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Pakistan on the Brink: The Future of America, Pakistan, and Afghanistan

By Ahmed Rashid

Viking | 2012 | 212 pages

Reviewed by Fred Beauford

ahmed rashid

Pakistan on the Brink is a book that bills itself as being about the future fate of two countries, Afghanistan and Pakistan. However, when all is said and done, it is really an interesting, and sometimes scary account of some of the inner workings of present day Pakistan.

Ahmed Rashid, a Pakistani journalist based in Lapore, presents “a litany of problems” facing Pakistan; most famously, the failure since the partition with India in 1947, to establish a “coherent national identity. Is it not a democracy as envisioned by its founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah? Are its people Muslim first, Sindhis or Punjabis second, and Pakistanis third? Or are they Pakistanis first and foremost?“ Rashid asks, without giving us an answer, and leaving us to wonder that maybe they are all of the above.

That, for me, more than anything, is a good reason for Rashid to focus his main attention on that troubled country. The Pakistan that the world has come to know, and now fears deeply, was discovered to be a hodge-podge of competing tribes, poverty, corruption, violent Islamic militants, clueless leaders, and a country with ”close to one hundred nuclear weapons.”

Yet, as Rashid points out, this did not have to be.

…”Pakistan’s location gives it enormous geostrategic potential. It borders Central, South, and West Asia, is a gateway to the sea for China, and is situated at the mouth of the Arabian Gulf; no other country in the world has such potential to become a hub for trade and business or the transcontinental transport of energy.”


So the question is, why has Pakistan spiraled into disarray, while its neighbors, China and India, have emerged as world leaders in economic growth, and major innovators in many important fields including technology and science?

Rashid places much of the blame on the powerful military: “The military defines Pakistan national identity defensively, in terms of the country’s vulnerability, as a national security state, with a permanent mistrust of India. The politicians in power have never seriously tried to challenge this isolating self-definition by offering alternative policies, such as promoting good neighborliness, ending support for Islamic extremism, fostering economic development, and providing education.”

He also points a finger at the West, and in particular, the United States, for not fully engaging itself in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. There is, however, little doubt in his mind that Pakistan is a major problem facing the world.

“The core issue is what happens in Pakistan. Its geostrategic location, its nuclear weapons, its large population, its terrorist camps, and enfeebled economy and polity make it more important—and more vulnerable--than even Afghanistan. And yet Pakistan’s plans for its national security consist almost entirely of resisting Indian hegemony, protecting and developing its nuclear program, promoting the Kashmiri cause, and ensuring the presence of a pro-Pakistan government in Kabul.”


Rashid’s insights into the thinking in this part of the world are well taken. One thing I finding missing in this book is a hard look at Islam itself. For example, is a Caliphate necessarily a bad idea? Catholics have the Pope. Maybe Muslims need their own kind of living, spiritual leader.

At least there would be a return address for every bomb that went off. These days, it seems that all over the Muslim world, from South of Sahara Africa, North Africa, The Middle East and South Asia, we see bombings, bombings and more bombings, on a daily basis.

Young men seem to be eager to strap on a suicide vest and try to kill as many men, women and children as they can, more often than not, fellow Muslims.

The figures in Pakistan on the Brink say that since the war on terror began in 2001, over 225,000 people have been killed in the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan. But what would the numbers be if we factored in those 40 people killed daily in Africa, and the 30 - 50 killed elsewhere, all in the name of Islam?

These are some hard questions. Maybe author Rashid will address them in his next book.

If he dares.

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