Ahmed Rashid, a Pakistani journalist of the highest narrative and analytical gifts, is baffled by the West’s almost demented indifference and folly towards Afghanistan and his own country. The stakes are huge. If either state fails, as is highly plausible, global stability will be rocked. The United Nations, Nato, the European Union and, of course, America will see their purposes and credibility set at naught.
Yet, as Rashid writes: “The international community’s lukewarm commitment to Afghanistan after 9/11 has been matched only by its incompetence, incoherence and conflicting strategies — all led by the United States.” Meanwhile, in Pakistan, Washington’s commitment, since 2001, to support President Pervez Musharraf’s military dictatorship rather than to promote the interests of the Pakistani people, “has created immense hatred for the US army and America, hatred that penetrates all classes of society”.
These are strong words, yet Rashid is no foaming leftist, still less an enthusiast for Islamic militance. He merely tells a story from the viewpoint of a highly informed Pakistani who knows intimately almost all the leading players, including Afghanistan’s president, Hamid Karzai, many of the Afghan warlords, and, of course, key figures in his own country.
The severest criticism that can be made of his tale is that we know some of it already. A group of ignorant, immensely powerful and thus dangerous men in Washington, of whom Donald Rumsfeld, the defence secretary, was probably the worst, sought to exploit America’s shock after 9/11 to pursue their own global agenda, on which taking out Saddam Hussein was tops.