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Sunday, July 20, 2008

Tariq Ali on Ahmed Rashid (From Next Door to War)

Some light is thrown on the Afghan situation by Ahmed Rashid in his new book, Descent into Chaos. As a foreign correspondent on the Far Eastern Economic Review and subsequently the Independent and Daily Telegraph, Rashid has been reporting diligently from the region for more than two decades; when the publication of his book on the Taliban coincided with 9/11, he was projected to media stardom in the United States, repeating a pattern that introduced the Iraqi-American writer Kanan Makiya and the Republic of Fear to the liberal public during the First Gulf War. Both men became prize-cocks of the US defence establishment and the videosphere. Graciously received by Bush in the Oval Office, Makiya strongly backed the decision to invade Iraq in 2003 and predicted that the US would be greeted as liberators, looking forward to the day his friend Ahmad Chalabi would be running a ‘liberated Iraq’. It didn’t quite happen like that, but fortune favoured Rashid. The first chapter of Descent into Chaos lavishes praise on his friend Hamid Karzai and the book is full of sentences like ‘On 7 December, with Vice President Cheney in attendance, Karzai took oath as Afghanistan’s first legitimate leader for nearly three decades. Many grizzled old Afghan leaders broke down in tears.’

Rashid’s real argument can be summarised as follows: the war after 9/11 should have been fought in Afghanistan and not Iraq, which was a diversion. A heavy armed presence was needed. Bush and his neocon advisers have let the side down badly by trusting Musharraf and the ISI. Karzai, a legitimate leader, was prepared to embark on reforms, sidelining the Northern Alliance, but the Taliban were allowed to regroup and create chaos, helped by the conspiratorial and ‘Bolshevik-like’ al-Qaida. The real problem is Pakistan, not a Western occupation gone badly wrong, and there is no point being squeamish about what needs to be done. Rashid’s views coincide with those of the Pentagon hawks who have, for the last year, been pressuring Bush and Rice to unleash Special Operations units inside Pakistan on the pretext that al-Qaida has grown substantially and is preparing new attacks on the West.

Rashid was a firm supporter of the Soviet intervention, although he is coy about this in his book. He shouldn’t be. It reveals a certain consistency. Afghanistan, he thinks, can be transformed only through war and occupation by civilised empires. This line of argument avoids the need to concentrate on an exit strategy. Civilian casualties in Afghanistan are high and in the last two months more US and British soldiers have died here than in Iraq.


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