Inside Al-Qaeda and The Taliban: Beyond Bin Laden and 9/11 – Syed Saleem Shahzad

Saleem Shahzad was brutally murdered when he was investigating new generation of Al-Qaeda leaders and their modus operandi in Pakistan and abroad. People in the know and those who were close to the journalist laid blame on the hawks in Pakistani military who were not happy with Shahzad’s investigations. He was perhaps about to uncover some unpalatable truths about Al-Qaeda’s links with some elements of Pakistani military, and for that he payed for his life.

This view is lent credence by the fact that Shahzad received death threats after he refused to back down from his investigative project, and named certain military people as responsible if he’s harmed. Not long after Shahzad’s murder the US troops found and killed Osama bin Laden in 2011.

This book chronicles the story of Taliban and Al-Qaeda and the course of action they took when their normal operations were disrupted following the American invasion in 2001.

Taliban and their allies retreated to Pakistan’s tribal belt where they were tolerated by Pakistani military. In time the militants regrouped and launched a spectacular Spring Offensive of 2006 in Afghanistan and consolidated their grip in bordering areas. This stunned NATO forces who by that time had written off Taliban as a spent force. Little did they realise that Pakistan’s refusal to sever old ties with militants would turn out to be the main factor in the revival of the Taliban.

The narrative goes into great detail and claims that Pakistan facilitated Afghan Taliban factions and allowed them freedom of action on the condition that they would not engage in violent activities inside the borders of Pakistan. But Pakistan soon understood that armed non-state actors cannot be controlled at will once they acquire enough power and will to defy their masters. A motley bands of home-grown jihadists, who had been hitherto fighting alongside Afghan Taliban in Afghanistan and separatists in Kashmir, turned their weapons on the people and state of Pakistan.

Pakistan has burned since 2007 and Shahzad, till he was killed in 2011, laid blame on the duplicitous policies of the Pakistan military establishment.

First published 2011

Letter to a Young Muslim by Tariq Ali

Back in 2001, during an anti-war demonstration in London, Tariq Ali had an encounter with two young Muslims who were shocked to learn that an anti-imperialist of his stature sets no store by religion, any religion.

Those young men were at a loss to understand how a person of Muslim background without faith in Islam could stand up to the crimes, excesses and injustices perpetrated by big powers in the Muslim world.

Later, he wrote an open letter which is a critique of extremist religion as well as American imperialism.

Every time the West intervenes in Muslim countries it sets them back many decades. They intervening powers create exploitative economies run by corrupt politicians on American life-support and unstable, undemocratic governments to do their bidding. This has caused massive discontent among people and they have increasingly turned towards extremist strains of politicised religion to fight American imperialism.

This is ‘anti-imperialism of the fool’. They cannot improve anything by going back to a mythical past which did not even exist for seventh century Muslims, if the ‘Emirate of Afghanistan’ (under Taliban), Saudi Arabian radicalism and Iranian clerical system are examples to go by.

He rejects the notion that Muslims must imitate Western neoliberalism to modernise themselves in order to be able to fight the global hegemony of big powers. Rather, they must find new ways and ideas which are more advanced than what’s on offer in the West.

Yet he does not elaborate except for advising Muslims to support separation of politics and religion, let go of mystified theological debates that serve no tangible purpose to improve peoples’ condition, and instead pay attention to things that matter, by which he means working for the establishment of equitable economic systems and providing people with basic human rights to education, health and food.

Enlightenment in the lands of Islam will not come from the West; they will have to work for it themselves. The internal debates about the role of religion in politics and public space will determine which course Islamdom takes, and he hopes Muslims will not waste any more energies on theological wranglings, sectarian fights and trivial things but get down to business sooner rather than later.

The letter gets somewhat confusing when he mentions celebrations by some Muslims in the wake of 9/11 attacks and says this has nothing to do with religion. He points out to similar reaction among other people like the congratulatory emails that went around in Russia and the case of Argentine students who walked out of the class when their professor criticised Osama bin Laden.

This behaviour is credited to the disenchantment people feel worldwide with the American Empire. 9/11 attack was not a “cause to celebrate”; it actually showed “terrible weakness” of the Third World in the face of American imperialism.

For Tariq Ali, it is still the economy, stupid. Nothing else matters.

Muqaddamah Sooba Saraikistan by Muhammad Akbar Ansari

مقدمہ صوبہ سرایکستان – محمّد اکبر انصاری

Muqadammah Sooba Saraikistan by Muhammad Akbar Ansari

(English title: A Case for the Saraikistan Province)

(First published 1989; This edition 2009; Language: Urdu)

Why it is absolutely necessary to carve out the province of Saraikistan out of preset-day Punjab? The author lays out his reasons with great gusto in this fiery polemic.

This is a case for a province for the Saraiki people who boast a unique language and distinct ethno-cultural ethos. This people inhabit the lower plains of present-day Punjab, the area which is informally known as the Saraiki Belt and includes parts of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan and Sindh where sizable populations of Saraiki speaking people are native to those lands.

The argument kicks off with the refutation of objections found in the current political discourse on the creation of a Saraiki province. The author briefly brushes off each objection as unfounded, dishonest or sensationalist and goes on to make a case for the separate linguistic and cultural identity of the Saraiki people which necessitates a separate province.

The book rejects the claims of those who object to the name “Saraikistan” fearing it would lead to further fragmentation of the country.  The author points towards provincial nomenclature current in Pakistan, which are, as they are, already named on ethno-lingual basis, that is, Punjab, Balochistan, Sindh, and now Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.

It concludes that Saraikis do not demand something unique and new; their demand is in line with well established and existing principles of geographical organisation. Since Pakistan is divided into provinces on ethno-lingual basis, it only makes sense to give Saraiki people their due historical share and thus a province of their own.

There is a further and informative argument from history. A Multan province had long existed alongside Punjab since the times Delhi Sultanate up until when Ranjit Singh invaded Multan province and annexed it for Punjab. Then British came along but they kept the former Multan province within the boundaries of Punjab. It has remained in Punjab ever since.

The book states that provinces were created in British India on the basis of ethnical and/or linguistic identity.  Then it proceeds to give examples of multi-lingual countries like Belgium and Switzerland where every language is accorded state recognition and given equal status in the constitutions of those countries. In former Yugoslavia too, geographical entities were based on language and/or ethnicity and so was the case in former USSR.

When the rights of a people are not given, they resort to violent means. There is a grim warning of the inevitable with the aid of the examples of Hungary and Bangladesh. Hungarian people carved out their own country when Austrians refused to accord equal status to their language, and by extension, their culture. Bengalis who were patriotic Pakistanis, says the author, rebelled against the status quo when Urdu was imposed on them, causing them to separate from Pakistan in favour of preserving their separate linguistic and cultural identity.

A good chunk of the book deals with assessing the demand by some Saraiki circles of the restoration of former Bahawalpur province. It is a bad idea in the view of the author. What Saraikis need is a unified province which includes all Saraiki-majority areas. If former Bahawalpur State’s provincial status is restored, it would leave out half of the Saraiki-majority areas inside Punjab. This would be divisive and counter-productive.

Successive waves of Punjabi migration before and at the time of Partition have caused a population shift in the cities of former Bahawalpur State. A census would reveal that settler Punjabis are actually in majority in most cities which means their political control on Bahawalpur will remain even if Bahawalpur province is created. To counter this, Saraikis across the board will have to unite and demand a unified Saraiki province if they want to end their exploitation at the hands of Punjabi settler elite who now rule the roost in Saraiki-majority areas.

A good picture is sketched of the systematic plunder of agricultural farms in and around Cholistan during Zia-ul-Haq dictatorship. It was a time when a potent and active movement for Bahawalpur province existed. Military and Punjabi bureaucratic elite from Upper Punjab were allotted large chunks of lands and made to settle in Bahawalpur to dilute the political influence of native Bahawalpuri families. They succeeded in gaining access to local votes through state patronage and thus weakened the movement for the restoration of Bahawalpur province.

He cites various examples of discrimination faced by Saraikis in their own lands at the hands of Punjabi elite, who prefer their own kind for civil jobs and appoint officials from Upper Punjab to exploit Saraikis whenever they have a chance. This, he says, goes back to relative underdevelopment of Saraiki areas.

This feeling of alienation and exploitation of the Saraikis at the hands of mostly Punjabi elite forms the core of the argument and the biggest reason, in author’s opinion, that why a Saraiki province is needed. Funds meant for Saraiki areas are diverted and spent on Punjabi areas of the Punjab. This is why Saraiki region, despite being the bread-basket for Pakistan, is impoverished and has high illiteracy rate relative to Upper Punjab. Every medium town in Upper Punjab boasts a state university but there are only two state universities in Saraiki Belt (a third university has been established recently in Rahim Yar Khan) even though the populations of Punjabi and Saraiki-dominated areas are relatively equal. This has led to a situation where civil service jobs mostly go to Punjabis simply because they are more educated. This is worst form of exploitation.

Having laid out the multi-layered argument in detail, let me also add that it’s a political polemic with sweeping generalisations, strong language against Punjabis, knee-jerk rejection of the objections of intelligentsia, and an unwavering faith in the efficacy of Saraiki province as the only and ultimate solution to fix all social and political ills of the Saraiki people.

Rough Music: Blair, Bombs, Baghdad, London, Terror by Tariq Ali

Image(First published: 2005)

This oddly titled book is a collection of political commentaries written in the aftermath of London bombings of July 7 2005. It covers British politics and media coverage of “War on Terrorism” around that time.

It particularly discusses Britain’s role in the build up to the Iraq war. A leaked secret memo from 10 Downing Street made it clear even before 2005 that, as we know now, the dossier justifying the invasion of Iraq was known to be full of lies. The author contends that Tony Blair had already decided to back George Bush on Iraq, and only after having decided on that he (Blair) looked for evidence to justify his policy.

The US and UK devised two schemes to justify Iraq war. First, they decided to trap Saddam through UN arms inspectors. They hoped that Saddam would refuse and that would provide a justification for the war but Saddam played a shrewd hand and circumvented the plan. Later on, lies about WMD were prepared, a big media hype was created and finally the invasion of Iraq was proceeded with.

The highlight of the book is in the detailed account of Blair government’s spat with the BBC. The BBC is often criticised for its uncritical war coverage in Iraq and its conformist approach toward government’s policy. This became true only after the ouster of the the Director General of the BBC, one courageous Greg Dyke, was engineered by Blair’s spin doctors.

A BBC journalist named Gilligan under Dyke’s instructions interviewed the UN weapons inspector David Kelly who informed the BBC that the evidence for the war in Iraq was completely made up. Later, David Kelly was found killed. His death was considered a suicide but something was amiss. This led to a big controversy which resulted into an inquiry led by Lord Hutton.

To cut long story short, the author argues, that it was Tony Blair and his chief spin doctor, Alistair Campbell, who made sure BBC is censured and its top positions filled with toadies who wouldn’t be critical of the government’s policies toward the Bush doctrine of war.

There is another long article that provides a detailed analysis of the role British media played in the run up to the war. It’s worth reading. There is another article about Britain’s current “first-past-the-pole” electoral system, which he calls “unrepresentative” system of a “representative” democracy.

One example of the system in place in the UK comes from 2005 general elections. Labour in that election got a mere 35% of the popular vote. Given the nature of the system, since all other parties got fewer votes than Labour, the later was to form the government and continue with its policies even though in real democratic terms Labour was unpopular with the majority of British voters.

The author argues for a change in the British electoral system towards more representative and accountable governance than this system currently produces. On my rating scale this book gets 5/5. AMAZON LINK

A Letter to Pakistan by Karen Armstrong

(First published 2011)

Karen Armstrong attended the Karachi Literature Festival 2011 and spoke on themes of religious harmony and inter-faith dialogue. Her speeches were largely based on her latest book “Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life“. She took the opportunity to write a compressed version of her book with particular reference to Pakistan. Being a den of terrorists and their large support among the religiously demented people, Pakistan’s socio-cultural mess was the obvious choice for the special attention.

Reading the book, or rather booklet, I was reminded of something a Muslim guy said while listening to a non-Muslim about how peaceful Islam was. “We Muslims love to be told that our religion is one of peace.”

Her efforts are well meant and she raises some very important aspects of our religion which Muslim societies have either forgotten or stopped believing that they make up the core of their religion. It is about the ethics of being human and about compassion. She takes the reader through 12 steps to lead compassionate lives; of how we should look at ourselves and the world and try to form a response which is in line with Islam as well as our humanity. The purpose is to improve things through self reflection and action rather than condemning the other and resorting to acts of violence.

She makes an interesting point about Jahiliyah, the primal condition of mankind. She argues that jahiliyah is very much alive today in every society in the world. She says she see jahilyah in her native Britain, recognises it and makes an effort to engage with jaahils to change their attitude. There is also jahiliyah in Muslim world and that we Muslims should also make an effort to correct it at home. Her point is that we should start correcting ourselves at home before we can point fingers to others.

Some of the twelve steps to compassionate life is learning about ‘compassion’, ‘looking at your own world’, ‘compassion for yourself’, ’empathy’, ‘mindfulness’, ‘action’; it ends at ‘recognition’ and ‘understanding your enemies’ so you don’t hate them for hate’s sake but for the sake of justice. I don’t like the term she uses because it sounds characteristically Christian and is open to misunderstanding, i.e. ‘loving your enemies.’

In short, it is an attempt by a renowned scholar of religions to make Muslims practice the core of their religion instead of succumbing to the view of religion as a demarcater of difference and as a political tool to wrap up all grievances in. My book rating 3/5

PUBLISHER’S LINK

Sectarian War: Pakistan’s Sunni-Shia Violence and its links to the Middle East by Khaled Ahmed

(First published 2011)

This book is one of the most comprehensive and impartial accounts of sectarianism in Pakistan. It evaluates the development and solidification of Pakistan’s religion-based nationalist discourse through the decades and charts the origins and politics of Pakistani sectarian organisations and explains how the Sunni-Shia schism in the Middle East was shifted to Pakistan in the wake of the Islamic Revolution of Iran, and how it turned into a proxy war between Iran and Sunni Arab states led by Saudi Arabia with the connivance of Pakistani military dictator Zia-ul-Haq. The book further links recent sectarian violence in and out of Pakistan with the shift in Al-Qaida’s focus to include Muslim targets which were perceived to be “collaborating” with the West in the so called War on Terror. Read below for details:

After gaining Independence from Britain, the Pakistani leadership attempted to divide people on the basis of religion, into Muslims and non-Muslims, under what the they termed as “the ideology of Pakistan”. This attempt at carving a uniform and homogenous identity in an otherwise extremely diverse country, with a mosaic of different Islamic sects, cultures, languages, ethnicities and, indeed, religions, was bound to turn the society into a cesspit of sectarianism. This not only led to the exclusion of non-Muslim religious minorities, who were practically delegated to the status of second class citizens, it also led to the chastisement of minority Muslim sects who were seen by some sections of Sunni majority as deviant and therefore, outside the pale of Islam.

The first practical expression of this ideology reached its crescendo in anti-Ahmadis riots of 1952 (a sect considered heretical by mainstream Muslims). The lack of meaningful state policy to deal with the outlandish demands of mainstream Islamic parties led, in 1974, to the declaration of Ahmadis as “heretics” and therefore “non-Muslim” by the democratically elected government of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. It was just the beginning. It was only a matter of time before sectarian groups turned on other minority Muslim sects. Shia Muslims, by logical extension, became their next target.

The book then focuses on the history and dynamics of anti-Shia politics in Pakistan. The most vehement opposition against Shia community came from the Deobandi sect of Sunni Islam which is ideologically closer to the puritanical Wahhabi sect (the official religion of Saudi Arabia) than Barelvi branch of Sunni Islam, which happens to be the largest Islamic sect in Pakistan. Three major factors contributed to the systematic targeting of Shia.

First, the success of the Islamic Revolution of Iran and the perception that it supported Pakistani Shia against that country’s Sunnis. The Arab Sunnis, fearful of Iran exporting its Revolution to countries like Pakistan, moved in to counter Iran by arming anti-Shia sectarian groups in Pakistan. Second, the rise to power of Islamist Zia-ul-Haq, a Deobandi army general whose religious sympathies lay with Saudi Arabia. And third, the US-Saudi backed Jihadi resistance to Soviet invasion of Afghanistan which further strengthened the Deobandi sectarian-cum-jihadi groups.

Anti-Shia edicts were already pouring in from certain Deobandi seminaries of Pakistan in the 50s, 60s and 70s but with little appeal. Pakistani politics and the society were not yet polarized to the point of these edicts having any larger, practical effect. However, in 1986, when the afore-mentioned three major factors were in full swing, an Indian Deobandi scholar called Manzur Naumani, fearful of the Islamic Revolution of Iran and its outreach, published a collection of religious edicts from classical Sunni jurists to the contemporary scholars with the singular aim of apostatising the Shia Muslims. It had a profound effect on sectarian politics in Pakistan.

Naumani’s anti-Shia credentials were already established with the publication of a polemic against Ayatullah Khomeini, the leader of the Islamic Revolution of Iran. An organisation funded by Saudi Arabia, Rabita al-`Alam al-Islami, tr. Muslim World League, commissioned the said polemic to be translated, among other languages, into Arabic and English. Some Pakistani Deobandi scholars lauded Naumani’s anti-Shia anthology and circulated it widely among their seminaries and general public. Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), the flagship Shia-killing politico-sectarian outfit, was created just a year ago, in 1985, with the tacit approval of General Zia-ul-Haq who was fearful of Iranian Revolution spilling into Pakistan. Naumani’s anthology couldn’t have come out at a better time.

The mayhem started.

The book documents major Shia massacres committed by Saudi funded Deobandi outfits during the ‘80s, including the Parachinar massacre and the Gilgit massacre of Isma’ili Shia. The Shia Turi tribe of Parachinar (concentrated in border regions with Afghanistan which was then a major supply route of so called Mujahidin fighting the Soviets) did not cooperate as they naturally looked toward newly formed Islamic Shia government in Iran. For instance, the famous Allamah Arif Hussain al-Hussaini, later assassinated, was a Turi Shia with intimate ties with Iranian leader Ayatullah Khomeini. This did not sit well with the Saudi-backed jihadi groups.

The sectarian conflict was, in large measure, one-sided. The Sunni sectarian groups killed Shia without discrimination. On the contrary, the Shia militant group, Sipah-e-Muhammad (SeM), created specifically to defend Shia properties and lives didn’t participate in the killing of ordinary Sunnis. Instead it targeted those Sunni elements which were responsible for inciting the killings of Shia and took part in it. In effect, the sectarian conflict of the ‘80s, thanks largely to the policies of General Zia-ul-Haq, was politicised to such an extent that it become a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia, who supported their respective loyal groups with arms and money, turning Pakistan into a cesspool of sectarianism.

The last section of the book takes a critical look at the sectarian shade in the politics of Al-Qaida. The author links Shia killing in and outside Pakistan post 9/11 with Al-Qaida’s policies. Not many view Al-Qaida as having a sectarian nature, which, according to the author, is a view based on limited information.

So long as Al-Qaida, lead by Osama bin Laden, remained under the influence of its ideologue, Abdullah Azzam, it prime focus was to target and harm Christian and Jewish “infidels”. However, an important shift took place within the terrorist organisation when it fell under the influence of Ayman al-Zawahiri. He expanded the target base to include Muslim “collaborators” and made them the prime target of attacks. Henceforth almost all Muslim countries and Muslim minorities unsympathetic to Al-Qaida became potential targets. The Shia Muslims, who did not share Al-Qaida’s view of Jihad, were viewed, in the case of Iraq, as collaborating with the United States and therefore legitimate targets. Al-Zawahiri allowed the rabidly anti-Shia Al-Qaida operative, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, to attack the Shia in Iraq.

Even before this development Al-Qaida accepted within its ranks those jihadist militants who doubled as part-time Shia killers in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Thus the author concludes that Al-Qaida and its militant allies, unlike previously believed, have a distinct sectarian nature. The book also includes a study of inter-Sunni violence between Deobandi/Ahl-e-Hadith and Barelvi schools. Most attacks were aimed at Barelvis who were viewed by hardline Deobandi sectarian groups as not being “Muslim enough” and therefore legitimate targets.

This book is a scathing indictment on the role Deobandi militant nexus played in turning Pakistan into a cesspit of sectarianism and terrorism. A big share of blame lies with the Pakistani establishment which fostered ties with those groups in pursuit of strategic advantage in Kashmir and Afghanistan at the cost of great social instability at home and abroad. It’s a must read for those who want to acquaint themselves with the intricacies of sectarianism in Pakistan and Islamist terrorism in the region.

My rating definitely 5/5. Look it up on AMAZON.

The Obama Syndrome: Surrender at Home, War Abroad by Tariq Ali

(First published 2010)

This is a detailed analysis of, as the author dubs it, the first 1000 days of Obama’s presidency. The book critiques Obama’s domestic and foreign policies and concludes that, contrary to the expectations of the world, the president has done nothing of note to bring the “change” he so fervently promised to his people and to the world. In his characteristic way of naming chapters, Tariq Ali calls him the “President of Cant”.

The argument goes that save for Obama’s stance on the Iraq War, he hadn’t promised anything fundamentally different in the first place. So it shouldn’t have been expected of him to roll back the American imperial project. His policies in Af-Pak, his stance on Iran and his staggering silence on the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories was there to be seen since before he was elected.

At domestic front Obama turned out to be a one-dimensional politician who looked for “consensus” and “compromise” to the point of killing any major reforms which the country direly needed. Handling of the financial melt down and Health Care reforms both get a detailed treatment in the book. The author predicts that Obama will probably be a one-term president.

My rating 5/5. Get the book on AMAZON

A Banker For All Seasons: Bank of Crooks and Cheats Inc. by Tariq Ali

(First published 2007)

Read the introduction of the BCCI from my copy of the book:

The Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI; known to many of its employees as the Bank of Crooks and Cheats Incorporated) was a major international bank founded in 1972. At its peak, it operated in 78 countries, had over 400 branches and claimed assets of $25 billion. In 1991, the BCCI became the focus of the world’s worst financial scandal – it had been involved in money laundering, bribery, support of terrorism, arms trafficking, the sale of nuclear technologies, the commission and facilitation of tax evasion, smuggling, illegal immigration and the illicit purchases of banks and real estates. The bank was found to be worthless, with at least $13 billion unaccounted for
From the back flap

The bank projected an image of the Third World bank, that is, owned and managed by the people of the Third World, and working for the benefit of the Third World in a world market dominated by the Western banks. This was not to be. The great architect of the bank was Agha Hassan Abedi, an ambitious, cunning, innovative but deceitful Pakistani banker, who moved to the Middle East and sought to set up the bank with the approval of the ruling emirs.

He set up first branch in the UAE and rapidly expanded its network first in the Middle East and later in Europe, United States, Africa and South America. Apart from the activities quoted above, the BCCI even facilitated some ex-CIA officials in secret/covert deals. After the investigations had started, some important politicians (including a US congressman) and diplomats, especially in the Bank of England, were actually found to be on the payroll of the BCCI. Many of Abedi’s aides went to jail but he never did, as he died of an heart attack during the investigation, I think.

Now a few words about the book: This book is actually a script of a documentary for UK’s Channel 4 which the said channel had commissioned Tariq Ali to write. It was probably filmed but not aired, primarily due to the litigation process that was going on at that time. It’s now in print and makes a good, quick read.

The drama starts with a reporter of UK based newspaper (Telegraph, I believe) who is investigating the allegations against the BCCI for a long time. She is gathering necessary evidence with the help of important leads when she hears about the bank’s collapse. The US prosecutors announce to launch an investigation into the bank and charge the founder and his close associates for various criminal activities.

The narrative then flashes back in the past, beginning with the rise of Abedi as a young ambitious banker and his meetings with men in position of power and influence who help him set up the bank. Many political and personal intrigues shown in different scenes are weaved in a single narrative which finally converges on the death threats to the insider whistle-blowers who are sick of the bank’s criminal activities and, either want to opt-out or reveal its secrets, but intimidated into doing neither. Finally, an important insider manages to have an interview with our all-important heroine-reporter of the UK paper (who sleeps around with guys from New York City law firm preparing to officially charge Abedi), and  manages to extract crucial evidence.

A bit dramatic at times, with an uncharacteristic lack of attention to good dialogue delivery, oft-repeated cliches, and inevitable sexual encounters, Tariq Ali has definitely written it in haste. This is not the book if you want a comprehensive account of the BCCI fiasco. But if you want Tariq Ali to tell you in his own style and if you have a taste for his writing, then go for it.

My rating 3/5. AMAZON LINK

India and Pakistan: Continued Conflict or Cooperation? by Stanley Wolpert

(First published 2010)

Stanley Wolpert is back with his latest analysis of the conflicts that plague India and Pakistan. In this book he briefly traces the history of conflict between the two countries, with emphasis on the issue of Kashmir for which, after over six decades, there is no solution in sight. He goes through various national and international initiatives to solve the conflict of Kashmir and explains why they have always failed. The most realistic and viable solution to the problem, according to Wolpert, is for Pakistan and India to agree on thee current Line of Control (LoC) in Kashmir as International border, for he believes that no attempt to swap or hand over territory to either country is likely to work. In other words, both countries should end their claims on territories currently under the control of the other.

Woplert’s main concern is the possibility of a nuclear conflict between the two neighbours. He argues that no two nuclear armed nations have ever been situated so geographically close to each other. Indian and Pakistani capitals and other metropolises are only less than 10 ballistic-missile minutes away from each for nuclear strikes. This raises the the fear of a completely devastating nuclear war if perchance one of the countries decides to go that way.

Tracing the history of the escalation of tension in 1999 after Kargil fiasco, of attacks in 2001 on the Indian Parliament by Pakistan-based jihadists, Mumbai train bombings in 2006, and yet again attacks on Mumbai by the same Pakistan-based terrorists in 2008, popularly dubbed as India’s 9/11, he argues that there is not only a high chance of two powerful armies going to conventional war with each other but also of a terrifyingly devastating nuclear war, which may wipe hundreds of millions of people off the map in no time.

Woplert believes that the world is quite indifferent to the dangers posed by the continued conflict between the two nuclear armed neighbours as well as to the plight of hundreds of thousands innocent Kashmiris who bear the brunt of torture and oppression on daily basis. It is high time the world focused its attention on continuing Indo-Pakistan conflict and its root cause , ie., the issue of Kashmir.

One weakness of the book is that it is too short to cover comprehensively the topic at hand. I wish it was twice the size it actually is. More emphasis is put in recounting the Pakistani side of political intrigue whereas Indian political scene and its policies in Kashmir get little attention. At times the narrative sounds more like a charge-sheet of the follies of Pakistani establishment in mishandling the conflict than highlighting its dynamics and contours in a less partial manner.

This is a small book. Good for those who want a concise overwiew of the 64 year long conflict between India and Pakistan as well as three (four, including Kargil) wars fought between the two countries. My rating 3/5. Look it up, as usual, on AMAZON.