at 2,313 for the United States and 3,459 for all coalition forces. This is significantly below the 58,209 in the Vietnam War, 364,511 in the American Civil War (I am only counting United States Army numbers not those of the Confederate States), or the 405,399 in World War 2. Equally, the cost of the conflict thus far at $975 billion does not equal the $4 trillion spent in WW2 and $1 trillion in Vietnam. Penultimately, we should discuss if this is the longest war in United States history. Afghanistan has definitely outlasted almost all the wars the United States has fought. It has lasted longer than World War 2 and the American Revolution. Much longer than the War of 1812 and the length of time the United States was involved in World War 1. However, the United States had troops on the ground and was involved in Vietnam from 1955 until 1975 making it just slightly longer at this time. You can see, however, the conflict in a greater context. If you look at it from the perspective of nation building - and, sorry, if you say the United States doesn’t do nation building then you are forgetting the Spanish American War, World Wars 1 and 2, as well as the Korean War - it is not that long at all. The United States still has bases and personnel in Europe. I personally know people born on those bases and are now serving on them with their own children. The fact that we are now coming up on the second-generation serving in Afghanistan, when viewed in that context, is normal. The main and final thing we need to review is the primary argument of the book. Primarily, the United States has wasted an opportunity to radically alter the fate of Central Asia and bring it into the modern company of nations. America had the chance to break the cycle of corruption and violence plaguing the region. This assumes, of course, that it was the United States place to make the change at all. As the sole superpower at the time, the United States may have been able to utilize its hard and soft power to better effect and change how its allies, both in Afghanistan and in the greater international community, behaved and reacted to the situation in Afghanistan. However, this meant it was the United States' responsibility to make those changes. Afghanistan has been a mess politically, economically and culturally since the time of Alexander the Great. This was where arguably the greatest general of all time was stopped and unable to enforce his will. Why should we assume the United States would fare any better or even make the attempt? While Rashid does lay some of the blame for the debacle on the people of Afghanistan, he lays a majority on the international community and the actions of the United States. If the local population is unwilling to make the required sacrifice to insure their own future, is the West not being arrogant and continuing the colonial activity it is so often accused of if it tries to force an arrangement on the populace? Perhaps a deeper look at the region's self-imposed issues in addition to the advantage and misuse applied to it by outside forces needs to take place. Ahmed Rashid did an admiral job chronicling the first half of the conflict in Afghanistan. His prose is succinct and readable. He spends enough time explaining the back-story and his personal affiliation with the story to allow us a reasonable certainty of his views and bias’. The main area he fails in is the overwhelming assistance Afghanistan needs from the outside world, especially his native Pakistan and the United States, in order to correct the problems in the region. As we potentially move towards a kind of peace at some point - hopefully in the near future - perhaps the people of the region will take the opportunity presented as the United States and other great powers focus elsewhere, to secure their own future as opposed to having someone else secure it for them. If you enjoyed this review, please check out my others as well as my personal writing at my blog: https://contemplationsfromafar.com

  20. 4 out of 5

    Tanya Fernandes

    Here are a few facts about present day Afghanistan. Afghan refugees from Europe and Pakistan are being sent back in droves to country that is experiencing a resurgent Taliban; the same Taliban that was apparently ousted after 9/11. In 2014, Ashraf Ghani became President of the country replacing Karzai in a highly controversial and complex position of power; in that very same year, NATO forces pulled out of Aghanistan after a failed attempt of establishing peace and nation building. The country is s Here are a few facts about present day Afghanistan. Afghan refugees from Europe and Pakistan are being sent back in droves to country that is experiencing a resurgent Taliban; the same Taliban that was apparently ousted after 9/11. In 2014, Ashraf Ghani became President of the country replacing Karzai in a highly controversial and complex position of power; in that very same year, NATO forces pulled out of Aghanistan after a failed attempt of establishing peace and nation building. The country is still heavily reliant on aid with 80% of it's budget financed by aid from international donors - the majority from USA. Afghanistan is repeatedly been listed as one of the worst places for women (I believe, humankind in general) to live. This pretty much picks up where Ahmed Rashid left the plight of the Afghans in 2008 - a country governed by a political system shattered on account of corruption, poor and procrastinated decision making and lack of a long term sustainable strategy and constant interference of neighbours and foreign stakeholders. Seven years later we still hear the Islamophobic rhetoric emerging from the leaders of the free world- a dominant subject in the toxic circus of the 2016 presidential elections. I read somewhere this book was made mandatory reading for White House Staff in the Obama administration- absolutely justified. We all have a view on the war on terrorism, the situation in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. We all want to see extremism destroyed, ISIS obliterated, civilians saved, families reunited and peace restored but this will not happen if the mistakes that were made in the past keep repeating themselves. Ahmed Rashid, for over two decades now has been a witness to and messenger of the events that have transpired in this highly volatile region, the consequences of which have been far reaching. His passion, bold criticism and comprehensive analysis and coverage are a welcome voice in this world where issues are now being reduced to the 140 characters of a pundit's twitter feed. A must read for those this looking to understand one of the most pertinent issues of our time. I look forward to reading more of his books.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Claire S

    Great review by Dalrymple here: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/22274 ---- This is a magnificent work of enormous importance, laying bare the multitudes and layers of errors made by all involved in the last 9 years in Afghanistan in particular, and delivering prescriptions for positive change. ‘If we can better understand what has happened before, what has gone wrong, and what needs to go right, as this book attempts to do, then we can better face up to our collective future.’ p. 404 (final senten Great review by Dalrymple here: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/22274 ---- This is a magnificent work of enormous importance, laying bare the multitudes and layers of errors made by all involved in the last 9 years in Afghanistan in particular, and delivering prescriptions for positive change. ‘If we can better understand what has happened before, what has gone wrong, and what needs to go right, as this book attempts to do, then we can better face up to our collective future.’ p. 404 (final sentence). Rashid does focus throughout on the ‘what went wrong,’ within each period, within each country, within each layer of strategy. This enormous data set should be extremely useful as we here in the US all hopefully move towards a more nuanced, principled, integrity-rich practice of foreign policy. The more you already know about Afghanistan and Pakistan and the last decade, the more easily you’ll be able to layer in all of the wealth of information contained here. Myself, I was relatively ignorant, and so felt uncomfortably overwhelmed for some periods. But it eased, and I would strongly encourage everyone to read this book. The writing is lively, engaging, fascinating (even breath-taking in parts) and flows into every nook and cranny related to the subject. So the content is wide-ranging and always rewarding of attention. Highly recommend to everyone but especially all US citizens as - actively or passively - we played a huge role in the birthing and nurturance of the global threat of terrorism facing us today. And simply detaching is - I don’t believe - a valid option, atleast not until the significant accumulation of damage done from our last several decades of involvement is healed.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Kim

    Ohhh - I almost couldn't keep with this book through the intro - shows which side of the political isle I'm on! but now I'm glad I did. I'm still only about a third of the way through but the author has convinced me he's not just a Bush-hater, that he actually has some knowledge in this department. The author is a Pakistani, which I'm just now learning means he shouldn't really be all that favorably disposed to Afghanistan, but the biggest question rolling around my head at the moment (Rashid ke Ohhh - I almost couldn't keep with this book through the intro - shows which side of the political isle I'm on! but now I'm glad I did. I'm still only about a third of the way through but the author has convinced me he's not just a Bush-hater, that he actually has some knowledge in this department. The author is a Pakistani, which I'm just now learning means he shouldn't really be all that favorably disposed to Afghanistan, but the biggest question rolling around my head at the moment (Rashid keeps harping on how the US blew it in Afghanistan by not 'nation-building') is why the nation that was attacked should have to rebuild the nation that attacked it. I start to wonder if nations aren't going to start thinking - "Hey, our nation's political system stinks, let's go attack the US and then after they defeat us, they will have to help us rebuild!!" I'm sure I'm not seeing the whole picture or not looking down the road far enough to see how leaving the nation-building to the UN or something isn't in our best interests..but so far that's my big question. Answer to big question so far seems to be pay now or pay later. Not very encouraging. I am learning a lot about the Pakistan, Afghanistan, India rivalries. As usual in politics it is all very complicated, duplicitous, and convoluted. Not done yet and still waiting for the author to suggest real answers instead of just enumerating mistakes from hindsight, but I am finding the information enlightening. Okay done now and basically pretty depressing stuff. Still no ideal plan. The infamous "mistakes were made" can be applied but it's too early to tell if anyone - US, UN, NATO, or the "-stans" or others - will find a less bloody, less expensive resolution.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Ben

    Rashid obviously is one of the most knowledgable people about the situation in Pakistan and Afghanistan and this book is packed full of it. It is a slow read but that's mainly because it's so full of information. It's set up like his first book, Taliban, with a general history of the situation followed by chapters looking at the problems from several relevant angles. Rashid is extremely critical of the entire Bush administration and not for political reasons, but because of their mishandling of Rashid obviously is one of the most knowledgable people about the situation in Pakistan and Afghanistan and this book is packed full of it. It is a slow read but that's mainly because it's so full of information. It's set up like his first book, Taliban, with a general history of the situation followed by chapters looking at the problems from several relevant angles. Rashid is extremely critical of the entire Bush administration and not for political reasons, but because of their mishandling of the situation in Afghanistan which spread the problem of Islamic fundamentalism rather than solving it and created the current situation we find ourselves in. Rumsfeld appears at times lost and delusional, his statements completely wrong about the current situation. Cheney and Bush show an unwavering loyalty towards the Pakistani dictator Musharref while the Pakistani army and intelligence services are supporting and working with the Taliban as it attacks US soldiers. Their near complete lack of diplomacy when Colin Powell and the State department (not to mention most of our allies in Nato and the UN) were constantly undermined and ignored by the Rumsfeld and the Pentagon. The biggest problem was, of course, the Bush administration's obsession with Iraq and the resources it took away from Afghanistan. Rashid also goes into detail in the ways Bush ignored the Constitution, which conservatives today hold up as a work holier than the bible. It's a slow read but totally worth it for anyone interested in the situation we currently find ourselves.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Barbara

    An extremely well-written and interesting account of the failure of American policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Not only US policy, but also that of the EU and NATO. From various articles read over the years since 2001, among them some by Rashid in the NYRB, I was aware that there were great problems in the area concerned, but this book gives examples and backing for the disastrous political mistakes made, particularly by the Bush administration, and even more particularly by Rumsfeld. What is An extremely well-written and interesting account of the failure of American policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Not only US policy, but also that of the EU and NATO. From various articles read over the years since 2001, among them some by Rashid in the NYRB, I was aware that there were great problems in the area concerned, but this book gives examples and backing for the disastrous political mistakes made, particularly by the Bush administration, and even more particularly by Rumsfeld. What is even more depressing is that things could have turned out differently if the US administration had not pushed for invading Iraq, but had dedicated more effort to re-building Afghanistan and thereby preventing a resurgence of the Taliban. And US support for Musharraf and the ISI has only complicated and envenomed matters. Although the book was published at the end of 2008, and is therefore not completely up-to-date as of my reading in early 2010, there does not seem to be much reason to be optimistic, even though Rashid appeared slightly optimistic at the idea of a new US administration. Musharraf has since lost power, but Pakistan is still a time-bomb. Well worth reading by anyone interested in current affairs.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Heather Denkmire

    I've got to admit there were times with this book that I felt I was choking down some nasty tasting medicine. I just felt like I *needed* to get through it. Partially because of the repetition (I've been reading/listening to a lot about the middle world/central Asia) but also because this guy is a hard core reporter and there are a lot of names, a lot of dates, and a lot of activities/occurrences he details. So, despite zoning out a little more often than I'd care to admit (except I admit that st I've got to admit there were times with this book that I felt I was choking down some nasty tasting medicine. I just felt like I *needed* to get through it. Partially because of the repetition (I've been reading/listening to a lot about the middle world/central Asia) but also because this guy is a hard core reporter and there are a lot of names, a lot of dates, and a lot of activities/occurrences he details. So, despite zoning out a little more often than I'd care to admit (except I admit that stuff freely so it's really not a bit deal) this was a very informative book. I'll also admit it caught me by surprise at the end and I actually cried at the description of dashed hopes. Very interesting. I've been conflicted about the notion of the USA being involved in "nation building." In the case of Afghanistan, though, and Pakistan and the whole region, well, we really helped make it the f*cking disaster it is and it now strikes me as not just in our national interest but also our moral responsibility to help rebuild the infrastructure, the irrigation systems, the roads, the schools, and help the Afghans and others in the region build their political systems. Yikes.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    This book focuses on developments within and between Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as Central Asian states, since 9/11; and how those developments have intertwined and connected with U.S. actions and policies in the region. The book is extremely thorough and well documented. It is so dense and thorough, in fact, that it tends to overwhelm the reader with more detailed information than can be readily be digested and processed. What it does succeed in doing is giving the reader an overall pict This book focuses on developments within and between Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as Central Asian states, since 9/11; and how those developments have intertwined and connected with U.S. actions and policies in the region. The book is extremely thorough and well documented. It is so dense and thorough, in fact, that it tends to overwhelm the reader with more detailed information than can be readily be digested and processed. What it does succeed in doing is giving the reader an overall picture of the political/cultural layout of the land; the utter failure of the Bush administration to understand that layout; and, in all fairness to the Bush or any other administration, the profound difficulty of trying to encourage the development of secure civil institutions in an area so rent by tribal and ethnic differences and where competing and deeply entrenched interests depend so heavily on corrupt power structures.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Maria

    Rashid is a Pakistani journalist who specialized in explaining the Taliband and Afghanistan to the West before 9/11. Because of his extensive knowledge he was consulted by many NATO and western countries in their policies and their fight against terrorist. Why I started this book: It's been on my to-read list since last year and I finally found an audio copy. Why I finished it: This book was so frustrating to read, and I bet that it was even more frustrating to live. Bush and his cronies approache Rashid is a Pakistani journalist who specialized in explaining the Taliband and Afghanistan to the West before 9/11. Because of his extensive knowledge he was consulted by many NATO and western countries in their policies and their fight against terrorist. Why I started this book: It's been on my to-read list since last year and I finally found an audio copy. Why I finished it: This book was so frustrating to read, and I bet that it was even more frustrating to live. Bush and his cronies approached Pakistan and Afghanistan with the confidence of world leaders and the knowledge of the area of infants. Their policies and arrogance left the region more destabilized in 2008 than when they arrived in 2001. NATO was not much better... Fascinating perspective but really frustrating to see all that we could have done and didn't.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Greg

    Comprehensive, detailed chronicle about Pakistan's 'descent into chaos' by Pakistan's foremost author, who accurately depicts many of the events which have recently caused Pakistan to have significant national problems, with the rise of power of the Taliban, government corruption, and with it giant military, industrial complex consuming massive amount of the national economy.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Nikhil

    A clear, methodical treatment of what went wrong with America and NATO's persecution of the war in Afghanistan and a calm portrait of the depraved forces that run Pakistan. Policy makers would do well to learn from this man's insights.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Emanuel Ramos

    Rashid is a superb journalist, but this book is, overall, not so enjoyable. It's scathing attack on Pakistan and the Bush Administration can leave you depressed. But you will definitely be more informed about Central Asia. Mildly recommended.

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