Since the brutal attack in Boston a few weeks ago, the word terrorism, without being preceded by the word "cyber," unfortunately returned to our lexicon. For those who have spent the better part of the past decade obsessed by the al Qaeda terrorism threat, there was much in Boston that looked very familiar.
Two men who have spent an even longer time watching the evolution of the al Qaeda threat, Abdel Bari Atwan, the editor in chief of the London-based newspaper, Al-Quds al-Arabi, and Phil Mudd, a former CIA analyst, Deputy Director of the agency's Counterterrorist Center, and Deputy Director of the National Security Branch at the FBI, have both written important and well-argued books that have a direct relevance to the al Qaeda inspired attack in Boston, the ongoing evolution of the al Qaeda threat and the U.S. intelligence community's current and future capacity to understand the ever-changing nature of that threat.
Abdel Bari Atwan's book, After Bin Laden - Al Qaeda the Next Generation, as its title connotes, seeks to explain the characteristics of "Al Qaeda and Associated Movements," or AQAM as he likes to call them, in the wake of bin Laden's death.
Not surprisingly, Mr. Atwan makes a compelling case that while the death of Osama bin Laden and the decimation of al Qaeda Core's top leadership has hurt the central organization that was based in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the movement and ideology, with its worldwide presence via regional associated movements, is as much of a menace to the West as ever and undiminished in its goal of a global caliphate.
Mr. Atwan spends considerable time discussing the poorly named "Arab Spring," the successive revolutions which occurred across the Arab world and the relationship that these events have with indigenous al Qaeda-associated movements that have their own deep roots in some of the very states that saw their governments topple, sectarian conflicts break into the open, and civil wars erupt.
While many of us in the West hoped that the revolutions in the Arab states would herald better governance and the opportunity for homegrown secularists with their own domestic legitimacy to rise, Mr. Atwan saw a different future - one where Islamist parties would dominate the ballot box and armed Islamists or AQAM would have a role to play as well.
Mr. Atwan takes the reader on an impressive tour of the Islamic world, with chapters and sections on almost every country and region from Arabia to Uzbekistan. While some of the background history that he provides on each country or region is old news to regular readers of the New York Times international section, they do provide the context in each locale for Mr. Atwan to make his most provocative argument - al Qaeda-associated movements are poised for a comeback when either the Islamists or secularists fail in their efforts of good governance, regardless of whether it is in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, Nigeria, North Africa, Sinai, or Central Asia. While the situation in each country is distinct, in general, regional al Qaeda-type violence certainly seems unabated and potentially is on the upswing in countries like Iraq, Nigeria, Mali and Syria.
Mr. Atwan is at his best when explaining the tribal dynamics in such places as Yemen, where different alliances among the tribes and their long standing dissatisfaction with any central government make them a natural ally of al Qaeda-associated movements, who also seek to challenge the central government, are armed, and espouse an austere form of Islam that is not foreign to the locals. Mr. Atwan draws similar astute insights about local dynamics when considering the prospects for growth for al Qaeda in the states of North Africa or the Islamic Maghreb.
Unlike many who follow jihadist groups, Mr. Atwan did not neglect the unstable Russian Caucasus region, including Chechnya and Dagestan -places now etched in the American consciousness. While some may not have understood the centrality of the Caucasus in the al Qaeda narrative, Mr. Atwan captures not only its importance, but also its worldwide links to jihadists in Pakistan, the Middle East, and even Europe.
With such a broad array of al Qaeda-associated threats gathering across the globe, and a sporadic, hard to characterize, homegrown threat now having proven its capability to kill, one is likely to worry how the United States will confront this multi-faceted threat matrix.
Fortunately, we have Philip Mudd, who ate, slept, and dreamt this threat for the better part of this past decade from within various parts the U.S. counterterrorism bureaucracy, to provide a unique perspective on how the United States is organized to confront this threat. What gives Mr. Mudd's book, Takedown - Inside the Hunt for Al Qaeda, its arc is his career trajectory within a counterterrorism bureaucracy that was constantly evolving to catch up to and ultimately try to stay ahead of a rapidly evolving al Qaeda threat.
For an outsider, Mr. Mudd provides unique insights as to what it was like on a day-to-day basis working in the CIA Counterterrorism Center and FBI National Security Branch and how those entities functioned, faults and all. Mudd's descriptions of his encounters with senior policymakers and agency heads like Secretary of State Colin Powell, CIA Director George Tenet, Attorney General Michael Mukasey, and FBI Director Robert Mueller could easily have been found in a typical Bob Woodward book about inside Washington. However, Mr. Mudd is a gentleman and takes the high road in his recollections. The book is less about "takedowns" of particular terrorists and much more a story of Mr. Mudd's experiences inside the U.S. national security apparatus, embedded in explanations of the functioning of the U.S. counterterrorism community's threat bureaucracy.
Mr. Mudd's vantage point from inside the different organizations at particular points in time allows him to explain how the al Qaeda threat looked to the U.S. government at various points during the last decade. This perspective is quite important and in many ways sets up the findings of Mr. Atwan's book about al Qaeda post-bin Laden.
Mr. Mudd served as a National Security Council staffer when the attacks of September 11, 2001 occurred, after which he returned to CIA where he found himself at the rapidly growing Counterterrorism Center. At that time, the U.S. intelligence community was concerned primarily - and rightly - with al Qaeda Core in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and how to understand the hierarchy and network that supported it. So, the arrests, capture, and subsequent interviews of senior al Qaeda leaders such as Abu Zubayda and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed provided the intelligence community with information that could help potentially thwart plots or provide insights on other plotters and was, as Mr. Mudd describes it, "gold" for intelligence analysts.
As progress was being made against al Qaeda Core in the Af/Pak region, the United States mobilized for the Iraq War. Mr. Mudd describes how, suddenly, the al Qaeda-linked insurgency in Iraq that rose up in the wake of the 2003 U.S. invasion became an important focus and required an expansion of resources at the CIA's Counterterrorism Center. Moreover, the phenomenon was not confined to Iraq after 2003 - but rather, an al Qaeda threat was spreading through South East Asia, North Africa, Turkey and Europe, as evidenced by attacks in these areas.
Although Mr. Mudd does not provide the detailed historical context or local dynamics that Mr. Atwan focuses on to explain this geographic proliferation of the al Qaeda threat, he does focus on one element that is a key common factor among all the al Qaeda associated groups regardless of where they are - ideology. This ideology is not only anti-Western, but also requires the overthrow of Middle Eastern regimes, and thus "attacks are meant to spark a revolution, not an end in themselves."
Furthermore, Mr. Mudd explains that it was during this time period (2003-2006) that the U.S counterterrorism community felt an acute sense of "surprise and unknowing" given the geographic sprawl that characterized al Qaeda attacks during this time. As time wore on, though, the intelligence community began to dedicate analysts not solely to al Qaeda Core but rather to these geographically disperse regions that now seemingly housed al Qaeda problems. Interestingly, what Mr. Mudd describes happening at the national level was also happening at the NYPD Intelligence Division, and we too had to both widen the aperture of our analytic lens and devote more resources to a broader and more diverse al Qaeda threat during those years.
Once Mr. Mudd moved to the FBI, on loan from the CIA, he gained insight into the threat that was increasingly manifesting itself in the West and ultimately struck in Boston - the homegrown threat, comprised of "loose clusters of youths, typically kids who were angry and thought other members of their communities weren't serious about opposing what they saw as a U.S. or Western crusade in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere." These men had little if any operational links to al Qaeda, but rather were inspired to act by the group's ideology.
As the reader finishes both books, the authors veer off into very different directions. Mr. Mudd makes no predictions as to what the threat will look like in future years, but gives the impression that the terrorism threat management bureaucracy in the United States had become more streamlined and regularized, or "far more well-oiled and less jumpy, than in the first years," suggestive of a higher level of functionality and capacity to thwart future al Qaeda plots.
Mr. Atwan, however, paints a picture that unfortunately does not bode well and in some ways challenges the assertions that the U.S. intelligence community has adequately evolved enough to face the diffuse, de-centralized al Qaeda threat that we face today. In Mr. Atwan's world, various al Qaeda-type groups coordinate and collaborate across huge swaths of the earth and take advantage of the chaos and instability of the post-Arab Spring Middle East. New post-revolutionary governments, whether Islamist or secular, may face protestors and al Qaeda-type terrorists who work together, if they falter or fail to deliver the changes that were promised.
Mr. Mudd is clearly right in that the U.S. intelligence community now has the bandwidth and regional expertise to adequately focus on a diverse and dispersed al Qaeda threat. However, the ability to better understand the threat and the ability to roll it back are different processes (intelligence analysis vs. counterterrorism policy execution). Unfortunately, greater and deeper insights do not assure American counterterrorism success, especially when Mr. Atwan makes a compelling case that we face a future of many ‘al Qaedas' who have metastasized in hard to get at places, are unlikely to be completely defeated on the battlefield, nor collapse because of infighting, nor be successfully rendered impotent via U.S.-led decapitation strategies. Thus, despite the U.S. intelligence community's increase in terms of both breadth and depth of expertise, the longest war will probably go on longer, and we may have to be content with an American strategy that can keep the regional al Qaeda franchise threats in check, but cannot eradicate them.
Mitchell D. Silber is the Executive Managing Director of K2 Intelligence and was the Director of Intelligence Analysis for the New York Police Department from 2007 to 2012.
ROMEO GACAD/AFP/Getty Images
A review of William Dalrymple's, Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan, 1839-42.
This is a book that we should have had ten years ago, and which will still be read in fifty years' time.
It is a history of the first war fought by Westerners in Afghanistan in modern times, and is clearly designed to cast a light on our present conflict there. But it is also a beautiful and moving account of a tragedy complete with imperial hubris, foolishness and great human suffering.
Its strength comes from two things, found at the front and the back of this thick but readable history. At the back is a huge bibliography, in which Dalrymple to his great credit has made an effort to include Afghan as well as British sources. Visiting Kabul, the author made great efforts to lay his hands on records of what Afghans made of the war. Several of these provide a colourful, even florid, counterpoint to the grim and introspective language of many of the British sources. (I liked, for instance, the phrase "the bird of sense had flown out of the Wazir's brain," used by one of these Afghan writers to describe a drunken government official.)
It is also a lively book filled with colourful characters, helpfully listed at its front. Here is Alexander Burnes, the Scottish roué and brilliant linguist whose advice (if taken) might have saved the British from war, but whose love affairs instead helped to start it. I suppose Burnes was in some attenuated way my predecessor, because in 2007 I went to Afghanistan as political counselor at the British Embassy. But we live in a more anemic age, and I could never claim to have anything like his extraordinary experiences, which culminated in his being cut to pieces on his own front lawn.
Here also is Lady Sale, a formidable woman who led a group of demoralized British hostages to freedom and a brief spell of outlawry in the mountains north of Kabul. And here is Shah Shuja himself, an "intelligent, gentle and literate teenager" who goes on to be the Afghans' most reviled king - the king referred to in the Tolkienesque title.
Shah Shuja was a serially unlucky man, who was evicted from Afghanistan's throne and repeatedly failed to win it back until the British authorities, then ruling most of India, decided that it would suit their interests to help him return. They feared the possibility that the Russians might send an army through Afghanistan and saw Shuja as a reliable ally. And they relied, in making this judgment, on the views of those closest to the top British decision-makers - ignoring the advice of the tiny handful of people who knew Afghanistan best, including Burnes who was then based in Kabul.
What followed was hubris: a huge army was assembled and escorted the bejeweled Shuja - who (whatever he had been like as a teenager) comes across as a vain and haughty man - to Kabul in 1839.
It is worth remembering that the British army was not universally hated in Kabul from the start. Being non-Muslims counted against them, but not fatally. In fact, as this history shows, if the British had acted more sensibly they could have avoided any major confrontation with the Afghans. To quote a Greek proverb, though -- from the people who knew all about hubris and tragedy -- whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad.
The British soldiers took up residence in an indefensible sprawling camp, and diminished their army through spending cuts. They undermined Shah Shuja's authority by making it apparent that he was a Western puppet (or, as the Afghans rather charmingly put it, a "radish").
They conducted love affairs with Afghan women. Dalrymple has dug up a startling metaphor from the work of a poet called Maulana Kashmiri, which may help explain why: "The women of that land/ Are of such delectable beauty/ One could slay a hundred Firangis (Westerners)/ With the power of her buttocks." But when a culture of prostitution established itself in Kabul, and Afghan noblemen were cuckolded, trouble was not far behind.
What was more, when rioting began in November 1841 the British failed to respond, and when a mob surrounded Burnes's home they abandoned him to a grisly fate. This emboldened other groups to join the rebels - who may only have intended to send the British a message, and who to begin with were a disparate and badly-organized group.
Nemesis followed. A bloody trail leads through this book from its beginning. Afghan politicians kill each other in all sorts of ghastly ways, roasted to death or chopped slowly in pieces or blown from the mouths of cannon. The British army destroys entire villages, often killing every man above the age of fourteen in villages that resist them. And when the time comes that, in an extraordinary reverse, the British find themselves at the mercy of the Afghans, their bodies end up heaped so high that they clog the passes leading from Afghanistan back into India. Barely a single one of them returned home. That included, as the book points out, not just British soldiers but uncounted Indians who accompanied them. Many of these were left to die, or sold into slavery.
Even then the sickening litany of horror is not finished. An Army of Retribution is sent by the British to restore their image as a formidable enemy, and pursues its goal with relentless cruelty. Kabul is almost wholly burned to the ground. One of the British participants lamented: "We are nothing but licensed assassins."
This story deserves to be remembered, not least because of the tens of thousands who died - for no wise purpose, as Dalrymple reminds us more than once. (The quote comes from one of the war's few survivors.) The war ended with Shah Shuja dead and the man who had preceded him on the throne, Dost Mohammed, restored to it.
This is a fabulous history. Is it, though, a useful guide to present-day events? Looking at the successive travails of foreign armies in Afghanistan can give an impression that they are always doomed to come to a bad end. (Dalrymple seems at one point to adopt this approach, writing of the Soviet experience but also appearing to prefigure the end of the post-2001 mission: "The Afghan resistance succeeded again in first surrounding then propelling the hated Kafirs into a humiliating exit.")
The earlier passages of the book tell a different, subtler story than this. Like the early British visitors to Afghanistan, I never encountered hostility in Afghanistan as a Christian. (Being British was another story - "Angrez," English, is still a playground insult.) And plenty of foreigners have visited Afghanistan, lived there, and been advisers to its government, without encountering hostility.
If the Taliban do play the role of Dost Mohammed, taking over the country once foreign forces leave, then it will be a consequence of our own mistakes. Several of those are eerily similar to those that the British made 170 years ago. I took four lessons from my reading of this book.
First, power exercised is power diminished. The British never had greater influence than when they had a huge army on the verge of marching into Afghanistan. They never had less influence than when that army was pinned down within the country.
Second, decisions should be taken as near to the ground as possible. In the days before the war when Alexander Burnes was based in Kabul, his advice was often disregarded - because being close to the Afghans meant being far from the centers of British power, where decisions were made. It remains true today that if an Iraqi, or an Afghan, wants to win U.S. support then they must learn English, work the Washington lecture circuit, and appeal to American popular opinion - while ignoring the much more important work of building support at home.
Third, the British wasted money on war that might have been saved by spending small extra sums, at the right time, on diplomacy. Burnes struggled for a budget to support his early diplomatic efforts - money that was refused him, but was then dwarfed by the huge sums needed to invade Afghanistan. That has its echo today. Until recently, the U.S. budget for military bands was said to exceed that for the entire State Department. How much was invested in buying influence in Afghanistan prior to 2001, or even after it for that matter, compared with the cost of deploying over a hundred thousand soldiers there?
Fourth and most important, the Afghans themselves have to be in charge. Shah Shuja proves in Dalrymple's book to have been a more skillful player than the British ever imagined. While they were retreating homewards through Afghan snow and sniper fire, Shuja was safely holed up in his Kabul fortress, wringing his hands at his allies' foolish refusal to take his advice. Cleansed of his association with tainted foreigners, he even went through a brief period of resurgence. Perhaps Hamid Karzai will have the same experience, once he is less visibly reliant on -- and frequently overruled by -- the United States.
Let us hope so. If one thing stands out more clearly than anything from this book, it is that Afghanistan deserves a future better than its past.
Gerard Russell was head of the British Embassy's political team in Afghanistan in 2007-8, and a political officer at the United Nations in Kabul in 2009.
Diego Cordovez and Selig S. Harrison, Out of Afghanistan: The Inside Story of the Soviet Withdrawal (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995)
Roderic Braithwaite, Afgantsy: The Russians in Afghanistan 1979-89 (London: Profile Books, 2011)
Artemy M. Kalinovsky, A Long Goodbye: The Soviet Withdrawal from Afghanistan (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011)
The idea that history offers lessons for the present is uncontroversial and common to the point of cliché. Yet, American foreign policy decisions often proceed with barely a look to the past. And so we were informed in 2009 by then-Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michèle Flournoy, likely to return as a fixture in future Democratic administrations, "[T]here's absolutely no valid comparison between the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan" and the U.S.-led campaign to enable the Afghan people to "reclaim their country." Is that so?
In her award-winning book about the Vietnam War, Fire in the Lake, Frances FitzGerald states:
Americans ignore history, for them everything has always seemed new under the sun....Americans see history as a straight line and themselves standing at the cutting edge of it as representatives for all mankind. They believe in the future as if it were a religion; they believe that there is nothing they cannot accomplish, that solutions wait somewhere for all problems like brides.
Just as history's lessons were dismissed as advisers begat brigades in the jungles of Southeast Asia, the Soviet experience in Afghanistan has been discarded as irrelevant to our own war by American policymakers, commanders, and commentators. This has left us, in the words of Lord Butler of Brockwell, "like a driver who commits to some manoeuvre in the road without looking into the rear mirror." Indeed, American leaders believe we are on a different road entirely. While there are significant differences between the two interventions, the road winds through the same mountains.
Two books released as the latest incarnation of foreign intervention winds down - one by Rodric Braithwaite and the other by Artemy Kalinovsky - tell the troubled tale of the Soviet intervention and withdrawal. In doing so, they shatter mischaracterizations that prevent the West from looking to this decade as a source of lessons. The only major flaws of these books, Afgantsy and The Long Goodbye, is that they were published years too late to serve as rejoinders to Undersecretary Flournoy and others who came before her who insisted that Afghanistan, in the words of former Secretary of State Colin Powell, stood "at the dawn of a new day."
Yet, while Braithwaite and especially Kalinovksy draw on previously unpublished Soviet records and interviews, they were not the first to strike at the myths of the Soviet intervention rooted in the Cold War. Almost twenty years ago, Diego Cordovez, the U.N.'s point man on Afghanistan in the 1980s, and journalist Selig S. Harrison produced the insightful Out of Afghanistan: The Inside Story of the Soviet Withdrawal. These three books demand to be read and revisited in combination. They very much complement each other. Braithwaite's Afgantsy provides a vivid, novelistic account of the war in its entirety. Kalinovsky's more scholarly text provides the oft-missing Soviet perspective based on Politburo records, now housed at the Wilson Center thanks to Kalinovsky himself. Cordovez and Harrison give us the ultimate insider's account, bringing readers along for the ride as the U.N. emissary shuttles back and forth between Moscow, Washington, Kabul, and Islamabad, furiously working to get deadly foes to sit down at a table and talk.
The common Western narrative holds that once Soviet forces crossed their southern border into Afghanistan in December 1979, they were modern-day Cossacks waging a war of unmitigated brutality. With U.S. support, the noble mujahideen prevailed. This narrative, rooted in the hostile spirit of the Cold War, tells us we have nothing to learn from the Soviets in Afghanistan because our mission is so different in its purpose, aims and methods. Our very nature is so different that comparisons are useless. Or so we tell ourselves, and in doing so ignore the nuances of history.
The Soviets also had trouble reconciling their mission with Afghan history. In one memorable exchange captured by Kalinovsky, Soviet Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Mikhail Kapista cited the British experience in Afghanistan in the 19th Century. Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko responded, "Do you mean to compare our internationalist troops with imperialist troops?" Kapitsa retorted, "No, our troops are different - but the mountains are the same!"
There are many aspects of the Soviet experience relevant to the current U.S.-led campaign, but none are more relevant to the present day than the Soviet efforts to achieve a negotiated settlement and withdraw their military forces. On these aspects of the war before the war, these three books have a great deal to say, primarily by way of three key lessons: Even a "reconciliation" that promises substantial government concessions may not succeed. Timing is everything. Pakistan is not to be trusted.
By the time Mikhail Gorbachev ascended to power in 1985, the view that the Soviet war in Afghanistan was a quagmire was commonly held in the Politburo and in the military. Frustration with Afghan partners - particularly General Secretary Babrak Karmal - was at an all-time high, leading to his replacement with Mohammad Najibullah in 1986. Gorbachev came to accept that the Soviets would not leave a socialist government in their wake, but he was not ready to abandon their client regime entirely. He pushed a second, internal track on Najibullah: the policy of "National Reconciliation," which was far reaching in its concessions to the mujahideen.
The reconciliation program sought to reach out to biddable elements in the armed opposition, as well as non-Communist political and religious leaders not involved in the rebellion. In doing so, they sought to strengthen the position of the Afghan armed forces. Through a re-tooled aid package, more emphasis on outreach to tribes, efforts to make Afghan officials more independent, and dialogue with insurgent commanders, the Soviets hoped to set the conditions for a durable state as they planned to withdraw. Attempts to make the Afghan government more representative, rather than dominated by the ruling People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA), were key. The new policy was announced in December 1986. That same month, Gorbachev called Najibullah to Moscow and informed him that a military withdrawal from Afghanistan was now official Soviet policy. The government, with Soviet advisers over their shoulders, drew up a new constitution that established "an Islamic legal system run by an independent judiciary, greater freedom of speech, and the election of a president by a loya jirga assembly consisting of parliament and tribal and religious leaders."
While sensible, the National Reconciliation program arrived too late. All sides were too entrenched. The Khalq and Parcham factions of the PDPA were still at loggerheads. The "Peshawar Seven" and "Tehran Eight" mujahideen parties were strong and confident in the countryside and the mountains, dripping with a desire for revenge and a hatred of the Kabul-based government. The Pakistanis and the Americans doubted the Soviets and the Afghan government were serious about a negotiated settlement. And they understood that, regardless of Soviet intentions, a compromise on their parts was not necessary. One independent-minded Soviet colonel wrote in a letter: "[O]ne has to keep in mind that the counter-revolution is aware of the strategic decision of the Soviet leadership to withdraw the Soviet troops from the DRA [Democratic Republic of Afghanistan] ...The counter-revolution will not be satisfied with partial power today, knowing that tomorrow it can have it all."
Gorbachev also fumbled the timing of announcing troop withdrawals. In February 1988, against the advice of the Soviet negotiating team in Geneva, Gorbachev announced a full withdrawal would begin on May 15, assuming an agreement was reached in Geneva. He hoped that his announcement and the signing of the accords would induce the United States and Pakistan to cease arming the mujahideen. According to Harrison, Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze had warned Gorbachev that "a formal commitment to a specific target date would give the impression of an urgent need to withdraw." Gorbachev was wrong and Shevardnadze was right. The withdrawal timeline was one of the few cards the Soviets had left in their deck and Gorbachev gave it away. Subsequent Soviet efforts to negotiate directly with the Peshawar Seven and Tehran Eight were futile.
In response to Gorbachev's announcement, U.S. Secretary of State George P. Schultz demanded that the the two superpowers take a symmetrical approach to the withdrawal of military aid to their respective proxies. In other words, American aid to the mujahideen and Soviet aid to the government would be withdrawn simultaneously. Early drafts of the accords had not envisioned symmetry. Gorbachev was apoplectic, but it was too late.
Moscow had greater concerns linked to a successful withdrawal from Afghanistan - namely negotiations over American nuclear-tipped missiles in Europe. Success in these negotiations depended on improving relations with the United States. And so, on April 14, 1988, the Geneva Accords were signed. They committed the Soviets to execute a "front-loaded" withdrawal within nine months. The United States and the USSR agreed to "positive symmetry," meaning that aid continued to the mujahideen and the Afghan government alike, rather than negative symmetry, which would have withdrawn aid to both. Besides, the Soviet leadership believed that the Accords, which prohibited Pakistani interference and intervention in Afghan affairs, would mitigate the problem of aid to the mujahideen. At any rate, Gorbachev assured Najibullah that, "Even in the harshest, most difficult circumstances, even under conditions of strict control - in any situation, we will provide you with arms." Like the rest of the world, neither of them anticipated the dissolution of the Soviet Union less than four years later.
Pakistan has three interests vis-à-vis Afghanistan that endure to the present day: blunting Pashtun nationalism, preventing strategic encirclement by India, and maintaining strategic depth against India. Support for violent Islamist non-state actors, from the Taliban of the present to the Peshawar Seven of the 1980s, has allowed them to accomplish all three. With Pakistan under the leadership of pro-Islamist Zia ul Haq, the idea of a socialist state and Soviet forces on Pakistan's border was intolerable.
As early as 1980, the Central Committee of the Politburo in Moscow understood Pakistan was the key, and envisioned, according to Politburo records, "a complex of bilateral agreements between Afghanistan and its neighbors, above all Pakistan, and systems of corresponding guarantees from the USSR, USA." As such, the USSR and the Republic of Afghanistan signed the Geneva Accords, which committed Afghanistan and Pakistan to mutual relations, non-interference and non-intervention as well as to "interrelationships for the settlement of the situation." The Geneva Accords committed Pakistan to cease support for the mujahideen. As Cordovez explains, the whole negotiations process was premised on "international disengagement" that would "allow the Afghans themselves to sort out their differences."
Anyone hoping for Pakistani "disengagement" was disappointed. According to Shultz, when President Reagan asked Zia how he would counter Soviet accusations that aid to the mujahideen continued, Zia responded, "We will deny that there is any aid going through our territory. After all, that's what we have been doing for eight years." The UN monitoring mission - the key enforcement mechanism of the Accords - was an embarrassing failure. Before the ink on the Accords was dry, the Soviets and Afghan government began lodging legitimate complaints against Pakistani violations of the agreements. At one point, President Zia told the Soviet ambassador to Kabul that he would support a coalition that was divided in three between the former PDPA, "moderates," and the mujahideen. We do not know if he was serious, however, because the offer ended with the Pakistani leader's own life when his plane crashed later that summer. What we do know is that Pakistan has always sought to be kingmaker in Afghanistan, regardless of what outside powers do.
In the face of these treaty violations, the Soviet leadership hinted they might keep their military forces in Afghanistan beyond the withdrawal deadline if the accords were not strictly adhered to. The bluff failed. The Soviets continued to withdraw their forces. The last of them crossed back into the Soviet Union on February 15, 1989.
The Nuances of History
History has not repeated itself in Afghanistan, but it has rhymed. There are important differences between the Soviet and U.S.-led campaigns that are worth keeping in mind. Brutal Soviet tactics, particularly early in the war, targeted entire communities. This had a direct effect on how the international community, Pakistan, and the mujahideen responded, particularly in terms of their recalcitrance to negotiate in good faith. The Soviet campaign was more deadly and indiscriminant in its violence, resulting in the deaths of up to a million Afghans - about 9% of the Afghan population at the time (admittedly, this figure is debatable). By the time of the Soviet withdrawal, there were millions of Afghan refugees in Iran and Pakistan. Since the U.S.-led intervention began in 2001, most of these refugees have returned.
The scholar Louis Dupree described the Soviet strategy as "migratory genocide." In other words, the Soviets sought, in some provinces, to depopulate the countryside, the powerbase of the rebels. Joseph Collins, a longtime observer of Afghanistan, argued that for the Soviets, "[t]here was no talk about protecting the population; Soviet operations were all about protecting the regime and furthering Soviet control." Later in the war, the Soviets became obsessed with connecting the government and the population - but still, the Soviet campaign stands in contrast to that waged by ISAF, which has focused on controlling key rural areas and protecting rural communities. There has been operational success on this front. While there is reason to doubt these gains will endure, in this respect, the West has learned from the Soviet experience. Now, it is time for the West, and America in particular, to learn from how they negotiated their withdrawal so as not to repeat their mistakes.Ryan Evans is a PhD Candidate at the King's College London War Studies Department. His report, "Talking to the Taliban" - co-written with John Bew, Martyn Frampton, Peter Neumann, and Marisa Porges - will be released this month.
DANIEL JANIN/AFP/Getty Images
Conflict in Kashmir has been back in the news recently. In January, a series of attacks and counter-attacks by Indian and Pakistani soldiers were reportedly sparked by a grandmother who crossed the Line of Control to be near her children and their families, resulting in the deaths of soldiers on both sides. What is striking about recent events and seems to be a particular throw back to earlier times, is the apparent brutality with which two Indian soldiers involved were killed. One was reportedly beheaded, whilst another ‘mutilated.' This particular detail seems to belong to an earlier time highlighted in Adrian Levy's and Cathy Scott-Clark's book about the kidnapping of a group of western tourists in July 1995 in Kashmir, when the full insurgency was underway between Pakistan and India over the disputed province.
The portrait that Levy and Scott-Clark paint of the 1990s insurgency in Kashmir is a brutal one: locals living in fear as groups and alliances shift around them. No one is certain who is on whose side, as idealistic Kashmiri freedom fighters are manipulated by Pakistani ISI agents and their families are punished by Indian authorities. Local warlords change sides regularly, turning on each other with ready brutality at the right price. Police and intelligence agents on the same side end up working against each other, each with a different goal in mind. And caught up in the middle of this is a group of foreign hikers, drawn by the beauty of the countryside and kept in the dark about potential danger by inept local authorities eager for the much-needed tourist revenue.
The Meadow is written in the style of a thriller, with an investigative journalist's eye for detail. It uncovers new information, offering definitive conclusions about what happened to the unfortunate foreigners entangled in the kidnapping. It has attracted less attention than previous books the authors have written about the region - their earlier book Deception, about the Pakistani nuclear program, has been widely praised - but nonetheless comes to some dramatic conclusions about what happened to the group of tourists.
At the heart of this narrative are six western (American, British, German and Norwegian) nationals. Snatched by a group of Kashmiri warriors supported by Pakistan, the intention was for the men to be traded for a group of supporters of the Kashmiri jihad, including Maulana Masood Azhar, an increasingly important preacher who had managed to get himself caught by Indian authorities some weeks before. This was in the days prior to Azhar's later fame as the founder and head of Jaish-e-Mohammed.
Led by a Kashmiri called Sikander who fought in Afghanistan during the 1980s, the team was a mix of raw recruits and experienced fighters. Sikander had participated in an operation involving foreigners before, abducting two British citizens, Kim Housego and David Mackie, in June 1994 in an operation that ended in failure. Under intense international pressure, Sikander's cell had given the hostages up to Kashmiri journalists. The second time around they hoped to avoid this pressure by creating a shell group, al Faran, which people would be unable to link so easily to the group's well-known organizers, the Pakistani-supported, Kashmiri-oriented Harakat ul Ansar (HuA). According to the book, the new group name was chosen ‘randomly.... by someone in Islamabad that had vague Islamic connotations, being a mountain in Saudi Arabia' (p.95).
The kidnappers were initially planning on snatching foreign workers at infrastructure projects, but as they got sidetracked in other operations time pushed on and they decided instead to go after a group of foreign tourists. By the time they were able to get moving on the plot it was June 1995 and it was only by July 1995 that they made it into the eponymous ‘Meadow' above and around Pahalgam in the Anantnag district of Kashmir. Here, they wandered around the various campsites, capturing two British (Paul Wells and Keith Mangan) and two American (John Childs and Don Hutchings) trekkers they found, sending the women they were travelling with back down the mountain with a note demanding the release of Masood Azhar and other leaders. When one of the Americans, John Childs, managed to escape, the group panicked and snatched another two foreigners they found, this time a Norwegian (Hans Christian Ostrø) and a German (Dirk Hastert). Sikander's father recalls his son telling him ‘human cargo' was not ‘like transporting bullets of rice' requiring all sorts of attention and care (p.93).
At this point, the story becomes murkier. Intrepid journalists, Levy and Scott-Clark rounded up as many different contacts as they could, but patching together what happened to the hostages while they were in captivity is something that is always going to be shrouded in mystery and reserved primarily to the hostages and their captors, none of whom are able to talk now. Using interviews with locals, family members, subsequent intelligence reports, and gathering the pieces of information that the hostages managed to leave secreted with locals as they were transported around the region, the authors piece a compelling narrative together. They uncover how particularly vivacious and infuriating a captive Hans Christian Ostrø was, apparently trying repeatedly to escape whilst charming locals with his enthusiasm. Eventually, a brutal faction within the cell tires of him and leaves his beheaded body to be found with the words ‘al Faran' engraved on his chest.
The others were never found; their family members remain uncertain of their end to this day. For the women who had been trekking with the men before they were snatched, the nightmare was made all the worse by the seemingly limited and incompetent assistance they report receiving from Indian authorities. Having come down the mountain to disbelieving and slow-moving authorities, they then find themselves sidelined as geopolitics overtake the incident.
It is here that Levy and Scott-Clark are able to bring the most new information to light, digging into the grim world of the Kashmiri insurgency to offer a novel conclusion of what happened to the hapless trekkers. After Childs escaped, he lobbied for U.S. Special Forces to go back and rescue the others. But he was ignored, as Indian authorities refused to let foreign boots on the ground or accept much international assistance, eager to keep foreign eyes from the awkward domestic insurgency. And so, the captives were left in an isolated area where, as the authors paint it, India had full control. Even though authorities were in contact with the group, and according to the negotiators had managed to obtain a fixed amount of $250,000 to secure the foreigners release, no exchange actually took place. As the book portrays it, elements within India preferred a grim conclusion to highlight Pakistani perfidy. So once the demand had been made through a private communication between a local officer and the group - who allegedly told the officer ‘the movement [those who had sent him to carry out the kidnapping] can go to hell' (p.325) - someone promptly leaked it, rendering it void as the move had not been approved al Faran's superiors.
Instead, the men are sold to a local warlord fighting for the Indians, who then has them executed and disposed of. Indian authorities (or elements within the Indian power structures) are implied to have had full knowledge of everything that was going on, and to have actively pushed events in this direction, a searing indictment that has attracted ire within India.
The Meadow connects this incident to the larger events of September 11, highlighting the proximity of elements linked to al-Qaeda and the subsequent group that Masood Azhar founded when he was eventually released in exchange for a planeload of Indians held hostage while en route to Nepal. That group, Jaish-e-Mohammed, has been responsible for a number of major atrocities, including the first use of suicide bombers in Kashmir: on Christmas Day 2000, Asif Sadiq, a 24 year old Birmingham student blew himself up at a checkpoint in Srinagar. A year later, as the world was still rocking from the September 11 attacks, a JeM team joined by fighters from Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) launched an attack on India's parliament that almost brought the sub-continent to nuclear conflict.
Levy and Scott-Clark push this web of shadowy links even further, pointing out a connection between Masood Azhar and Rashid Rauf, the British al Qaeda leader who would go on to act as the overseer of the July 7 and July 21 plots against London, before helping mastermind the aborted August 2006 plot to bring down some eight airplanes on transatlantic routes. In their book, Rauf is a bit part, with Azhar meeting Rauf's father on a trip to Birmingham and being introduced to young Rashid as ‘his rootless teenage son...whom he said was in need of a mentor' (p.296). But the connection nonetheless cements Azhar's importance in helping provide links for a man who went on to be one of al Qaeda's most dynamic foreign leaders.
A hefty book at almost 500 pages, the text sometimes gets lost in its own detail and in the numerous, long and detailed interviews the authors conducted. But drawing on a wealth of primary interviews, it tells a compelling narrative about a specific incident, while also painting a picture of a brutal conflict that, as we saw recently, has all the kindling in place to light up again.
Raffaello Pantucci is a Senior Research Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) and the author of the forthcoming ‘We Love Death As You Love Life; Britain's Suburban Mujahedeen' (Hurst/Columbia University Press).
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Jake Tapper, The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor (Little Brown and Company, New York 2012), 673pp. $29.99.
On October 3, 2009, an assembled impromptu force of hundreds of Afghans overran a deeply vulnerable U.S. outpost, killing eight American soldiers. In retracing this tragic battle and the events that led to it, Jake Tapper has written perhaps the best book set in Afghanistan to date.
This deeply researched book covers the four successive cavalry squadrons -- reconnaissance units of about 300 soldiers, mostly men -- who serve in what will become known as Combat Outpost (or COP) Keating. Albeit written without ever visiting the small outpost of the title, Tapper traces its three-year (plus) history from its establishment in the summer of 2006 through the major attack on the base in October 2009. The COP would be destroyed by American airpower just days later, denying its use to local Afghans. Tapper's narrative arc clearly lays out the human drama, which, in full disclosure, involves friends and acquaintances of mine from my previous military service. I know these men well enough to know that Tapper has accurately captured them.
At one level, this book is simply a piece of tightly crafted narrative non-fiction. Divided into three sections, with a very helpful list of the shifting cast of characters, Tapper chronicles life in this desolate piece of remote, and majestically beautiful, Eastern Afghanistan. The work depicts the all-too-human struggles encountered, from the physical challenges of the soldiers on the ground, to those more strategic and moral with which the more senior officers wrestle.
While Tapper clearly admires his subjects, this book is no whitewash. With the possible exception of then-Lieutenant Andrew Bunderman who finds himself unexpectedly in command during the attack, there are no unambiguous heroes. But Bunderman is a rare under-developed character. Elsewhere, compromised situations force compromised decisions, from the seniors leaders to the privates on the ground. Perhaps because Tapper never embedded with these units, instead reconstructing events post hoc, he maintains an admirable detachment, highlighting flaws even in those men he most clearly admires. This narrative alone is more than worth the price of admission.
Tapper is equally effective at capturing the Army's socio-economic breadth and depth, adding nuance and texture to the oft-depicted cliché of a divide between officers and grunts. Upper middle class officers such as Michael Howard, Chris Kolenda and Brad Brown, who despite having command responsibility for Keating (and numerous other bases), did not live there or share its hardships, come to life in the narrative. So do Keating's more humble denizens, such as both the newly married, recently orphaned Ryan Fritsche, who dies on a hillside near the outpost under the tenure of the second occupying squadron, and the Army mechanic and de facto bigamist Vernon Martin, who perishes in the final battle some years later.
However, the book works most powerfully as a metaphor for the entire Afghanistan project. In the cycle of four units relieving each other over the course of three years, the mood comes full circle. The first squadron shows great enthusiasm, ignoring the clear tactical vulnerability of an outpost in a valley in order to be near to the Afghan villagers. Three years later, this inherent vulnerability and ineffectiveness can no longer be ignored, but the last unit cannot marshal the resources necessary to close the base before it is over-run. While the commanders of the last unit will shoulder much of the official blame, it is not clear that they could have done any more than the final commanders of a similarly indefensible valley fortress, at Dien Bien Phu-the infamously mis-sited French base in Vietnam, whose similar, if larger scale, vulnerability put an end to the French campaign in IndoChina. Tapper's prologue deals with the incredulous analyst who details the laundry list of reasons why Keating should not be positioned where it was-base of a peak, rivers on two sides, no good road, far away even by helicopter. While the analyst does not use the words "rice bowl" as Viet Mihn General Giap famously did the soon-to-be-surrendered Dien Bien Phu, the sentiment is clearly the same.
In these four units we see the complete cycle that characterizes most encounters with Afghanistan-naïve idealism, then modest success, then decline, then concern....and finally disaster. Perversely, it is the modest successes that encourage continued investment in the campaign. Afghanistan seems to have become a "baited ambush" at all levels of war, with just enough enticement to keep investing. The limited tactical successes of Chris Kolenda (the second squadron commander) give the illusion of military and political progress, though they quickly fade. And at the grand strategic level, the 2009 elections that return President Karzai to power are lauded despite being widely considered fraudulent-because they are. But at both levels, being able to "check the box" on an accomplishment seems to justify more effort. The ability to convince one's self that things are improving, or at least that improvement is "just around the corner," has been instrumental to this decade-long debacle.
The irony, of course, is that the Army, like most American institutions, uses a short-term rewards system. Therefore, the officers (and their civilian advisors) who conceptualized the fatally placed base continue to progress through the ranks, based on their glowing "report cards" for establishing COP Keating. Meanwhile, the commanders who were flabbergasted and scandalized by the placement of the inherited outpost are forever tainted by it being destroyed under their watch.
Tapper has done a two-fold service with this book. First, he lays out a highly engaging narrative that fully engages the reader across three years in one desolate corner of Afghanistan-albeit via the American viewpoint. But more importantly, he provides a window into the false hopes and visions that enabled this failed experiment, an attempt to create government in spaces that had actively avoided such. Tapper shows-without telling-that the United States had, and has, no national interest remaining in Afghanistan, other than eliminating Al Qaeda safe havens. The U.S. presence in general was misguided and the "outposting" push into the remote valleys of Nuristan and Kunar particularly inane. Tapper's characters show the price that was paid-in blood, in careers, in broken relationships, in damaged psyches, not to mention in money.
Tapper's book is not anti-war by any means. But it is anti-stupid war. And he clearly shows that, while there was a clear justification for the overthrow of the Taliban regime, by the time of the events he narrates, this was a war of choice.
A bad choice.
Douglas A. Ollivant, Ph.D. is a Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation and a retired Army officer. He spent 12 months in 2010-2011 as the Senior Counterinsurgency Advisor to the Commander, Regional Command East, Afghanistan. He is on Twitter at @DouglasOllivant.
Anyone seeking to understand Afghanistan in general, the flaws in the United States' effort there, or life on the ground as a political advisor in the midst of a counterinsurgency, should read The Valley's Edge by Daniel Green.
The book is a detailed, first-hand account of how a team of U.S. soldiers and civilians, focused on improving governance and development, operated in the midst of a worsening insurgency in one of the most remote provinces in Afghanistan. In the popular media and in academic articles, those who have followed the war over the past decade have been inundated with terms such as "Jirga," free and fair elections, pervasive corruption, and the nature of the Taliban insurgency. The Valley's Edge gives life to these expressions as the reader experiences through Green a meeting with disgruntled elders, seating a provincial council for the first time, a patrol to inspect development projects, the deaths of friends, and the inside stories behind how local government officials actually conducted their corrupt activities.
I first met Dan Green during his second tour as a State Department political advisor to the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Uruzgan Province, one of the world's most remote locales, while serving there as a Special Forces officer in 2006. My distinct memory after sitting down with Green for the first time was that he was the first person that I had come across who seriously dedicated himself to understanding the complicated tribal and interpersonal political dynamics at play in every corner of Afghanistan. His work made me realize how superficial our knowledge of Afghan society and the insurgency was at the time (and still is to a large degree), and how those dynamics were critical to understanding popular support for the insurgency. In 2005 and 2006 the U.S. and coalition effort was taking a very black and white approach to the growing insurgency - those in government positions were good and deserved our support, while those labeled as "Taliban" were targeted.
Green's efforts, as described in The Valley's Edge, helped me realize how much we had to learn and how long it was going to take. As shown in the book, after sustained efforts to engage a cross section of Afghan leaders, it took Green the better part of a year to even begin understanding the complex and decades-old rivalries, feuds, and competing tribal groups that were interwoven into the fabric of a fledgling government, an under-resourced coalition effort, and a resurgent Taliban.
The Uruzgan described in The Valleys Edge is a microcosm of issues that have plagued the war effort in the past decade. For example, Green highlights the dichotomy that exists between maintaining security and improving governance. Security in Afghanistan was often established and sometimes brutally maintained by warlords cum government officials. In the case of Uruzgan, one of Afghanistan's most notorious warlords, Governor Jan Mohammed Khan, ruthlessly repressed the Taliban's attempts to reassert their influence in the province. However, his efforts were often at the expense of his tribal rivals, from whom he would withhold government positions and development aide. Green slowly peels back the onion on Jan Mohammed's network of supporters and rivals, and describes how the disaffected tribes viewed the United States as complicit in the repression because we often took the default position of supporting the "legitimate Afghan government".
Green aptly describes how Jan Mohammed's removal as governor ushered in a more democratic and legitimate official, but, in turn, also created a vacuum of significant tribal support for the government. This vacuum opened the door to the resurgence of the Taliban backed by the tribes that were forcefully repressed during Jan Mohammed's rule. The result was a significant spike in violence by the summer of 2006 that lessoned the ability of the PRT and NGOs to conduct development programs. Thus, though governance improved in Uruzgan, the removal of the province's most powerful strongman and his allies, coupled with the transition from the U.S. to the Dutch military in 2006 was a recipe for disaster.
Throughout The Valley's Edge, the reader is able to witness the evolution in the Taliban's tactics, from an uncoordinated and sporadic hit-and-run campaign to classic insurgent techniques of intimidating and assassinating government supporters. Green describes how by his second tour in 2006, the first suicide bomber, car bombs and a huge increase in IEDs were taking a toll on the populace, the efforts of the PRT, and him personally.
The reader also experiences the inadequacies of NATO. Green gets a firsthand look at the Dutch replacement of the U.S. presence in Uruzgan, and again it proves to be a microcosm of the broader flaws associated with NATO taking the lead for security in Afghanistan. He aptly describes how the Dutch found themselves dealing with a very hostile insurgency by the time they took charge of the province in the fall of 2006, which was far removed from the peacekeeping-like effort the Dutch government had signed up for in 2004-2005. In hindsight, this proved true of the entire NATO effort, as evidenced by the myriad of national caveats imposed on the various NATO forces by their governments intended to limit their exposure to the insurgency. The caveats imposed various limitations on what each nations' forces could and could not do, such as engaging in offensive operations or imposing geographical limitations on where units could patrol. Ironically these caveats over time prevented NATO from dealing with many of the sources of instability driving the insurgency, and severely hampered the flexibility of the NATO-ISAF commander. Green describes first-hand what he noticed during his third tour in Afghanistan as a military officer: the lack of will and capability in our NATO allies to prosecute a fully resourced, comprehensive counterinsurgency campaign. Voicing frustration, he also describes the lack of planning behind, and relative ineffectiveness of, the U.S. civilian surge in the fall of 2009.
The strength of The Valley's Edge is that it gives the reader perspective on the war's progression over time, while remaining focused on one geographical location. Green's multiple tours span six years and allow the reader to experience the digression in security, the transition to NATO, and our evolution in dealing with the Afghans. The Valley's Edge is certainly a recommended read, and one that historians will reference generations from now as they recount the history of the war in Afghanistan.
Michael Waltz is a Senior National Security Fellow at the New America Foundation and a former advisor on South Asia to Vice President Cheney.
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Hunting in the Shadows: The Pursuit of al Qaeda since 9/11 - Seth Jones
The Al Qaeda Factor: Plots Against the West - Mitchell D. Silber
What is the nature of al-Qaeda? Is it an organization with tight leadership structures and command and control, or is it an idea that takes harbor in the hearts and souls of disenfranchised or disillusioned young men and women seeking some greater meaning to their lives? Over time, the importance of these two schools of general thought has waxed and waned with various academics, authors, pundits and practitioners alternatively concluding the importance of one over the other largely depending on the nature of the latest plot to be disrupted. Hunting in the Shadows: The Pursuit of al Qaeda since 9/11 by Seth Jones and The al Qaeda Factor: Plots Against the West by Mitchell D. Silber offer different insights into this question, while reaching largely similar conclusions about what al-Qaeda is and how it has targeted the West.
Both of these books were published over a decade after the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington bloodily thrust al-Qaeda into the public consciousness, meaning they are able to look back at a considerable amount of data. While Jones' is the more narratively satisfying book, telling a story of al Qaeda around the world, there are omissions in the text that reflect its heavy American focus. Silber's, on the other hand, is a case-by-case analysis that lacks a narrative storyline, but the accounts of the plots in question are drawn from primary sources that make them some of the most factually accurate versions yet told of the various plots, and bring new and interesting insights useful to analysts and researchers.
Gathering information from court documents, press, personal experience, and interviews the books focus on two different theses that ultimately reach the same goal. Silber sets out to find, "what is the "al Qaeda factor" in plots against the West?" For Jones, the central question is "what factors have caused al Qaeda waves and reverse waves?" "Waves" are "surges in terrorist violence" and "reverse waves" are "decreases in terrorist activity." The underlying aim of both is to understand how it is that al-Qaeda has targeted the West, and to what degree we can ascribe responsibility to the core organization.
Silber argues that there is a distinction to be drawn between those plots he characterizes as "al-Qaeda command and control," "al-Qaeda suggested/endorsed," and "al Qaeda inspired." As the definitions quite clearly imply, in each case there is some semblance of a connection to al-Qaeda or its ideas, but there is a distinct difference between the cases in which individuals sitting in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) have provided direction, and those in which individuals internalized al-Qaeda ideas to try to carry out plots (or al-Qaeda-like ideas, given the inclusion of the 1993 attempt by Ramzi Yousef to bring down the World Trade Center, something he did after having been trained in Afghanistan and having plotted with his uncle Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, but prior to Mohammed's swearing of bayat (allegiance) to bin Laden). The end result, however, of all three types is the same: a plot, or attempted plot, to attack the West in support of al-Qaeda's ideology. The cases offered are a laundry list of some of the most prominent plots targeting Europe, North America and Australia.
Jones' thesis is instead that al-Qaeda's violence has come in waves, the product of more or less intense and effective focus by counterterrorism forces. Identifying three key prongs to an effective counterterrorism strategy - a light military footprint, helping local regimes and authorities in their counterterrorism efforts, and exploiting al Qaeda's tendency to massacre civilians - Jones draws upon events in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Sudan, and Yemen, as well as al-Qaeda plots in America, Spain and the United Kingdom, to map out how these waves have crested and broken against determined counterterrorism efforts.
Al-Qaeda's ability to shoot itself in the foot, as in the wholesale butchery by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), is highlighted as an example of where the group goes too far and causes a local resurgence from which American forces were able to profit. It also serves to highlight how al-Qaeda Central can lose control of affiliates and suffer as a result. AQI's butchery not only appalled the general public, but it also led a number of scholars to write about the group's brutality and the numbers of Muslims that it wantonly killed whilst claiming to be targeting the West.
Here we can see how the organization would have liked to have tighter control, but was unable to maintain it. As the ideas it has been advancing take root, they increasingly find themselves being used by groups that take them in directions that detract from the original strategy of using terrorist attacks to stimulate the broader ummah into rising up. In some cases, like the Madrid bombings of 2004, the inspiration approach seems to work, as a group loosely connected to -- but not directed by -- al-Qaeda managed to carry out a successful attack on the West. In Iraq, on the other hand, where a local affiliate became too bloodthirsty, massacres of civilians led to the "Anbar Awakening" against al-Qaeda.
While al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden is not the focus of attention in either book, he lingers as a background presence, his letters and writings surfacing as he tries to assert authority over the network he has created. In Jones' book we see others in the organization finding his leadership somewhat lacking. Jones quotes a letter in which top al-Qaeda operative Saif al-Adl expresses anger to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed about how Osama "‘had failed to develop a cogent strategy for what would happen after the September 11 attacks." In Silber's text, bin Laden features even less, mentioned only as being aware of the 9/11 attacks (though plotting is described as being led by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed) and as meeting with some of the members of the ‘Lackawanna Cluster,' a group of Yemeni-Americans who prior to 9/11 travelled to Afghanistan and trained at al-Qaeda camps. Some of these young men heard bin Laden speak, and soon afterwards concluded they were not interested in doing any more training.
One of them, Sahim Alwan, was invited to speak to bin Laden directly, and the al-Qaeda leader asked why he was leaving and more generally about what Muslims in America were like. But, as Silber points out, while this presented an opportunity for the group to recruit the men, "it did not happen." Both authors conclude that bin Laden was important primarily as a figurehead. As Silber writes towards the end: "regardless of the nature of his precise operational role in the organization, in the ten years since 9/11, he had become a legendary and mythical source of inspiration to individuals in the West who aspired to join his movement, regardless of whether they were in London, New York, Toronto or Madrid."
But the larger figures in these books are the operational leaders underneath bin Laden. Coming from authors with deep involvement in American counter-terrorism efforts, the books are highly tactical in their approaches. Silber's is written from the perspective of a man who has spent many years tracking al-Qaeda's threat to New York as Director of Intelligence Analysis for the NYPD, while Jones writes as a researcher at RAND, drawing heavily on interviews with key players from the American counter-terrorism community, including Bruce Hoffman, Philip Mudd, Art Cummings, and John Negroponte.
Both authors conclude that al-Qaeda Central has tried and failed repeatedly over the years to launch attacks against the West. September 11 was a thundering success in this regard, but since then, while we have seen surges of terrorist violence around the world linked to al-Qaeda affiliates, the core organization's ability to effectively launch attacks has clearly been stymied by effective counterterrorism efforts. Heavy pressure means less time for people to be trained properly, and this means less effective operators and a reduced capacity to attack.
And while the spread of extremist ideas is important, it is not always going to produce great cells. While the Madrid group or the Hofstad Cell in Holland were reasonably productive cells that connected with peripheral al-Qaeda figures and led to results like the Madrid bombings or the murder of Theo van Gogh that impressed al-Qaeda, the Duka family in New Jersey or Russell Defreitas in New York (both highlighted in Jones' text) produced half-baked plots like the effort to blow up the fuel pipeline to JFK airport with no proper training that are hardly the sort of activity that al-Qaeda would want to be associated with.
Both books are useful in painting a methodical picture of how al-Qaeda has tried to attack the West, but where they are maybe less effective is in identifying how it is that these individuals can be prevented from ever going down the path of seeking meaning in al Qaeda's ideas. Jones does suggest finding ways to exploit the inconsistencies in al-Qaeda's narrative in order to undermine their capacity to recruit, but the fact is that more than a decade since the group's official creation, people are still being drawn to the flame. This suggests that we have still not figured out how to offer an appealing alternative narrative, and that the ideas that al-Qaeda advances are still able to draw recruits.
Jones's Hunting in the Shadows could be described as an official history of sorts of al-Qaeda from the U.S. government perspective. This makes it a different beast to Silber's The Al Qaeda Factor, in which a much more coldly analytical process draws a clear conclusion about the ‘al Qaeda factor' in various terrorist plots.
Jones and Silber both conclude that it is becoming ever harder for al-Qaeda to effectively connect with and re-direct these recruits back home to carry out terrorist plots. Taking this conclusion a step further, we may assume that over time this sort of pressure will wear the network down. But if they are able to harness individuals drawn to them more effectively and enable a further wave of terrorist violence, the al-Qaeda ideology may survive longer. The solution advanced in both of these books, and echoed by the U.S. counterterrorism community, is to maintain heavy pressure through drone strikes as well as support to the host governments, and continue to focus on disrupting the groups' capability to launch attacks on the West.
Raffaello Pantucci is an Associate Fellow at the International Center for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR) and the author of the forthcoming 'We Love Death As You Love Life: Britain's Suburban Mujahedeen' (Hurst/Columbia University Press).
we lose, it's going to be because of the civilians."
This pre-emptive attempt to define the epitaph of the Afghanistan war (made by a U.S. official at NATO) could almost be the one-line summary of Rajiv Chandrasekaran's Little America. The author himself spreads the blame even wider. "Our government was incapable of meeting the challenge. Our generals and diplomats were too ambitious and arrogant. Our uniformed and civilian bureaucracies were rife with internal rivalries... Our development experts were inept. Our leaders were distracted."
Little America is a well-researched, clearly-written exposé of the debates, disputes and political skullduggery between those involved in the Afghanistan "surge" in 2009. I found it easy to read: it mixes together comedy, tragedy, suspense and political analysis.
It is inevitably influenced by the people who talked to the author, who include (to judge from the endnotes) a large number of people in or close to the U.S. military; military perspectives predominate. And the losers in the book are more numerous than the winners.
Loser: Little America. It turns out that this project, intended to revitalize Afghanistan's agriculture in Helmand in the 1950s, essentially failed. The story of its failure -- over-ambitious, overfunded projects unsuited to Afghan realities -- is eerily prescient.
Loser: The Afghan Army, which comes across as badly-led and inept. "It's better for us," an Afghan soldier tells Chandrasekaran, "to let the Americans chase the Taliban."
Loser: The civilian surge. The image of drunken party-goers urinating against the outer wall of the U.S. Embassy's political section is hard to forget. But there is a lot of truth in the broader, more serious point. Security rules stopped civilians from engaging with Afghans, making the civilians' presence in Afghanistan in the first place a very expensive exercise in futility.
Loser: USAID. Chandrasekaran describes its bizarre war against the sensible, if
short-term, idea of combating drugs production by subsidising alternative
crops. "Their thinking is all about free trade," a USAID official is quoted
saying about the agency's management. "But what about the goal of keeping
people from shooting at our troops?"
Loser: The Brits and the Canadians. I thought this was going to happen as soon as I read the sentence "British commanders planned to show the Americans... how the pros executed counterinsurgency". As ever, pride came before a fall. By the end of the book, the British are suffering casualties at a higher proportion than the Americans, and are not too proud to ask the Marines for help. The Canadians, who preferred to run Kandahar with far fewer troops than the British and without Marine help, also come in for criticism. (As Chandrasekaran hints, the underlying problem was the original decision that provinces of Afghanistan should each be farmed out to separate NATO allies. Surely, the reader might think, there could have been a better way for NATO allies to work together than this.)
Loser: The chain of command. A U.S. company commander was transferred to a desk job as a punishment. His crime? Posting up remarks made by General Stanley McChrystal, the commander of U.S. Forces Afghanistan. This was apparently an unwise move in a brigade whose commander disagreed with McChrystal's approach. And that wasn't the only time that McChrystal was thwarted by technically more junior staff. The Marines were largely outside his control, thanks to a deal they had made with the Pentagon prior to their deployment to Afghanistan (they reported to a separate, three-star general at US Central Command). McChrystal, despite nominally being the most senior military officer in Afghanistan, wasn't even able to shut down fast-food restaurants at the Kandahar Airfield, which he felt were distractions in a warzone.
Loser: President Obama, whose decision to surge and withdraw comes across as the worst of all worlds - not giving Afghans any reassurance that the Taliban would not come back in a few years' time, while meantime costing tens of billions of dollars and reducing pressure on the Afghan Army to do its job properly. "To many Afghans...more troops meant more insecurity," Chandrasekaran suggests. The book also makes the case that the President was ill-served by bickering among his senior staff.
Winner: The warlords and their militias - presented by Chandrasekaran as brutal and exploitative, but also as effective fighters against the Taliban. Take Spin Boldak police chief Abdul Razziq's militia: "Unlike Afghan army units, many of which needed to be prodded and led into battle, Razziq's troops charged right in."
Winner: Joe Biden, whose proposal of "counterterrorism-plus" in Afghanistan looks to have been dead on. Raids against Taliban commanders could still have continued without pinning down tens of thousands of U.S. troops in the field day after day.
Turning the pages of this book, I felt that I was reading the obituary of muscular nation-building. Chandrasekaran's conclusion suggests not only that America has failed in Afghanistan, but that it was bound to fail. "It wasn't America's war," he concludes.
the reduction in the Pentagon's budget and a shift to East Asia - where the
United States is less likely to get directly involved in combat -
Afghanistan-style interventions may indeed be things of the past. And it's hard
to feel sorry about it after reading this sentence:
"The United States was spending more each year to keep Marine battalions in Nawa and Garmser than it was providing the entire nation of Egypt in military and development assistance."
Nawa and Garmser: population, 160,000; remote agricultural communities; few from the area have ever travelled outside it. Egypt: population, 85 million; highly urbanised and connected by direct flights to the USA; birthplace of modern Islamic militancy and of the leader of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri.
We need not stop at Nawa and Garmser. The whole operation in Afghanistan departed far from its original objectives, which were to deal a blow to al-Qaeda and reduce its chances of attacking America again. The United States could surely have dealt al-Qaeda a greater blow with the half a trillion dollars that it has spent in Afghanistan, if it had spent a large part of that money elsewhere (Egypt, Somalia, Yemen, Mali...). As this book implies, it would have done a better job in Afghanistan, too, if it had spent less money and been more focused on its original goal.
That is what makes me just a little bit more optimistic about Afghanistan than Chandrasekaran. He is giving the war in Afghanistan a fail grade: it was winnable, he says, but the West lost it -- and maybe was bound to lose it, because we just aren't configured to conduct and win such campaigns.
This may be premature. Public discontent with the war and President Obama's determination to pull back combat troops will likely now force a move to a new kind of U.S. presence in Afghanistan -- one that is small-scale, out of the faces of Afghan civilians, and long-term. It may or may not be enough to save Afghanistan from a renewed plunge into civil war; it will almost certainly set a limit on Taliban ambitions and make them keep their distance from al-Qaeda. It makes a great deal more sense than the Sisyphean labors that the United States has set itself for the last six years or so.
Gerard Russell headed the U.K. Government's
outreach efforts to Muslim audiences worldwide after September 11, 2001. He
subsequently worked as a diplomat in Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan, where
he headed the U.K. Government's political team. He was a Research Fellow at
Harvard 2009-10 and is writing a book on religious minorities in the Middle
East, to be published by Basic Books in 2013/14. He is fluent in Dari and Arabic.
DAVID FURST/AFP/Getty Images
On November 13, 2009, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that Khaled Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, would be tried in federal court alongside four co-defendants, reversing the 2008 Bush administration decision to try the 9/11 conspirators before a military commissions tribunal. On April 4, 2011, after an avalanche of criticism based on legal and security concerns, Holder sheepishly announced a reversal of policy. The country was now back where it had started: Khaled Sheikh Mohammed (KSM) would be tried by military commission at Guantanamo Bay. Perhaps because of the evident unease of the administration's turn about, ostensibly in response to political pressure, the debate over military versus federal tribunals for Guantanamo's High Value Detainees is still very much alive.
Recognizing this, William Shawcross's Justice and the Enemy: Nuremberg, 9/11, and the Trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed joins the debate on the side of the military commissions. His somewhat standard reasoning begins with a relatively new, and somewhat flawed premise: that today's military commissions are but the current version of the "remarkable achievement" of the Nuremberg Trials, the international military tribunal which tried twenty-two Nazi defendants accused of war crimes and over which the American Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson presided as chief prosecutor. Shawcross, whose father was the chief British prosecutor at Nuremberg, insists that at Nuremberg, "Justice was done." From the start, Shawcross sets up Jackson as his hero, the unquestionable voice of wisdom, carrying the message from Nuremberg to terrorism.
To justify his reliance on Nuremberg as the determinative precedent, Shawcross asserts a foundational principle - that al-Qaeda is but the most recent example of the evil that evidenced itself in the Nazi atrocities, an evil that "did not die" with the twelve men condemned to death at Nuremburg, an evil that "reinvents itself in every age" and that "struck America on September 11." From this, he extrapolates that, when it comes to al-Qaeda defendants, it is only right to try them by military commissions.
From the trial of Zacarious Moussaoui, who pled guilty in 2005 to charges of conspiracy in the 9/11 attacks, to the reading of Miranda rights, albeit after a delay, to the Christmas Day bomber, Shawcross echoes the oft-repeated opinion that in these cases, "justice was not done." No case, to his mind, has demonstrated this more clearly than the trial in 2010 of Ahmed Ghailani on charges of conspiring in the 1998 Embassy Bombings in East Africa. Taking place twelve years after the crime, during which time Ghailani was tortured at a CIA black site and held at Guantanamo, the Ghailani trial was the Obama administration's attempt to test the federal court system. When the jury found Ghailani not guilty on 284 of 285 charges, Holder's reversal became inevitable. Although Ghailani was sentenced to life in prison without parole, Shawcross is far from satisfied at what he considers a decision "perilously close to acquitting [Ghailani] altogether." He cringes at the notion that "either the government would have had to let him go," causing "immense strategic consequences," or they would have to "detain him despite the verdict of innocence." Justice Jackson, he tells us, would have agreed that terrorism detainees should not be released. Jackson, he reminds us, had opined that prosecutors "must never put a man on trial unless you are prepared to see him walk free," - a notion that Shawcross finds unthinkable in these cases, ignoring the fact that under Jackson's supervision, three of the Nuremberg defendants, were acquitted, and indeed, did walk free. Here, as elsewhere, Shawcross is shamelessly certain about prophesizing what Jackson would have done, telling us at one point that Jackson would have condoned not just the trial of KSM in a military tribunal but Obama's targeted killings policy as well. He cites Jackson on the matter of executing war criminals, "'If it is considered good policy for the future peace of the world, if it is believed that the example will outweigh the tendency to create....a myth of martyrdom, then let them be executed. But...let the decision to execute them be made as a military or political decision,'" not a judicial one. Shawcross's logic, shaped by its usefulness for his argument, fails to consider that the crimes of Imam Anwar al-Awlaki -- the American and Yemeni citizen who led al-Qaeda's efforts to recruit Americans -- as well as the crimes of Osama bin Laden's were those which both the criminal justice system and Guantanamo had prosecuted, and that bin Laden, indicted in federal court, was already squarely within the trajectory of the criminal justice system.
Ultimately, Shawcross rests his position on the belief that terrorism defendants are categorically different from those accused tried in criminal proceedings. As such, they are undeserving of the precious protections offered by the U.S. Constitution. When it comes to terrorism, he cannot understand applying the age-old dictum, "it is better for ten guilty men to go free than to have one innocent man convicted." Why, he wonders, must "that generous principle" be extended to terrorists, those who would "murder their way to a destruction of the rule of law and its replacement by a sectarian dictatorship?" "The idea that the Nazis should have had the protections afforded to Americans by the United States Constitution never occurred to Justice Jackson or any of the other jurists involved in the tribunal." Showing no allegiance to political correctness, Shawcross goes so far as to ask, "Why is one religion being accorded so much more deference than all the others?" Here, it is not just Shawcross's logic which is faulty but his misunderstanding of the law which posits that guilt and innocence must be tested in a fair, evidence-based trial and that ideological leanings do not alter that access to the system of law.
For the untoward "generosity" on the part of those who defend the use of the federal courts and who seek to defend Guantanamo detainees, Shawcross blames the Left, specifically the Center for Constitutional Rights and the ACLU, both organizations which have been devoted to creating defense strategies for the Guantanamo detainees, largely through habeas petitions or aid to defense counsel at Guantanamo. In Shawcross's words, "Some of the lawyers, at times, seemed more concerned about the alleged injustices done to the detained terrorists than they did to those perpetrated by them." But it is not just the Left that he blames; the criminal justice system itself as well is to be blamed. Failing to distinguish law enforcement in terms of intelligence gathering and preventive police work from criminal prosecutions of terrorists accused of specific plots, Shawcross sees 9/11 as proof for his argument. "The very fact that 9/11 happened at all spelled failure for the law enforcement approach to terrorism." Viewed this way, denial of the right to hold trials in federal court seems almost like just punishment to Shawcross. Quoting Justice Scalia's dissent In the Boumedienne ruling which granted the detainees the right to habeas corpus, Shawcross reasserts his fears of the inadequacies of the legal system: the question of "'how to handle enemy prisoners in this war will ultimately lie with the branch [the judiciary] that knows least about the national security concerns that the subject entails."
Those who came of age politically during the Vietnam War might find themselves surprised by William Shawcross's ready acceptance of policies that have consistently bypassed the legal system amidst secrecy, fears of exposure for illegal policies, and without regard for either expediency or efficiency. His 1979 book Sideshow provided an unparalleled contemporary critique of the foils of power gone wrong. Confident, immensely detailed, and persuasive, Sideshow was journalism in the service of opposition politics, and as such, became one of the seminal works on the Vietnam War. Now, nearly twenty-five years later, Mr. Shawcross has given us a book which is eons away from the spirit of his earlier work. Instead of a critique of those in power, Justice and the Enemy is a defiant embrace of decision-making that yields to political pressure whatever the stakes. Rather than see this books as a novel argument in defense of military commissions, Shawcross's book is perhaps best viewed as a reminder of the fading spirit of those determined to check the use of power in the name of national security.
Karen Greenberg is director of the Center on National Security at Fordham University's School of Law and author of The Least Worst Place: Guantanamo's First 100 Days.
NationalPublic Radio host Steve Inskeep's newwork is not a comprehensive look at the complex history or troubled presentof my city. It is a roving, at times whimsical narrative telling certain storiesthat follow, intersect or run alongside each other. It winds through selectedplaces, events, and people, revisits some of them, keeps going, and comes backfor more. It is ostensibly pegged to one event, but in reality that event issimply a particularly convenient launching pad for talking about some of the violentconflicts, identity crises, power struggles and practical problems that hold hostagethe people of Karachi, Pakistan's largest and most cosmopolitan city.
Withthis approach, Instant City: Life andDeath in Karachi only honors the nature of this megalopolis.
Partof the problem in writing about Karachi is its enormity. There is its population,of course, on which the host of NPR's MorningEdition has based his title. For him an "instant city" is one that hasgrown significantly faster than the country it belongs to since the end ofWorld War II. Karachi, with its 13 million people -- an estimate for 2010 basedon a census carried out in 1998, and one that is considerably lower than othersas high as 18 million -- is at least 30 times as populated as it was in 1945,two years before the partition of British India brought hundreds of thousandsof Muslims pouring into the city and turned Karachi into an enduring magnet forPakistanis from other parts of the country.
RIZWAN TABASSUM/AFP/Getty Images
Real enemies will whisper about you. The murmursand hisses to discredit Ali Soufan have echoed through the community of opinionmakers and terrorism experts, and have even reached me. Shortly before Soufan's book, The Black Banners, was published, aproducer from a major media outlet spoke with me. "Was it true that Soufan had been a low-levelFBI employee, who could not speak with authority about the nature of theterrorist threats to the United States because he lacked the necessarysenior-level perspective? Wasn't he exaggerating his knowledge and role? Wasn't he a bit of a self-promoter?" theproducer asked.
I could not help but smile to myself as Ilistened; the same character assassination had happened to me when my own bookon interrogation and the War on Terror came out. I had been kept off a number of programs as aresult. I also knew that Soufan already hadbeen targeted this way several years earlier when his name first became public.I told the producer that Soufan's career and mine had overlapped on manyoccasions, and although we had never to my knowledge met, in many instances Iknew first-hand that Soufan's description of events and policies were accurate.
Soufan was an FBI special agent for eight years, arare native Arabic speaker in a professional FBI culture that was shaped byformer Marines, often Irish Catholic and working class, and which hadtraditionally viewed counter-intelligence and counter-terrorism work as secondtier specializations. CIA culture, too, although white collar rather than blue,viewed these specializations as adjuncts to the "real" work of espionage, whichwas to steal secrets and recruit spies from our historic enemies in the SovietUnion, North Korea, or Iran. It wouldprove an ironic twist that the Bush Administration also viewed terroristthreats as small-bore issues. Until 9/11,that is, after which the Bush Administration subjected us all to eight years oflarge-bore, misguided, and muscular obsessions. But, Soufan, the FBI officerswho had worked the first World Trade Center bombing case, and especially hisoriginal mentor, the head of the FBI's New York office, John O'Neill (killed onSeptember 11, 2001, at the base of the World Trade Center towers,) had long understoodthe seriousness of the jihadist threat from the mid-1990s-as had the ClintonAdministration and many in the CIA. Soufan quickly found himself playing a keyrole in the FBI's counterterrorism efforts, and spent a frantic decade tryingto piece together enough information to stop the Muslim terrorists trying tokill us.
TheBlack Banners at first seems to lose the reader inan endless series of incomprehensible names, unrelated dates, places, andcases. But what emerges from Soufan's welter ofdetails and minor episodes is his answer to one of the critical questions abouthow the U.S. should protect itself from terrorism.
Should counterterrorism work be approached as acriminal matter, or as a war which considers terrorists neither enemycombatants nor criminals? The issue, ofcourse, became instantly politicized after 9/11, as the Bush Administrationturned U.S. counterterrorism efforts into the "War on Terror," in so doingjustifying the jettisoning of habeascorpus, the utility of U.S. civilian courts for terrorism cases, and varioushistoric constraints on what American intelligence, military, and lawenforcement officials could do. Soufan's involvement in investigating most ofthe major al-Qaeda attacks and plots that have afflicted us, from the "BlindSheik" of the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993, to al-Qaeda's attackagainst the U.S.S. Cole in Yemen, tothe long struggle to find Osama bin Laden, makes clear that painstakingcriminal and intelligence work-classic FBI investigations, relying on andshaped by the legal requirements of U.S. law-led to the perpetrators in waysthat made prosecution possible and, even more importantly, identified terroristorganizations, individual terrorists, and their plans and intentions.
Even as a sense of reassurance grows with eachharried, scrambling response Soufan and his colleagues make to new threats andincomprehensible bits of information our anger grows, too, as we become awareof a second critical theme of The BlackBanners. Certainly before 9/11, andeven after the reforms of the 9/11 Commission to the intelligence andcounterterrorism communities, the FBI and CIA were afflicted by bureaucraticinfighting, pettiness, and parochialism, while political leaders exploitedterrorist threats to serve political objectives not always related to thethreats themselves. Soufan relates what many in the intelligence communityexperienced: "Prior to the Iraq war,when there was a lot of pressure on the FBI from the White House to produce a"link" between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda, the 9/11 Team's assessment, againand again, was that there was no link. The White House didn't like that answer, and told the bureau to lookinto it more and ‘come up with one.'" These vices may well have kept us fromstopping the 9/11 attacks and from far more quickly destroying al-Qaeda than wehave.
We share Soufan's repeated frustration with whatthe FBI and CIA called "the Wall." Neither agency shared information fully with the other, out of acombination of bureaucratic rivalry, mutual disdain, and honest belief thatlegal constraints forbid the sharing of information. I lived this self-harmmyself in the years prior to 9/11 with some of Soufan's New York FBIcolleagues, as one of them told me he would not share information I neededbecause I was a CIA officer, and he could not "compromise the source." I evenresponded, "but we are on the same team!" And so, our counterterrorist operation fizzled.
It is important that one bear first-hand witnessto our failings, as Soufan does. We shouldsit on the bathroom floor and cry with him after the 9/11 attacks, inheartbreak and anger, believing that we could have stopped the attacks and hadbeen done in by our own failings. "I threw up....my whole body was shaking....I wasstill trying to process the fact that the information I had requested aboutmajor al-Qaeda operatives, information the CIA had claimed they knew nothingabout, had been in the agency's hands since January 2000..." And what can one feel but the astonishment andcontempt Soufan relates when he was told in June 2001 that the Bushadministration had decided for political reasons to misrepresent the factsabout the Cole investigation, and toclaim the attack had not been the work of al-Qaeda and was, in any event,"stale." "Maybe to them," Soufan writes in understated anger, "but not to us,not to the victims and their families, and certainly not to bin Laden andal-Qaeda." Less than three months later the administration's Cold Warriorswould no longer be able to decide that the president could not "risk[political] capital going after al-Qaeda in Afghanistan."
The third theme of The Black Banners is the most disturbing, poignant and effectivesection of the book: Soufan's growingdisgust at how the interrogation methods developed and imposed on theintelligence community by the Bush Administration undermine our principles,break our laws, and do not work-indeed, how they actually hinder ourintelligence work. Soufan and hiscolleagues in the FBI had been successfully interrogating terrorists for yearsbefore the sudden introduction of "enhanced interrogation techniques"-"torture"is the word a layman would use. We seeconvincing, devastating proof in his detailed descriptions of how, in caseafter case (e.g., Jamal Al-Fadl, Abu Jandal, Abu Zubaydah, Khaled bin Rasheedand on and on) he and his colleagues successfully interrogated al-Qaeda membersby "establish[ing] rapport" with them, by talking about religion, or family, bysharing a taste for sweets, or by laughing with them, if necessary, rather thanby intimidating and physically abusing a detainee. He describes his and his colleagues'consternation when confronted with the snake oil salesmen who peddled andimposed "enhanced interrogation techniques"-a pseudo-expert the CIA brought into oversee interrogations, whom Soufan gives the appropriately menacing andfoolish sobriquet "Boris"-who had never conducted an interrogation, knewnothing about terrorism, and who knew nothing about intelligence work. "Why is this necessary" Soufan asked whenfirst confronted with such measures as sensory deprivation, overload, orhumiliation, "given that Abu Zubydah is cooperating?" As "Boris" tinkered with ever-increasinglyharsh, and ever-ineffective, ways to break detainees, Soufan and his colleaguestried to oppose them, but as was the case with everyone involved in theinterrogation program (myself included,) failed. Soufan and the FBI formally ceased anyinvolvement in the case. "I can nolonger remain here. Either I leave orI'll arrest [Boris]." It is tellingthat, to my knowledge, four individuals with first-hand experience ininterrogations during the "War on Terror," have spoken out about enhancedinterrogation methods: two Air Forceofficers (Steve Kleinman and another officer writing under the pseudonymMatthew Alexander), an FBI officer (Soufan), and a CIA officer (myself). All ofus, independently, make the same points: interrogation must be based on rapport; enhanced interrogation methodsare ineffective, counterproductive, immoral, illegal, and unnecessary, and theyhad nothing to do with obtaining much, if any, information not otherwiseobtainable. It is only apologists forthe Bush Administration, or Bush Administration policymakers themselves, whoassert that "enhanced interrogation techniques" are legal, or work. Soufan is devastating about thesemethods: "The person or persons runningthe program were not sane....the interrogation was stepping over the line fromborderline torture. Way over the line.""In FBI headquarters, the situation was clear....What Boris was doing wasun-American and ineffective."
The book on occasion manifests a characteristictypical of many memoirs: if only they had listened to me, well, we would havedone everything right. The damning factsin Soufan's book, though, are powerful. Yes, the FBI and CIA did so much right, but got so much wrong. The Bush Administration was purblind andarrogant, from dismissing terrorism at first, to down-playing the Cole case for political reasons, toinstituting ineffective, and illegal "enhanced interrogation" techniques. Well, I was there, too. Soufan's and my workoverlapped-we served with the same people, in the same places, dealt with thesame "Wall" imposed by the same people in the CIA and the FBI. We worked with remarkable men and women, whogave their souls to stopping the terrorist threats facing the UnitedStates. We reacted precisely the same ways to the same challenges, in almost literallythe same words, to what we experienced about terrorist threats, enhancedinterrogation and bureaucratic infighting. Soufan knows exactly what he is talking about, and does us all a serviceby having set it down in The Black Banner.
Glenn L. Carle is a former Deputy National Intelligence Officer for Transnational Threats, and spent 23 years in the Clandestine Servicesof the Central Intelligence Agency. He is also the author of TheInterrogator: An Education.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Eric Schmitt and Thom Shanker's Counterstrike: The Untold Story of America's Secret Campaign Against Al-Qaeda,traces the evolution since 9/11 of U.S. counterterrorism strategy within themilitary, intelligence agencies, and law enforcement, the results of which are nowat work in combating al-Qaeda and its affiliates worldwide. Schmitt and Shankerdo a thorough job of pulling together all of the bits and pieces of the effortsacross the myriad agencies and departments now dealing with terrorism, and presentingthem in a fast paced, gripping story. The authors personalize the often mundanebureaucratic policy initiatives such as Presidential findings, resources, andauthorities needed to gradually shift our approach to terrorism through thestories of key individuals working on these issues over the last ten years.
The pair further put flesh on the bones of our counterterrorismcampaign by highlighting key milestones such as the raids on al-Qaeda leaders andsafehouses in places like Taji and Sinjar in Iraq. These battlefield detailsshow the reader how policy initiatives and technology developed in Washingtonand elsewhere actually played out on the ground, and how the treasure trove ofintelligence gained from such operations then, in turn, helped our policies shiftand enhanced our knowledge of al-Qaida's operations and leadership.
Shanker and Schmitt describe in detail how people like thePentagon's former Assistant Secretary for Special Operations and Low IntensityConflict (now Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence) Michael Vickers and then-JointSpecial Operations Command chief Gen. Stanley McChrystal pushed for the droppingof information barriers and the massive influx of resources that allowed forceson the ground to "find, fix, finish, exploit, and analyze" information gainedfrom the battlefield. This push in turn made the discovery of al-Qaeda's "Rolodex"at Sinjar and their "database" at Taji possible. The information proved sovaluable that it changed our diplomatic approach to countries producingterrorist recruits and harboring facilitation networks. Rather than keeping theinformation gleaned classified, McChrystal:
Decided to break down more walls.He believed that effective pressure could be mounted by sharing the informationwith the countries of origin for the jihadists -- even those countries withwhich the United States had little or no alliance in the struggle. And, evenmore, he thought the pages of the highly classified intelligence findingsshould be thrust into the very public marketplace of ideas to shape theinternational debate on terrorism.
From my own experience commanding Special Forces unitsduring multiple tours in Afghanistan, the authors' description of how themilitary and intelligence agencies grappled with integrating the various "INTs"(signals intelligence, human intelligence, imagery intelligence, etc) islargely accurate. Throughout my tour in 2006 we had to request these assetsfrom the theater headquarters level. However, by my next tour in 2009, not onlywere the various types of intelligence pushed out to my forces in the field,but we had actual representatives from the various intelligence agencies aswell as the FBI attached directly to my command, representing a sea change inour ability to exploit intelligence and target insurgent leadership.
The pair then turn to how our counterterrorism campaign hasgrown and developed beyond kill-capture missions to executing increasinglysophisticated counter-messaging campaigns, as well as efforts to counter all aspectsof terrorist networks, such as their ability to recruit and train, theirability to raise funds, and the legitimacy of their actions within the broaderMuslim world. The authors are critical of the Bush Administration for itsinitially narrow focus on kinetic missions, the lack of an overall strategy andthe paucity of resources applied to the campaign, and in turn, credit the ObamaAdministration for our now more expansive approach. Yet I would argue, based onmy time in the Pentagon's Office of Special Operations and Low IntensityConflict and later in the White House, that the current, more sophisticatedcounterterrorism campaign is a natural progression that benefitted greatly fromthe trial and error of previous years.
But setting these details and descriptions aside, perhaps thecentral theme running throughout Counterstrikeis the application of deterrence theory from the Cold war to the issue of counteringterrorism. Schmitt and Shanker do a masterful job of explaining the important elementsof the theory and the problems key Bush Administration officials had with usingtraditional tools to possibly deter a person willing to die for a cause. Theearly post-9/11 thinking was that terrorists did not seize or want to hold territoryin the traditional sense, were not afraid of retribution, and did not have resourcesthey needed or wanted to protect. In keeping with that thinking, theintelligence community's initial focus was to shift resources to fill itsinitial intelligence gaps, while the military focused on enhancing its abilityto kill or capture individual al-Qaeda leaders.
However, Schmitt and Shanker trace how a small group of formerCold War theorists slowly began gaining traction with their idea of a "newdeterrence." Douglas Feith, Barry Pavel, Tom Kroenig and others promoted thenotion that terrorists do indeed have issues they care about, issues that canbe used to pressure individual terrorists and whole groups. The advocates ofthe new deterrence argued that the "terrain" extremist organizations need tohold is the hearts and minds of the Muslim world. In a pivotal briefing toPresident Bush, Gen. James Cartwright, then head of America's nuclear arsenal,applied Cold War-era deterrence theory to terrorism, stating "If you canintroduce ambiguity and uncertainty into the minds of the attacker...if you canremove a certainty of success in striking an objective, if you make the pricetoo high, then you increase the opportunity the adversary will notstrike."
Furthermore, terrorist networks hoping for large-scaleaction and sustained campaigns need a constant stream of fresh recruits, fundsto operate, sanctuary in physical locations to train and prepare, and to knowthat their efforts will have an effect on the United States or other targets. Isaw these efforts first hand during my participation in the White House's CounterterrorismSecurity Group, where we worked to develop and implement a whole of government --military, diplomatic, intelligence, homeland defense, and development --approach to pressure, deter, and harden against terrorist groups, techniques thatcould indeed minimize the threat in the short term while slowly eroding it inthe long term. Over the course of time, as Schmitt and Shanker accuratelydescribe, we moved our efforts beyond reforming our bureaucracies andintegrating our streams of information to undermining the legitimacy of the extremists'ideology (later known as counter-messaging), disrupting financial flows, andworking through military or diplomatic means with other countries(as well asextending development aid to ungoverned spaces) to deny terrorists thesanctuary they need to operate.
Schmitt and Shanker, carefully following key individuals inthis process, go on describe how al-Qaeda began metastasizing and reacting toour initiatives by shifting their efforts onto the Internet. The authors giveinsight into enormously complicated issues of military versus intelligenceauthorities and the long-running debates within government about whether todestroy an extremist website facilitating the killing of Americans or continueto monitor the sites for additional information. The authors reference a numberof government sources to describe how we have purportedly gained the ability togo on to radical websites and post information and orders that areindistinguishable from legitimate orders issued by al-Qaeda's leadership,resulting in dissent and confusion among supporters and operators.
Finally, they describe the speed with which the cloak anddagger of counterterrorism on the Web is evolving and changing in chillingdetail. The most dangerous trend to emerge is the recruitment of home-grownfanatics to attack the West from within. Schmitt and Shanker highlight thecases of Najibullah Zazi, Nidal Hassan, and Faisal Shahzad to call attention toal-Qaeda's new dual track strategy of radicalizing individuals in the West throughthe internet to conduct smaller scale and harder to detect attacks with ahigher probability of success while still aiming to repeat a massive 9/11 styleattack.
Counterstrike willbe a revealing and informative read to the average reader, who may have spentthe last ten years only vaguely aware of simplified terms and governmentclichés popularly used in the media, from "drone strikes," to "intelligencefusion," and "connecting the dots." Schmittand Shanker effectively bring to life the confusing vernacular that mycolleagues in Washington national security circles use as part of theireveryday speech. The authors also effectively tell the story of ourcounterterrorism campaign by personalizing the struggles of key individuals whorecognized the need to radically change the way our law enforcement agencies,intelligence agencies, the military and our policy-making bodies did -- andstill do -- business.
Curiously, however, the vitally important issue of detaineeinterrogations and their significant contribution to the counterterrorismcampaign is missing from the book. I was surprised to not see an entire chapterdevoted to the detainee issue, given its centrality to the effort to understandterrorist networks, the important intelligence gained from the capture ofal-Qaeda members and fellow-travelers, and the controversy surrounding detaineetreatment and proper interrogation practices that persists to this day. In my own experience in eastern Afghanistan in2009, the information gained from detainees -- from that dealing with thecomplicity of the Pakistani Army with insurgent networks to tribal motivations behindindividual support for the insurgency -- was critical to our counterinsurgencyand counterterrorism efforts. In fact, at the strategic level, one of the maindrivers behind the push within the last administration to conductcross border raids into Pakistan rather than kinetic strikes, even with theinevitable diplomatic fallout they caused, was to create the possibility forcapturing key al-Qaeda leaders for the information they could provide.
Also left unexamined are the hugely significant implicationsof the Arab Spring on al-Qaeda's legitimacy. Schmitt and Shanker conclude Counterstrikewith a discussion of ‘How this Ends,' and the authors rightly discuss thetransformation of al-Qaeda from being an individual man and highly-ordered butsmall vanguard group to being an inspirational philosophy and a movement. However,I disagree with the authors' conclusion that "you can't destroy the idea of al-Qaeda."The philosophical underpinnings of the organization are currently crumbling inthe midst of peaceful protests in the Middle East rather than the violent jihadit preaches, which by nearly all measures has failed. Most damning is that the protestsmovements have not made the introduction of Islamic law a central point of contention.The much decried corrupt governments in North Africa and the Middle East arefalling one by one, and al-Qaeda is becoming less and less relevant on the ArabStreet. This could be the beginning of ‘How this Ends,' much as perestroika andthe solidarity movement marked the beginning of the end of communism as apopular ideal.
Overall, the educated lay reader who is going to pick upCounterstrike will find this book to be a well reported, well written dive intothe arcane world of counterterrorism over the past decade. It largely comportswith my own experiences both in the field and in Washington, and is asignificant contribution to our body of knowledge regarding our campaign thusfar in the "Long War" against al-Qaeda and affiliated groups.
Michael Waltz formerlyserved as a senior advisor for counterterrorism to Vice President RichardCheney and still serves as a U.S. Army Special Forces officer in the reservecomponent. He is currently Vice President for Strategy at Metis Solutions, LLC.
John Moore/Getty Images
The ten-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks has led tostock-taking of the attacks and their legacy. Even after ten years, debates remain fierce about the scope of thethreat, and the proper nature of any response.
Making sense of the aftermath of 9/11, the subject of JasonBurke's The 9/11 Wars, is amonumental task -- but Burke is up to the job. The 9/11 Wars is insightful, thorough, and at times fascinating. Burkebrings the reader from villages in Afghanistan and Iraq to slums in London andFrance, offering individual portraits of combatants and those overrun by warwhile also weaving in government policies and scholarly research to portray thebroader context. The resulting tapestry leaves the reader more informed, thoughoften appalled by policymakers' ignorance and furious when well-intentionedpolicies backfire.
Burke himself is well-qualified for his ambitious task. Aveteran reporter for The Guardian andThe Observer, he has writtenextensively on al-Qaeda, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan. The 9/11 Wars draws on a wide range of sources and, in contrast tothe works of many journalists, is meticulously documented.
Burke's work is a book big in scope and, weighing in at a hefty752 pages, in substance. Such size is understandable. As he points out, theconflicts associated with 9/11's aftermath are not one but many, and each onehas its own intricacies. Burke is at hisbest giving ground truth to the war on terrorism. He claims his book is aboutpeople, not politicians, and for the most part he stays true to his promise.
The United States and al-Qaeda, Burke contends, repeatedlymisunderstood the complexity of the societies in which they waged their wars. Whetherit was trying to impose Western concepts of women's rights on villages inAfghanistan or viewing the Kurdistan-based terrorist group Ansar al-Islam asfriendly to Saddam Hussein's regime (when it was in fact hostile to the former),the United States frequently was its own worst enemy. Nor do U.S. allies farebetter. Indeed, after the July 2005terrorist attacks in the United Kingdom, the discourse in Europe on terrorism becameparticularly absurd. Muslimorganizations had embraced a crude anti-Americanism and made claims that they werereceiving Nazi-like treatment from European governments, while nativistscaricatured Muslims as brutal rapists.
Al-Qaeda, however, fares even worse in Burke's telling. It wasoften disorganized and fractious, held together by personal links rather thanfirm institutional ties. Attacks oncivilians turned locals against al-Qaeda in places like Jordan and Indonesia,squandering the goodwill its fighters had gained from their battles againstU.S. soldiers. Striking at Americans inIraq was seen as heroic, Burke points out, "But when the violence came home itprovoked a very different reaction. Thesight of blood on one's own streets, the dismembered bodies of one's owncompatriots, the grieving parents who could have been one's own ... turnedentire populations away from violence." As they lost popularity, the terroristsrelied more on coercion -- and in so doing made themselves even lesspopular.
Burke's fundamental argument is a simple one: the local isthe enemy of the global. For the United States, this meant that grandiosemissions to transform the Arab world into a mirror image of Western democracyled to insurgency and scorn. For al-Qaeda, attempts to impose an Islamic stateran into stiff opposition from nationalists, practitioners of more traditionalforms of Islam, tribal leaders, and others with a stake in their long-establishedways of life. In the battle against al-Qaeda, "Bloody-minded localparticularism" is America's greatest ally.
Burke at times offers guarded praise for U.S. and alliedpolicies after 2006. The new U.S. counter-insurgency manual, for example,stresses cultural sensitivities and local concerns as a way to win the war,while Burke describes how deradicalization programs in Europe and the MiddleEast offer a softer, but in his view often more effective, form ofcounter-terrorism.
Al-Qaeda, in contrast, remains under siege. To secure aplace to hide its leaders, the group often must avoid training, planning, andrecruiting on a large scale. Conditions forwould-be fighters hiding out in the tribal parts of Pakistan are much worsethan they were before 9/11 under the Taliban in Afghanistan. Burke relates howone Belgian recruit who got malaria was "left in the corner" and "given a jabevery few days by a kid who was the little brother of the local doctor." Even al-Qaeda'smany affiliates, which offer some bench strength to the group, often do notheed the central leadership, or frequently they lack popularity themselves. Asa result, the much-vaunted "network of networks," he argues, is "battered anddisjointed."
Pakistan, which Burke correctly identifies as the mostimportant theater in the 9/11 wars, comes off the most poorly (thoughAfghanistan is a close second). Use of jihadist proxies has long been part ofPakistan's overall strategy, and the Pakistani security establishment remainscommitted to them, even after 9/11 and subsequent violence in Pakistan showedthat the militants were off the leash. Sadly, Burke finds that in this dividedcountry there is more unity than ever on one issue: that the United States and its allies arepart of an anti-Pakistan and anti-Muslim conspiracy.
Perhaps the biggest weakness of The 9/11 Wars -- one common to many accounts of counter-terrorism-- is that it misses much of the day-to-day of intelligence gathering andpolice work against suspected jihadists around the world. The CIA is blastedfor its "extensive [program] of kidnapping suspects overseas, illegaldetention, collusion and direct participation in torture." However, thenear-constant, and largely successful, intelligence effort against al-Qaedagets little attention. In countries as far apart (politically as well asgeographically) as Sweden, Malaysia, Morocco, and Russia, security serviceshunt suspected jihadists with U.S. support and guidance. Such behind-the-scenesarrests rarely make good stories, but they put pressure on al-Qaeda and itsallies worldwide, making it far harder for the organization to communicate,plan, and conduct attacks. Indeed, the biggest threats emanate from where counter-terrorismcooperation is poor due to the host country's support for jihadists (Pakistan)or lack of governance (such as in Somalia or Yemen).
In its attempt to be comprehensive, the book at times offerstoo much detail. The story of the U.S. fiasco in Iraq has been told, and toldwell, in other books, and another detailed repetition won't offer most readerstoo much (though the additional attention on the followers of radical Shi'acleric Moqtada al-Sadr is most welcome, as their role in the Iraq conflict isoften poorly understood). While the ups and downs of terrorism andcounterterrorism in Afghanistan and Pakistan are less-known, some of thematerial could be condensed, as the reader may get bogged down in each twistand turn and lose sight of the bigger picture.
The 9/11 Wars wentto press as the Arab Spring broke out and al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden waskilled, so understandably Burke doesn't have much to add on thesetransformative events beyond the most general analysis. Such events, however,are in keeping with Burke's theme that local politics and the aspirations ofordinary people shape the battlefield, and that the most profound events areoften the least expected.
Burke ends, appropriately, on a sober and grim note: thebody counts. As he points out, there is no clear winner of the 9/11 wars, but"losers are not hard to identify." Thetens of thousands dead from the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan arelikely to be joined by tens of thousands more in the next decade. New theaters,ranging from Yemen to Nigeria, may also become enflamed. Stopping theconflagration is beyond the skill and means of even the best of leaders, but ifthey avoid the mistakes Burke identifies, they can better shield their owncitizens and avoid adding fuel to the fire.
Daniel Byman is theauthor of A High Price: The Triumphs and Failures of IsraeliCounterterrorism. He is a professor atGeorgetown University and the research director of the Saban Center atBrookings.
RIZWAN TABASSUM/AFP/Getty Images
Don'tShoot the Mailman
"There are three ways to get into Afghanistan: through
Russia, through Iran, and through Pakistan. You take your choice."
Thesetimeless words were uttered to me by my friend, Frank Anderson, then(1991-1994) chief of the Near East and South Asia Division of the Directorateof Operations of the CIA (the division that ran covert operations inAfghanistan during the Soviet War there) and one of my successors in theposition. His observation was not only his way of saying that this was thepreferred (and only) route for massive shipments of arms to the Afghan mujahideen in their resistance againstthe Soviets in the 1980's. It also spoke of another verity: that Pakistan andits own intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI),held the high ground in this covert action operation -- the CIA was only amailman.
Anumber of U.S. lawmakers, otherwise quite effective in helping provideadditional funding for this operation, were often unsympathetic to the idea ofrelying on Pakistan as the sole channel for arms. Some thought of themanifestly impractical option of air drops. Others, including somepolicymakers, thought that U.S. officials, especially in the CIA, failed to putenough pressure on the Pakistanis to compel them to send more arms to the"moderate" mujahideen and not to more hardline, fundamentalist commanders. Iwill come back to this later.
Inwhat is appearing more and more to have been an awful mistake, Pakistan wastorn away from the body politic of the Indian sub-continent in the 1947partition. Having rejected its former identity as part of India and itsgovernment institutions (and having to build new ones), and, more generally,having rejected its common Muslim and non-Muslim heritage, Pakistan's defaultidentity has gradually moved, for many of its citizens, toward radicalIslamism.
Thisrejection of the pre-partition past has become all the more fraught with thesudden ascension of India as a world power while Pakistan has becomeincreasingly engulfed in sectarian and ideological violence. Whatever earlyambition Pakistan may have had of being a part of a group of regional Muslimnations coalescing with the aim of containing India, has long gone away. Thiscontrast with India is all the more poignant for Pakistan's elites, especiallyits Punjabi elites, who have traditionally regarded themselves, as did many oftheir former colonial rulers, as the cream of the sub-continent's peoples.
AatishTaseer, son of the former governor of Pakistan's Punjab province murderedearlier this year by religious extremists, has summedup one of the psychological dynamics operating in Pakistan:
To understand the Pakistani obsession with India, to get a sense of its special edge - its hysteria - it is necessary to understand its rejection of India, its culture and past, that lies at the heart of the idea of Pakistan. This is not merely an academic question. Pakistan's animus against India is the cause of both its unwillingness to fight Islamic extremism and its active complicity in undermining the aims of its ostensible ally, the United States.
Inthe summer of 1979, Pakistan approached the U.S. for aid to the mujahideen intheir uprising against the recently installed Communist government. The resultwas a Presidential Finding of July 1979, signed by Jimmy Carter, authorizingthe CIA to provide non-lethal aid to the mujahideen. Immediately after theSoviet invasion at the end of the year, a new finding authorizing lethal aidwas signed.
Fromthe outset, CIA officers charged with carrying out the operation -- at least Ican speak for myself -- saw this as a golden opportunity for revenge: a chance toget back at the Soviets for what they had done to us earlier, in Vietnam, withtheir massive arms support to the North Vietnamese. In the end, and from thispoint of view, the operation in Afghanistan was a success: the Soviets, likethe Americans in Southeast Asia a decade earlier, had to leave the country theyoccupied. For the Soviets, it was a "one quarter Vietnam": 14,000 deathsagainst 58,000 American deaths in Vietnam. No American troops were engaged. Theend of the Cold War was hastened.
Whathappened in Afghanistan after the Soviets withdrew in February 1989 hassometimes obscured the fact of this operation's success. What happened in Afghanistanafter the Soviet withdrawal is the main focus of the bookunder review, Peter Tomsen's The Warsof Afghanistan: Messianic Terrorism, Tribal Conflicts, and the Failures ofGreat Powers.
Butit is not the only focus of this monumental, deeply pondered, and well writtenstudy. Ambassador Tomsen's book is an account of the Afghan historicalexperience, with some epochs getting more detailed treatment than others. Asits title suggests, it is first and foremost a study of foreign interference inAfghanistan, from the 19th-century until today . The author getsinto the story himself at the time of the Soviet withdrawal from the country inFebruary 1989, more than half of the way through the book. At Congressional insistence,he is named special envoy to the Afghan mujahideen with the rank of Ambassador.The Embassy in Kabul is closed during the chaotic situation that accompaniedthe departure of the Soviets, leaving Tomsen to operate mainly out of theAmerican Embassy in Islamabad.
AmbassadorTomsen has poured his energy, his taste for research, and his own recollectionsinto an impressive brick of 849 pages, including footnotes and appendices.Anyone who wants to get up to speed on Afghanistan can profit from reading thisbook. It is particularly useful in presenting documentation from the Sovietside of the conflict (Tomsen was a former deputy chief of mission in Moscow andalso in Beijing). The documents show that the Soviets were as unsuccessful inknocking fractious Afghan heads together as the United States has been over thelast decade. The pleas of both superpowers for party unity among their proxiesfell (or have fallen) on deaf ears.
ButTomsen also has a point of view, one that can be quite strident and incessant.Here I would mention two of his contentions: firstly, that the CIA was thehandmaiden of the ISI, and supported Pakistan's anti-American favorites amongthe mujahideen, notably Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, with the result that the CIA wasat times at cross-purposes with the policy arm of the U.S. Government; andsecondly that Pakistan's policy in Afghanistan was in the straight line offormer president Zia-al-Haq, who Tomsen describes as an out-and-out Islamistwho sought to establish a non-democratic and radically religious regime inKabul. I will treat these assertions one by one.
Asfor the issue of CIA support to anti-American mujahideen, most notablyHekmatyar, though it is repeatedly asserted by Tomsen, it is not in keepingwith the facts. Keeping in mind the CIA's role as mailman, it is not realistic,as Tomsen asserts, that the U.S. could have put pressure on the Pakistanis tocease such a policy.
Tomsenaccompanies this charge with the repeated assertions of a CIA animus againstAhmad Shah Masood, whose troops, as well as those of Hekmatyar, were doing mostof the fighting among the seven mujahideen groups. Again, the evidence suggestsotherwise. Throughout the U.S. Government, including the CIA, there wasadmiration for Masood and quite the opposite for Hekmatyar, who was consideredunreliable and even treacherous.
Furthermore,Tomsen asserts that, "the United States should have supported its naturalallies, moderate-nationalist Afghans and traditional tribal structure." But theyardstick used was to give much of the weapons to the groups that were doingmost of the fighting. It was logical, at least in principle, that the groupsdoing most of the fighting (Hekmatyar and Masood) should receive the bulk ofthe arms aid, although it was clear that Masood, an ethnic Tajik, was not afavorite of the Pakistanis. The CIA devoted considerable efforts to confirmingwhich groups were doing effective fighting, and to finding ways to support themore moderate factions, especially Masood's, despite severe logisticaldifficulties.
CIAofficers, motivated by the revenge factor cited above, were interested inseeing the end of the Soviet protégé Mohammad Najib's Government, which held onto power following the departure of Soviet troops in February 1989. The surestmeans to this end was to continue to support the joint operation with the ISI.In any event, U.S. military aid from the CIA through the ISI to the mujahideenended on January 1, 1992 with the coming into effect of the "negative symmetry"agreement, whereby the U.S. and the USSR (which had ceased to formally existwhen the treaty went into effect) agreed to stop military assistance to theirrespective proxies in Afghanistan.
Thosewho sought a mediated arrangement with the Soviets, aimed at a democraticsuccessor government to that of Najib, were playing with a weak hand: thepassive former King, Zahir Shah, and the royalist leaders among the mujahideen,Mojaddedi and Gailani. Among them was Peter Tomsen. In addition, this approachwas not generally supported by the Congress and ranking policymakers. In theend, the zero-sum mentality evident through much of the region prevailed, andthe opposing sides in the Afghan struggle for power could not agree on amediated settlement. Chaos ensued, and it was ended in 1996, after thePakistanis switched their sponsorship from Hekmatyar to Mullah Omar and theTaliban (though, as Tomsen points out on page 531, the ISI was involved in thecreation of the Taliban in 1994)
Therewere hardheads on both sides of the State-CIA divide, which Tomsen returns torepeatedly and which he tends to over-emphasize. Perhaps in a reflection of theadage, "where you stand is where you sit," Tomsen has this assessment of "men of military or intelligence backgrounds,"as he describes the prelude to the most recent invasion of Afghanistan:
When President [George W.] Bush and his advisersgathered at Camp David...to chart America's post-9/11 attack on the Taliban, theadvantages of exploiting the moderate-nationalist and traditional tribalmainstream in Afghanistan did not enter the discussion. Most of theparticipants were men of military or intelligence backgrounds with little or noknowledge of the Afghan context and the country's tribal society. They did notcomment on a long-term post-conflict policy vision for Afghanistan or theregion. They stressed direct employment of American military power and covertaction.
Althoughthe moment called for action, it must be admitted that Tomsen was not entirelyoff the mark in his assessment.
Throughoutthe history of American intervention in Afghanistan since 1979, there hasgenerally been good cooperation between State and CIA, in no small measure dueto the fact that all hands at home -- the Congress, the State Department, theCIA, Defense, and the White House -- favored the covert action operation inAfghanistan against the Soviets.
Andnow, turning back to Zia. As I indicated at the beginning of this review,Pakistan is a country of special origins, and special problems. As theresolution of the country's identity conundrum moved it more and more towardIslamism (and quite contrary to the vision of its founder, Mohammad AliJinnah), Zia recognized the trend and went with it, but mainly to shore up hispolitical base. A devout Muslim, he did sponsor the growth of Islamic schools,or madrassas. But he was also just asmuch a Pakistani nationalist.
Theauthor's disapproval of troubled and troubling Pakistan, and his criticism ofPakistani policy in Afghanistan as "unholy," is patent, and it gives the bookan unfortunate polemic tinge. But overall, this is a useful book, particularlyfor the period when the author describes his own contacts with many Afghanplayers as he tried to bring the conflict in Afghanistan to a negotiatedconclusion. The effort failed, but the account is instructive. The fractioustendencies in Afghan society were too strong. They remain so today.
Charles Cogan spent 37 yearsin the CIA's operations directorate, and is now an associate at the HarvardKennedy School Belfer Center.
Were Shakespeare alive, he would find ample material for a high tragedy among the players in veteran intelligence correspondent Joby Warrick's new book, The Triple Agent. All the ingredients are there, including betrayal, shame, heroism, and more than one person with a recklessly determined hubris worthy of King Lear himself. Yet as those who have operated in the world of human intelligence will viscerally feel, this is not cathartic fiction, but a factual account of a modern day human intelligence operation gone terribly wrong, involving real men and women, with all the failings thereof. The Triple Agent provides a riveting look at the disastrous attempt by the CIA and their partners in the Jordanian General Intelligence Department (GID) to maneuver the Jordanian doctor-cum-cyber-jihadist, Humam al-Balawi, into penetrating the leadership of al-Qaeda.
Alex Wong/Getty Images
Not many writers risk their lives for their work.But then again, not many former assistant secretaries of defense andMarine officers spend their retirement years on the battlefield, beinghospitalized with cholera, shaken down by an Afghan soldier, and shot at byTaliban with rocket-propelled grenades. The writer in question, Bing West, theauthor of The Wrong War, isan unusual man.
PETER PARKS/AFP/Getty Images
Following the incident in January of this year where CIA contractorRaymond Davis shot two Pakistanis in shadowy circumstances, U.S.-Pakistanrelations have remained perched at a critical but precarious impasse. Bilateralengagement surrounding Davis' arrest and controversial release highlighted themany reasons why the relationship remains fractious; the divergent strategicinterests these cautious allies have for the region, the Pakistaniestablishment's ambivalent attitude towards militancy, the public's adamantanti-Americanism, and the civilian government's inability to manage all of theabove issues.
Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images
Not many women can say that Nawaz Sharif,Pakistan's troubled former prime minister, tried to set her up on a date with aPakistani man. Kim Barker, the author of TheTaliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan, can do thatone better: she can say Sharif tried to set her up with Asif Ali Zardari, the presidentof Pakistan.
Barker, appropriately, declined Sharif's kindinvitation; she also had to decline, sometime later, Sharif's invitation to behis latest mistress. Her surreal book is chock full of such ridiculousexperiences, whether the grabby, eve-teasing crowds ofPakistani men in Peshawar or the uncomfortably flirtatious former Afghanattorney general, Abdul Jabar Sabit. Barker, a former Chicago Tribune correspondent now with ProPublica, recounts nearlya decade of soul-wrenching zaniness, perpetrated in equal parts by the Afghans,Pakistanis, and the white people moving amongst them both, with a good sense ofhumor. This is funny stuff, it's true. But it's also very sad.
DMITRY KOSTYUKOV/AFP/Getty Images
Editor's note: This is Part II of a two-part seriesfocusing on aid provision in conflict zones. The first installment can be foundhere.
Ehsan Entezar's Afghanistan101, dryly academic though its language tends to be, is nevertheless anilluminating guide to the Afghanistantoday. As a scholar born, raised, and educated in Afghanistanbefore obtaining his doctorate in the UnitedStates, Entezar lends the insight of a native son inilluminating the realities of Afghan culture and society, and by doing so,providing some sharp clues as to the likely efficacy of the aid programs thatare allegedly "building" Afghanistan.
SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images
Editor's note: This is Part I of a two-part seriesfocusing on aid provision in conflict zones, with tomorrow's edition to focuson Afghanistan.
Although the White House was cautiously optimistic in itsrecent strategy review on Afghanistan, even for seasoned AfPak watchers, itcan be difficult to discern exactly what the U.S. strategy istowards Afghanistan. The sound bite summary "clear, hold, build" may besimplistic, but it still offers a useful starting place to evaluate U.S. andNATO efforts. The "clear" and "hold" represent the straightforward ideas (intheory if not execution) of taking and holding ground, operations with whichmilitaries are well-acquainted. The real issue, and the key to success orfailure, is defining what "build" really means, and examining how the United States andNATO are "building" in Afghanistan.
While many factors in Afghanistan (and Pakistan, for thatmatter) are unique, in a larger sense, the challenges faced there are the sameissues, with new faces, that the United States has been long been struggling with inother countries. The U.S. government clearly hopes to "build" the Afghangovernment and military up to the point that it will take the lead in battlingthe Taliban. For decades now, in countries around the world, the tool mostfrequently called on to "build" countries is aid. Sometimes aid comes in theform of humanitarian, short-term assistance, i.e. emergency food, medicine,water, and shelter, aimed at stabilizing crisis situations. In other cases, aidcomes in the form of "official development assistance" or ODA, most often adirect cash transfer from a donor government or donor institution to arecipient country, usually in the form of grants or low-interest loans, andaimed at promoting long-term growth by developing infrastructure, education,and more. In the case of Afghanistan (and Pakistan), aid to the region hasconsisted of a mixture of both humanitarian and strategic (ODA) aid.
MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images
The arrival of a new Bob Woodward book is attended with rituals as solemn and predictable as those of the annual Congress of the Communist Party in North Korea-there are the three days of excerpts in The Washington Post; a few days before that the obligatory spoiler piece in The New York Times where an enterprising reporter has obtained a copy of the heavily-embargoed tome; Woodward appearing for the full hour with Larry King; the defensive comments from the institutions that have something to defend-when asked to comment on Obama's Wars, Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell demurred, explaining "We don't do literary criticism;" the quotable insider disses, the best being General Tommy Franks on the senior Bush Pentagon official Douglas Feith-"the fucking stupidest guy on the face of the earth"; and the telling anecdotes about key players in the narrative, such as the one about the intensely focused General Petraeus electing to stay in Iraq rather than attend the funeral of his father.
The action in all of Woodward's past five books has taken place largely in the bowels of the White House, often in the Situation Room, with occasional forays to the Pentagon and Capitol Hill. If there is a shift outside the Beltway, it is usually to Tampa to visit the headquarters of Central Command, which oversees U.S. military operations in the Middle East and adjoining parts of Asia. Woodward has written three books about the Iraq War and never visited Iraq, and he has written two books about the Afghan War and has visited Afghanistan for forty-eight hours (a visit well milked here).
As a result, Woodward's books do not have the whiff of cordite but the waft of stale coffee, as harried staffers pull all-nighters to write papers that the "principals" will probably never read, and meetings drone on interminably because, while everything has already been said, not everything has been said by everyone. The notoriously garrulous Joe Biden makes an intervention at one National Security Council discussion of Afghanistan that a backbencher clocks at twenty-one minutes.
To read the rest of this article, visit TheNewRepublic.com, where this was originally published.
Peter Bergen, the editor of the AfPak Channel, is a senior fellow at the New America Foundation and at New York University's Center on Law and Security, and the author of the forthcoming The Longest War: The Enduring Conflict Between America and Al-Qaeda. He is a national security analyst for CNN.
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If time spent studying Afghanistan brings wisdom, thenThomas Barfield must have the judgment of Solomon: He has been traveling theresince the early 1970s as an anthropologist. Any book that he -- now a professor at BostonUniversity -- writes on the subject deserves to be takenseriously. His latest book, Afghanistan:A Cultural and Political History, also has the ambitious goalof being a comprehensive but readable short history of Afghanistan, with aheavy focus on the last nine years.
It hits the target. Although casual readers may find theearly pages hard going, the pace soon picks up; quotations from the poet Sa'diand Ibn Khaldun provide variety. Barfield's vision of the "longue durée" meanslooking at Afghanistan's development over the course of centuries. Not for himthe perpetually renewed mantra that "the next six months are critical";'he caninstead bring a vision of Afghanistan over the centuries to cut through knottydebates with easy self-confidence and lapidary sentences.
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"America,"said Alexis de Tocqueville, "is a country of freedom where, in order not towound anyone, the foreigner must not speak freely." By these standards AkbarAhmed, a professor at American University and formerly an administrator on Pakistan'snorth-west frontier, has published a particularly audacious book.
His book Journeyinto America: The Challenge of Islam, which comes out on June 15, speaks freely about the Muslimperspective on American society. It knowingly comes in the aftermath of acts ofterrorism carried out by American Muslims. Its focus is rightly much broader,but this sharpens its relevance.
In the spirit of de Tocqueville, whom he frequently quotes, Ahmed led a mixedteam of Muslims and Christians, Americans and foreigners, to examine AmericanMuslim society with the eye of an anthropologist and an expert on Islam. Over the course of a year the author and his team traveled to more than 75 U.S. cities across the country, visiting more than 100 mosques, residences, and educational institutions. Thebook offers plenty of colorful observations based on 2,000 interviews -- boththose one might expect (Noam Chomsky, U.S. Muslim leaders) and those one mightnot (the Ku Klux Klan and a Las Vegasstripper). In 520 pages, Ahmed gives a series of insightful vignettes oninterfaith relations, politics, conversion, and race. And then the book makes adisturbing prediction: that violence involving U.S. Muslims will continue toincrease.
Ahmed blames for this both the American intelligence and security community("the cheerleaders of the hate and fear-mongering directed against Muslims")and Muslim leaders in the United States.These, he says, "need to face the crisis in their community rather than recoilin the customary defensive manner." In any event he feels many are out oftouch, and have failed to build relationships with other faith communities --specifically, the Mormon and Jewish communities (if you're wondering whyMuslims should build relations with these two other faith-groups in particular,then the book explains this at some length).
There are plenty of better American Muslim voices, he suggests, which are asyet unheard by the mainstream media. Those voices can be heard through thisbook. They include leading African-American Muslims, given that some estimatessuggest that African-Americans, though they are a lesser proportion of U.S.Muslims generally, make up one third of regular mosque attendance in the United States.
I could have used a book like this, written about Britain, when I was in chargeof the U.K. government's outreach to Muslims from 2001 to 2003. British Muslimsare a diverse enough grouping, but in the United States they are even more so-- including rich and poor, Republicans and Democrats, of over eighty differentethnicities and lacking any single religious hierarchy that is universallyrespected. Some are not religious at all; some resent being defined by theirreligion.
The whole idea of governments engaging with people on the basis of theirreligion is an uncomfortable one. Done crudely, it reinforces (ironicallyenough) the very rhetoric it is designed to counter. Islamic militants wantreligious identity to trump all others; when Britain(or the U.S.)attempts to reach its citizens through religious leaders rather thandemocratically elected representatives, it risks promoting this same agenda.
There are two quite different reasons, though, why Dr. Ahmed's book is welcome.Parts of this book are particularly good in portraying Islamic religiousleaders who have a genuine following, and can credibly promote non-violence andtolerance. This is something the U.S. government and media shouldregister.
The other reason is that, among stories that are disheartening, it has somethat give hope. A warm welcome is given in rural Alabama to a woman on the team, who iswearing a full-length Islamic robe. Radical Muslim preachers proclaim theirlove for America.Ahmed movingly describes his own interfaith discussion with the father ofDaniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter murdered by Islamist militantsin 2002 in Pakistan.Studies of Muslims in Americaare not just important because of violence or terrorism -- which have entrappedonly a tiny number of practicing Muslims -- but because they represent some ofthe United States'newest, most diverse, and least understood communities. Dr. Ahmed does us all afavor by illustrating them with this marvelously diverse set of interviews.
Gerard Russell was incharge of the British government's outreach to the Muslim world in 2001-2003.He is now an Afghanistan/Pakistan Fellow at the HarvardKennedy School'sCarr Center for Human Rights.
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Over the past four decades, the name Bhutto has come to symbolize --depending on which version of history you believe -- Pakistan. It has become our lot inlife to obsess over the Bhuttos, discuss their macabre deaths -- Zulfikar washanged, Shah Nawaz poisoned, Murtaza and Benazir shot -- and wonder how manymore Bhuttos will come to rule over Pakistan.
The latest author to chronicle the Bhuttos is Fatima Bhutto, Murtaza'sdaughter and the much-fawned over columnist and poet whose book, Songsof Blood and Sword: A Daughter's Memoir, was recently released in Pakistan,India, and the United Kingdom. Songs of Blood and Sword is Fatima'sattempt at writing a memoir of her father, Mir Murtaza Bhutto, who died in 1996when the Karachipolice fired on his convoy while his sister, Benazir Bhutto, was primeminister.
On first read, this memoir often feels like a rehash of Daughterof the East, Benazir Bhutto's 1988 autobiography that documented herlife in prison under General Zia ul-Haq's regime and the events that precededit, including her father being hanged by Haq's administration, simply becauseFatima is as defensive of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's domestic and foreign policies asBenazir was.
But Fatima Bhutto's grief is palpable on every page -- anyone who haslost a parent can empathize with her pain, and anyone who hasn't will stillcommiserate. But in her attempt to document her father's life from his birth tohis years in exile in Syria from the early 1980s and eventual return toPakistan in 1993, Fatima tries to wipe the slate clean and goes down the sameroute that Benazir did in Daughter of theEast: selectively using quotes from those who agree with her worldview.
Fatima traces Murtaza's history and finds witty gems and beautiful ex-girlfriendsas she travels to Boston and Athens to discover her father's life. Shefinds professors reminiscing about their talented young student, and oldfriends sharing anecdotes and letters written by Zulfikar to Murtaza.
She writes at length about their shared memories, their bond as fatherand daughter, strengthened further by the fact that he brought her up almostsingle-handedly,since her parents divorced shortly after Shah Nawaz Bhutto's death. Fatima's accountof their life in Damascusis poignant, peppered with their shared interests, anecdotes of Murtaza'sboisterous sense of humor and conversations about life and love. These partsare engaging, make for a compelling read and deserve to be documented. Hewrites a poem to her in a letter while he was in jail, excerpted here:
Here is a small one on Wadi [Benazir] and Slippery Joe [presumably Asif Ali Zardari, Benazir's husband]
Inky, Pinky, Ponky
Her husband is a donkey
Both loot the country
Her husband is a monkey
Inky, Pinky, Ponky.
Fatima also paints a chilling narrative of thenight Murtaza was shot dead along with several of his supporters, an accountthat explains why this book is laden with not-so-quiet rage. In the epilogue,she writes of an occasion when President Asif Ali Zardari and his entouragewere being received at the British consulate, close to Fatima'sresidence, as she stood at the same spot her father had been shot. "Here I was,standing where my father was murdered, and the man who I believe was in partresponsible for the execution was across the road from me, being receiveddiplomatically. I felt my knees buckle. I sat down on the curb."
She transports the reader back to the streets of Karachi and the frenzied scenes in thehospital where doctors tried to save Murtaza's life. It is the story of yetanother Bhutto trying to come to terms with yet another strange and unexpected death,the fourth in as many decades. These are the losses that have shaped Pakistan'shistory to a great extent and will be an influential factor for the foreseeablefuture.
But given that this is a grieving daughter's memoir of her father whowas killed at the young age of 42, it is clear that she does not intend tocriticize his actions in any way. Fatima Bhutto glosses over the time he spentin Libya as a guest of Colonel Gaddafi or in Kabul, as the alleged head of theAl-Zulfikar Organization (AZO) that was set up to avenge the death of ZulfikarAli Bhutto. Unsurprisingly, Murtaza is absolved of all responsibility for AZO.The famed 1981 hijacking of a Pakistan International Airlines plane in Kabul that AZO tookcredit for is explained differently. Fatimaquotes a friend of Murtaza's extensively, who claims that the hijacker,Salamullah Tipu, was not a member of the AZO and that Murtaza was actuallynegotiating with the hijackers to release the women and children on board. Itis an account that is widely disputed by former members of the AZO (RajaAnwar, The Terrorist Prince, 1997).
But in this new episode in the saga of the Bhutto dynasty that Fatima has chronicled, the blame -- as well as theacerbic barbs and the retorts -- are all directed at her aunt Benazir Bhutto. Fatimacriticizes Benazir from her choice of room décor at the Bhuttos' Karachi residence to Benazir's decision to wear a headscarf and her wit -- anecdotes all dissected to form a portrayal of a self-centered,power-hungry woman who Fatima squarely holdsresponsible for everything that has gone wrong in the Bhutto dynasty.
In her quest to absolve Murtaza of lingering criticism surrounding hisname and paint Benazir as the "bad guy," Fatima blames her aunt for everythingfrom Murtaza's incarceration after he returned from exile, to alienating NusratBhutto, Benazir's mother and Fatima'sgrandmother, from the PPP and being hungry for power. She does share anecdotesof her memories with her aunt, but writes that "since we returned to Pakisan Ihad seen a different, ugly side of my aunt," citing an incident where Fatima asked her to visit Murtaza in jail with her andBenazir refused, saying "I couldn't get permission from the jail to come." Fatima couldn'tfathom this, given that Benazir was prime minister at the time, and writes, "Icouldn't shift the blame from her any more. She was involved. She was runningthe show." The final blow came after Murtaza's death, when Benazir reportedlycalled his widow, Ghinwa, a ‘bellydancer' from the ‘backwoods of Lebanon.'Fatima writes, "After Papa was killed, I neversaw that old Wadi again. She was gone."
In her quest though, Fatima even attempts to hold Benazir responsiblefor the death of Shah Nawaz,Benazir and Murtaza's brother, who died under rather strange circumstances in Francein 1985. (While the Bhutto family was on holiday in Cannes, where Shah Nawazlived with his wife and daughter, they was alerted by his wife one morning thatShah Nawaz had "taken something" (p.250, Daughter of the East). They discoveredhe was dead, allegedly having taken poison, but the Bhutto family believes hewas murdered while his wife was charged (and then cleared) of not assistingShah Nawaz in time.) Her source? The observations of the lawyer Murtaza andBenazir engaged to fight the case in French courts, Jacques Verges. Theinsinuation that Benazir may have ordered Shah Nawaz's killing and the remarksshe chooses to include by Benazir (such as indulgent postcards she sent toMurtaza at university) sour the book. It no longer feels like a memoir, but yetanother blame game in the history of the Bhutto family that is still at oddswith each other. Their conflict shows no signs of dissipating or staying withinthe family. Last week, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's nephew Tariq Islam senta letter to the Dawn newspaper disputing at least one account in Songs of Blood and Sword by quotingconversations he had with Zulfikar before Zulfikar was executed in 1979.
Fatima Bhutto's rage at Benazir, who she believes was either involved inor complicit in covering up the killing of her father, Murtaza-- the woman she once thought of as her favorite aunt -- isunderstandable. But it is a niece's anger, not a historian's or a memoirist's.
Songs of Bloodand Sword is not, and should not be treated as, a chapter in the Bhuttos'history. It is a self-serving charade discounting other versions or charactersbecause they do not fit with Fatima's take onevents that occurred in Murtaza's life.
The book has reportedly sold well in Pakistan (ExpressTribune), but the reviews in the Pakistani press have been rather scathing(TheNews, Dawn,ExpressTribune). It is hard to gauge Pakistani public approval or disapproval ofthe book, given that Fatima Bhutto flew out of Pakistan for a book tour after itlaunched and has reportedly refused to sit down for face-to-face interviewswith Pakistani journalists. Conventional readings and Q&A sessions wouldhave given insights, but this is no conventional book. It will continue to sellwell -- anything with the Bhutto name does -- but whether it can spark any negativepublic reaction to Fatima or Zardari remains to be seen.
Ultimately, Songs of Blood andSword is yet another in the series of books written by the Bhuttos abouttheir versions of history as they see it. Mark your calendars: 22 years fromnow, another Bhutto will be penning a memoir. As Tariq Islam says Zulfikar AliBhutto told him in jail, "Iwill go down in history. Songs will be written about me." He probably didn'texpect the songs would be written by members of his own family.
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