BOOK REVIEWS

Discussion in 'Social Issues & Current Events' started by muse, Jul 13, 2008.

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  1. Ratus Ratus
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    Ratus Ratus PROFESSIONAL

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    If anyone has been through modern counter insurgency training everything is in this book. The principles presented are the same now.

    The book though does have one irritating issue: The author keeps refer to incidents that happened but assumes naturally the reader knows all about them.
    A nice upgrade to this book would be some outline of these incidents.

    But a good read.:enjoy:
    • Thanks Thanks x 1
  2. fatman17
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    available at liberty books @ Rs, 895/- but a excellent read for the novice!(like me):enjoy:
  3. muse
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    BOOK REVIEW
    The system's challengers
    Dreams and Shadows by Robin Wright

    Reviewed by Sreeram Chaulia

    Representations of the Middle East as changeless, frozen-in-time and regressive have crowded mainstream Western media for years owing to the region's high frequency of despotism and religious fundamentalism. But the despondent narrative of a region doomed to medievalism obscures new developments and forces pushing for democracy and decency.

    In her new book, Robin Wright, a senior journalist for the Washington Post, pries open a window to the Middle East's lesser-known strain of citizen activism against both dictatorship and Islamist terrorism. Having lived and traveled in the region for three decades, she focuses on the courage and sacrifice of individuals and groups aspiring for freedom.

    The book's prologue draws attention to "pyjamahedeen" - emerging young players campaigning for human rights and democracy using laptops and cell phones. These activists are inexperienced and under-resourced compared to entrenched tyrants and violent Islamists. With the highest youth unemployment rate in the world, the region has enough flashpoints for extremism. A demographically fuelled revolution in expectations can therefore be easily channeled into the throes of armed jihad rather than constructive change. Wright terms these contradictory prospects the "crises of change" through which "not all new actors will succeed". (pg 18)

    In the Palestinian territories, the death of the patriarch Yasser Arafat was a catalyst for change. The 2006 parliamentary election that followed was the first instance in Arab history when people peacefully and democratically turned incumbents out of power. Hamas' sweep ended half a century of monopoly over power by Fatah, but both parties then proceeded to violate the norms of democratic conduct by engaging in devastating factional fighting. Washington fanned the Palestinian deadlock by arming Fatah to the teeth, thereby extinguishing the "euphoria of the Arabs' most democratic election ever". (pg 63) The Palestinian saga, says Wright, demonstrates the volatility of change in an institutionally weak Middle East.

    Egypt's 2005 presidential election was typically fixed in favor of the absolutist ruler, Hosni Mubarak, but it propelled civil society watchdogs to try to hold his government to account. Their exemplary actions inspired similar movements in Jordan and Lebanon. Yet, the most energetic political opposition in Egypt is the Muslim Brotherhood rather than secular democratic networks like Kefaya. The Brotherhood presently advocates peaceful transformation but insists on the primacy of Islamic Sharia in lawmaking. Its ultimate aims of recreating the caliphate and "mastering the world with Islam" hardly inspire the country's 10% Christian population. With the US on his side as ally and the opposition scattered, Mubarak looks set to prolong his police state by spawning a dynasty.

    Lebanon is relatively democratic but plagued by sectarian divisions. Institutionalized confessionalism hobbles national unity in this most diverse country. The assassination of former premier Rafik Hariri in 2005 spurred a new generation of activists with a national vision. They assembled the largest mass protests ever in a modern Arab country and succeeded in ending Syria's 29-year occupation of the country. But sectarian quota systems in government remain along with warlords and clans, which still tower over fledgling civil society groups.

    The Shi'ite guerrilla outfit, Hezbollah, is the most powerful political actor in Lebanon. Backed by Iran and an impressive social service and Israel-resistance record, Hezbollah is a state within the state. Wright describes meeting its supremo, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, who said "the real democratic process in our countries will often produce governments that will be Islamist". (pg 196) The author adds that Hezbollah's war against Israel in 2006 hastened "a shift from Arabism to Islamism among both major Muslim sects" in the region. (pg 210)

    Since 1963, Syria has been in an open-ended state of emergency under the thumb of the Ba'ath Party. Neo-Marxists have taken the biggest risks and served the longest prison stints for relentlessly opposing the Assad dynasty's oppression. Wright focuses especially on the tribulations of the long-imprisoned leftist dissident, Riad al Turk. Syrian progressives have willingly walked to the gallows with the pride that they at least "participated in saving the dignity of our people". (pg 239) Wright also profiles a Syrian lawyer who sold his personal affects to defend dissidents even though his clients had no chance of acquittal.

    As in Egypt, the more consistent challenge to the Assad autocracy comes from the Syrian branch of the Brotherhood. It is now open to collaborating with other opposition forces, including the leftists. With "a strong Islamic wind blowing through the region" (pg 248), says Wright, secular dissidents too are keen on bringing the Brotherhood back into the political field. But regime change looks like a long haul in this heavily militarized country.

    Moving to Iran's revolution-gone-sour, Wright features the views of philosopher Abdolkarim Soroush and his student, Akbar Ganji. After falling out with Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Soroush began propounding that "freedom always precedes religion" and that the reversed sequence "inevitably leads to totalitarianism". (pg 275) Ganji quit the Ministry of Culture upon realizing that "the revolution (had) started swallowing its own children". (pg 277) He chronicled the corruption and impunity of Iran's clergy and intelligence agencies and braved jail sentences to describe the Islamic republic as an "iron cage" that can only be broken through mass civil disobedience.

    Wright writes affectionately about the "irrepressible irreverence" and "desperate defiance" of Iranian youth. She also follows the fates of rebel clerics like Ali Montazeri, Mohsen Kadivar and Hosein Boroujerdi who exposed Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's empire of abuses and paid heavy personal prices for it. Moderate insiders like former president Mohammad Khatami and former prime minister Mir Hossein Moussavi also try to humanize and liberalize the system from within, but get stopped in their tracks by Khamenei's hardliners. The most recent re-anointment of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad through a fraudulent presidential election spells greater travails ahead for democracy in Iran.

    Wright's chapter on Morocco, a country reeling under monarchy for the last 1200 years, highlights women as "an imaginative force for change in the Middle East." (p.352) Iconoclastic Moroccan feminists like Fatima Mernissi and Latifa Jbabdi faced state bullying and harassment from the mosque but persisted in launching collective campaigns for gender equality. Their 20-year-long struggle yielded far-reaching democratic changes in family law in 2004. But the Moroccan royalty's failure to share power or enact political reform has kept open avenues for extremist organisations like the Islamist Combatant Group.

    Wright reserves the final chapter to the trauma of Iraq. Before the US invasion in 2003, she recalls the apprehensions of top Iraqi Kurdish leaders that "removing a dictatorship does not mean democracy will work". (pg 383) Since the ouster of Saddam Hussein, occupying American administrators and elected Iraqi politicians have not managed to calm ethnic divisions or reduce alienation from the central government. Elections rewarded Islamist parties and failed to prevent sectarian militias (often protected by the state) from going on the rampage. Wright critiques the US neo-conservative experiment in Iraq by asserting that, "whatever its shortcomings, change is always better home-grown". (pg 409)

    The US attack on Iraq stranded new democracy activists throughout the Middle East and handed the initiative to violent actors. But the indefatigable spirits among the human rights groups, Wright assures us, will "keep trying". (pg 419) One need go no further than this book for a realistic appraisal of the promise and limitations of moderate agents of change in a politically pent-up region.

    Dreams and Shadows. The Future of the Middle East by Robin Wright. Penguin Books, New York, March 2009. ISBN: 978-0-14-311489-5. Price: US$17, 464 pages.

    Sreeram Chaulia is associate professor of world politics at the Jindal Global Law School in Sonipat, India
  4. fatman17
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    the author's dead mate!:rofl:
  5. fatman17
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    Book review: Our bomb, their bomb —by J Sri Raman
    View attachment 4249

    Reporting Nuclear Pakistan: Security Perceptions and the Indian Press
    By Teresa Joseph Reference Press, New Delhi; Pp391

    It was less than two months after the nuclear tests that shook Pokharan, a desert site in Rajasthan. In July 1998, a group of journalists met in a now defunct drive-in restaurant in Chennai, the South Indian metropolis. Rounds of coffee and discussion, and we resolved to found a forum called Journalists Against Nuclear Weapons (JANW).

    One of the first tasks we took up was a review of Indian media responses to Pokharan II as we christened the tests (Pokharan I being the so-titled “peaceful nuclear explosion” or PNE of 1974). We aimed to kill two birds with one stone: we wanted to show how the media, even of the elite variety, placed itself at the service of nuclear nationalism and militarism. JANW’s review was also intended to demonstrate the fact that the state-manipulated, management-dictated coverage of the event did not represent a “media consensus”, as it excluded the views of dissenters within the media.

    We were inspired in this by a communication we received from an Islamabad-based, Pakistani freelance journalist. He sent us a copy of a review he had done of the Pakistani media’s responses to the Chaghai tests. We went ahead and brought out a slender publication titled The Media Bomb. (Available at frames)

    The publication contained, besides the Pakistani colleague’s article (reproduced as an appendix), two reviews of national newspapers, two of Tamil newspapers and periodicals, and one of Malayalam newspapers in this respect. We talked of the Indian media’s attempt to sell the bomb as a ticket to superpower status and to downplay the internally divisive and economic aspects of the extravagant exercise of the religious-communal Right that had managed to capture power at last. Our friend focussed on the Pakistani media’s encouragement of a similar folly of the establishment.

    A notable omission — even a conspicuous one, when you come to think of it — was a review of the Indian media’s responses to Chaghai, to Pakistan’s nuclear-weapon programme. This, it is clear in retrospect, should have been an essential, integral part of our evaluation. The blasts across the border played an important role in the rationalisation of the Indian bomb, even if the Pokharan explosions preceded them.

    Teresa Joseph fills in this obvious gap. Avoiding the polemics that this reviewer’s profession is prone to, the Bangalore-based scholar brings out through meticulous research some major features of Pakistan’s strategic nuclear project as it figured in the Indian media, and a couple of revealing facts as well.

    The author starts with a look at the significantly different “security discourses in South Asia and the Indian press”. In Pakistan, “the regime’s search for legitimacy has been reflected in the militarisation of politics” with its “continuous emphasis on threats...from external sources”. The “security imperative” has been “raised to the status of an ideology fundamental to the survival of the state”.

    In India’s case, however, “the dominant security discourse envisages the idea of regional dominance, consistent with India’s self-perceived image as both the legitimate successor to the British Raj and the civilising power in the subcontinent.”

    Joseph adds: “Indian civil society generally supports the idea of equating security with domination.”

    The Indian press, too, inherited the idea as a legacy of colonialism and the anti-colonial struggle. “Independence brought a turning point in the history of the Indian press, bringing to an end the era of journalism as a mission. The media was left free to become an industry. However...the nationalist press assumed a largely supportive attitude towards the state in independent India...the press found it...inappropriate and unfair to be very critical of the new, fledgling state...given the strong tide of nationalism and anti-colonialism.” The way to a pro-establishment press, especially in relation to foreign policy matters, was paved with such good intentions.

    This line of evolution led inevitably to adoption by the media of a state-centric, state-dictated security paradigm. As the author sums up clinically: “The major source of threats to the country has been projected as that arising from outside its borders. These threats often call for military responses, by way of enhanced capabilities. In the process, given the historical circumstances of the region, Pakistan has been projected as the major source of threats to the country in terms of external aggression as well as inciting trouble within.”

    A couple of points may be added to complete the picture. Over the past decade-plus, the enhanced military capabilities, sold by the state and the media as necessary to meet security threats, have come to include the nuclear. Over the past 46 years, China has also earned a place in the state-media showcase of security threats, with increased prominence as a result of the striving for a US-India “strategic partnership” in the recent period.

    The section of the book dealing with the security paradigm in the Indian media cites several instances, ranging from the pompous to the puerile. Many of these provide delightful or disgusting examples (depending on how seriously you take them) of a multi-faceted campaign to demonise Pakistan. Elite, English-language newspapers supply the specimens, despite the myth that the Indian-language media alone is capable of such prejudiced and indecent propaganda.

    My own favourite among these illustrations carries the prejudice and politics of Pakistan-bashing to the play field. This is a report from a respected “national” (or New Delhi-based) daily, which combines sports with security and compounds foul-play allegations with foreign policy apprehensions. The curtain-raiser on an India-Pakistan cricket series carries the headline: “Can Saurav [Ganguly] and his men fulfil every Indian’s ultimate dream?”

    The story then opens with an even bigger bang: “When Ian Botham stated that Pakistan is the place to send your mother-in-law for an all-expenses-paid holiday, he was not kidding. It is that sort of place...Ball-tampering, reverse swing, match-fixing, territorial strikes, bomb blasts, boycotts, threats, anything goes in Pakistan.”

    Similar projection of Pakistan has been done in a more sophisticated manner as well, especially in the contributions of the ever-growing community of security experts. The media has also had a corner for “counter-narratives”, as the author calls them. None of this, however, ever made any real departure from the dominant security discourse in the media, shown here as “setting the stage” down the decades for the decisive break in May 1998 with India’s past of nuclear ambiguity.

    The Pokharan nuclear-weapon tests elicited paeans from the media that saw them as its own triumph as well. The end of India’s days as a leader of nations demanding global nuclear disarmament was greeted with cries of elation. A leading newspaper lauded the country for leaving the “delightful club of the destitute” and nearly entering the exclusive “nuclear club”. Pakistan, however, was not forgotten, and it continued to figure in the coverage of the event as well as comments upon it.

    The study brings out the tactical flexibility of the media in its treatment of this aspect of the subject. Initially, the attempt was to downplay Pakistan’s capacity to answer the Pokharan detonations. While the tests “unleashed a torrent of articles on the triumphant achievements of India’s scientific community”, Pakistan’s “nuclear capabilities” were reported to present “a marked contrast”.

    A major daily did not stop with front-paging then Home Minister Lal Krishna Advani’s speculation that, “unable to match Indian skills in science”, Pakistan could extend terrorist activities in Kashmir and elsewhere. The paper also carried an article, which said: “(Pakistan) has long been touted as being on par with India in the development of missile and bomb technology. How these analysts believe that a country incapable of producing a lathe can manufacture strategic equipment is unclear.”

    Then came the Chaghai tests. The same media set to work, along with the state, arguing that Pakistan’s nuclear capability had indeed compelled India to carry out the Pokharan tests. The External Affairs Ministry pointed to Pakistan’s tests as “a confirmation of its possession of nuclear weapons and a vindication of India’s assessment ad policy”. Quick to take the cue, the same daily quoted as scoffing at the neighbour’s skills reported that Pokharan II was triggered off by Pakistan’s announcement in April 1998 of readiness to test at short notice.

    The irony of the I-told-you-so tone was lost upon the media, which had told its audience precisely the opposite barely a fortnight before. And, to this date, it has not told the people of what the reckless, post-1998 arms race between the nuclear-armed neighbours can spell for the region.

    In one of her conclusions, the author recommends to “the mass media of the region” a “delinking of news frame from its preoccupation with the dominant, traditional state security perspective”. The mainstream Indian media may not be in a hurry to heed the counsel, judging by its response to the other “delinking” — of the terrorism issue and the composite dialogue — that a joint statement by the Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan has called for.
  6. fatman17
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    Book review: —by Khaled Ahmed Of Clausewitz and asymmetric war

    The first thing one notices about Clausewitz’ trifold analysis of the nature of war is how the deck is stacked against war’s being a rational endeavour

    Criminal-States and Criminal-Soldiers
    Edited by Robert J Bunker; Routledge 2008
    Pp322; Price £80
    Available in bookstores in Pakistan
    View attachment 4302

    Robert Bunker, applied theorist and futurist with counter-terrorism expertise, has put together a book dealing with “a war over humanity’s future social and political organisation” with criminal challengers to the nation-state form. Bunker’s description of state failure is instructive: “The process involves the territorial shell of a dead nation-state, one with no central authority and devoid of state institutions, being overrun by non-state groups — such as warlords, armed gangs, and drug cartels — that fill the power vacuum that develops.”

    Another aspect of this criminal-state form is based on lawless zones. These zones can exist within a state, such as a failed-region, or even on a smaller scale, within a failed-section of a city, such as a sprawling slum. (p.45) Reminds one of Karachi and Pakistan?

    Mark T Clark in Does Clausewitz Apply to Criminal-States and Gangs? discusses Clausewitz and his most widely quoted though least read book on war: On War. Clausewitz, a Prussian military officer, wrote his classic after Napoleon Bonaparte waged aggressive wars in Europe and radically changed how — and to what extent — wars were fought. Clausewitz never actually completed his work despite spending some twelve years on it. At the end of his life, he considered only chapter one of his book as completely finished. He died at a fairly young age and it was left to his wife, Marie von Clausewitz, to publish his work posthumously. (p.81)

    Before World War One, the military establishments of Germany, France and Italy fatally misinterpreted On War to suit their doctrinal purposes at the time, usually for offensive military action. After the war, two of the more famous British military historians and officers, Major General JFC Fuller and Captain BH Liddell Hart, blamed Clausewitz for the slaughter that occurred during the Great War and for failing to look beyond war to the peace that would ensue. Clausewitz theorised like no one before or after. As the economist FA Hayek said, “Without a theory the facts are silent”. Modern war was waiting with its facts in hand.

    Clausewitz states: “So long as I have not overthrown my opponent I am bound to fear he may overthrow me”. This reciprocally pushes the interaction to a further extreme. Finally, a third extreme is introduced. To overcome an enemy you must match your effort against his power of resistance, which can be expressed as the product of two inseparable factors, the total means at his disposal and the strength of his will. Again, these are simply logical relations in practice. (p.84)

    In one of his more famous quotations, Clausewitz stakes his claim to fame. He says: “We see, therefore, that war is not merely an act of policy but a true political instrument, a continuation of political intercourse, carried on with other means.”

    He argues: When whole communities go to war — whole peoples, and especially civilised peoples — the reason always lies in some political situation, and the occasion is always due to some political object. War, therefore, is an act of policy. In a note of July 10, 1827 Clausewitz emphasised the importance he attached to the political element.

    He writes: “As a total phenomenon its dominant tendencies always make war a paradoxical trinity, composed of primordial violence, hatred, and enmity, which are to be regarded as a blind natural force; of the play of chance and probability within which the creative spirit is free to roam; and of its element of subordination, as an instrument of policy, which makes it subject to reason alone”.

    The first of these three aspects mainly concerns the people; the second the commander and his army; the third the government. The passions that are to be kindled in war must already be inherent in the people; the scope which the play of courage and talent will enjoy in the realm of probability and chance depends on the particular character of the commander and the army; but the political aims are the business of government alone. (p.86)

    That trajectory is made difficult to predict by virtue of the three components of the trinity of the people (passion, anger), the state (intentionality, politics) and the commander (the genius). These three things characterise war in all its forms but if war is one part passion, one part chance, and one part reason, then two of the three elements in its nature are by definition wanton, even uncontrollable. The first thing one notices about Clausewitz’ trifold analysis of the nature of war is how the deck is stacked against war’s being a rational endeavour.

    The book goes to Aristotle to examine war as achievement of justice. And Aristotle comes centre-stage. Some regimes differ greatly from others by the different conception of justice men have. The key distinction between correctly and incorrectly constituted regimes lies in the fact that in deviant regimes, the rulers do not act for the common interest but for themselves, much like modern mafias and criminal gangs.

    Aristotle make it clear: that justice in the fullest sense exists only in a community of relatively free and equal men whose relations are regulated by law. He is in disagreement with the sophistic view that, because all just things are subject to variation or change, justice exits only by convention; in his view, while it is true that the just things, like all human things, are subject to change, there are things that are the way they are just by nature.

    Justice lies at the heart of politics; and different conceptions of justice lie at the heart of factional conflict. But if it lies at the heart of politics and factional conflict, then according to Clausewitz it must also lie at the heart of international conflict and war where two or more political systems interact. And in fact Aristotle believed that justice was at the heart of the war between Sparta and Athens. In an aside, he comments in The Politics, “All regimes are overturned sometimes from within themselves and sometimes from outside, when an opposing regime is either nearby or far away but powerful. This is what opened in the case of the Athenians and the Lacedaemonians: the Athenians overthrew oligarchies everywhere, and the Spartans democracies.” (p.90)

    In Aristotle’s interpretation of the conflict between the major competing powers, they had their own interpretation of the just regime and sought to impose that on those nearby or, at the very least, to get rid of those regimes that were hostile to their own conception of justice. For the Spartans, it was their concept of oligarchy and for the Athenians, their concept of democracy. The core concept of any political regime, or community, is its concept of the just. (p.91)

    There are many examples of Jihadi Insurgency, but Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda is the model. Al Qaeda has all the elements of the Clausewitzian trinity (political leadership with Osama and al-Zawahiri), the people (disaffected Muslims his organisation is trying to reach) and an army (terrorists), though Al Qaeda is also without a state. Osama and his minions provide the political direction for the campaign, while radicalised Muslims provide the base of support, and the terrorists and insurgents act as the army. The tactics differ dramatically from conventional war. And Osama claims a lunatic interpretation of Islam to promote his conception of justice. That had become the spark for the war, even before the homicidal attacks of 9/11. (p.96)

    Hakim Hazim & Robert J Bunker write on Perpetual Jihad: Striving for a Caliphate. Nations that have three or more of the criteria listed below have caliphate potential insofar as Islamism has been acted upon in the past and can gain traction: 1) a significant number of devout Muslims who demand an Islamic government; 2) a significant number of clerics who espouse and justify violent theology; 3) political leadership that is anti-Western and is based on sharia law; 4) failing or disjointed state status; 5) significant numbers of terrorist operatives or sympathisers that have infiltrated remain in the government and security force.

    This smacks of Pakistan, all right. The worst case scenario is a takeover by militants who will come into possession of nuclear weapons. The country is truly the envy of all serious jihadists and there is no doubt that many have infiltrated the military and intelligence ranks. (p.115) *
  7. EjazR
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    A must read for a perspective on partition history

    Amazon.com: The Shadow of the Great Game: The Untold Story of India's Partition (9780786719129): Narendra Singh Sarila: Books

    The book challenges conventional wisdom on partition of India and reveals how British plotted it long before it became a
    recognised demand of certain political classes of 1947 era. It very cleverly demonstrated that when continuation of British rule became impossible then the proverbial master decided to divide and quit and hope for the new nations to fall apart.
    The writer is a former ADC to Lord Mouthbatten , served many colonial including Lord Wavell, was a witness to drawing of Radcilffe’s maps ,member of inaugural batch of Indian foreign service and had access to pivotal information that was only recently declassified by British.
    In 1940’s British wanted to use India and more specifically northwestern part of the continent to further and safeguard their interest in oil producing Middle East from looming threat of Soviet Union. British were prejudiced against Congress as it was a vocal opponent of World War –II and became convinced that Congress ruled united and independent India would never let British use Indian soil for its great game and instead support freedom from British colonialism. So Jinnah and his Muslim League happened to be in right place at right time and were used to further British interests.
    Lord Wavell, Lord Mountbatten’s predecessor, formulated a plan for partition that reached Churchill in February 1946.Churchill had contempt for Indian and Wavell and instructed Lord Mountbatten “not to take any initiative” on India. Churchill was soon replaced by Clemet Attlee and persuaded Wavell’s plans as Britain was occupied with rebuilding after war, facing financial crunches, ruling India was becoming difficult courtesy freedom struggle and India’s right to freedom was gaining acceptance in west especially in America under Franklin Roosevelt.
    Wavell plans recommended partition of Punjab and drew a dividing line on map of Punjab that was followed exactly by Lord Radcliffe to partition India.
    Sarila has used top-secret American and British documents that have been made available to historians recently and has done elaborate research to bring all facts to light in their correct chronological order.

    All in all a very readable book that shows how British crafted agony of partition of Indian subcontinent whose ill effects are being borne even after 58 years of Independence.
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    Syed Qutb and Nasser —by Khaled Ahmed

    The state participates in all this. Moving away from the Islamic ideal of democracy and human rights, it gives in to the temptation to derive power from enforcing a particular order backed by innocent people who need to put their faith into practice

    Democracy in Islam;
    By Sayed Khatab & Gary D Bouma;
    Routledge 2007;
    Pp264; Price: £80;
    Available in bookstores in Pakistan

    First, the credentials. Sayed Khatab is a Research Fellow in the School of Political and Social Inquiry and the Global Terrorism Research Centre at Monash University, Australia. His recent publications include The Political Thought of Syed Qutb; The Theory of Jahiliyyah; and The Power of Sovereignty: The Political and Ideological Philosophy of Syed Qutb. Gary D.Bouma is UNESCO Chair in Inter-religious and Intercultural Relations, Asia Pacific and Director of the Global Terrorism Research Centre at Monash University, Australia.

    Syed Qutb for us is the father of today’s Islam and his thought was purveyed first by the Ikhwanul Muslimeen of the revivalist Egyptian leader Hasan Al Banna. As the book informs us, Qutb and Al Banna were in fact born the same year (1906), received a similar course of modem elementary and middle education, enrolled in the same tertiary course and graduated from the same university. But they did not know each other after graduation. Both men worked for the government, in the same sector, precisely in education, and faced similar conditions.

    Al Banna opted for the Muslim Brotherhood, while Qutb chose journalism and literary criticism and, later, turned to the Brotherhood and developed a sophisticated system of thought on Islam and society. Al Banna’s aim and objective were directly opposite to the aim and objective of the two combined powers: the power of the Palace and the power of Britain in Egypt. The big clash between the three forces took place in 1948. As asserted by Hasanayn Haykal, the clash led Prime Minster Mahmud Fahmi al-Nuqrashi to liquidate the Brotherhood organisation and detain its leaders in 1948. The violent reaction to this resulted in the assassination of al-Nuqrashi in 1948.

    The book goes on to narrate that the next prime minister, Abdul Hadi, with a green light from the palace, arranged to assassinate Hasan Al Banna in 1949. Under the next leader, Al Hudaybi, the dispute between the Brotherhood and the Palace escalated and reached its zenith with the Revolution of July 23, 1952. It was the Revolution of the Brotherhood led by the Brothers in the army, who later became known as the Free Officers. Al Banna’s assassination and the subsequent coup opened a window onto another round to be dominated by the thought of Syed Qutb and the post-Qutbiyyan radical groups. (p.72-73)

    Born in 1906, in a small town in Upper Egypt, Syed Qutb memorised the Quran. To further his education, Qutb moved to Cairo where he began to write on poetry and its role in society, literary criticism as well as social and political matters. One year before his graduation, Qutb published a significant work of criticism, The Task of the Poet and the Poetry of the Present Generation. After his graduation, Qutb worked for the Ministry of Education in varying capacities. In 1938, Qutb lambasted ‘the prince of Arabic literature’ Taha Husayn for his book The Future of Culture in Egypt in which Husayn suggested Egypt belonged to the West.

    By 1947, Qutb produced a few works on the Quran from literary perspectives, but with new approaches that generated intense discussion. Toward the end of 1948, Qutb’s Social Justice in Islam was completed and it was published in 1949. During this period, Qutb was writing in the newspapers and periodicals. (p.74) He was the editor of the widely read journal The Arab World, but left it to establish another journal, The New Thought, in January 1948.

    The government sensed danger from him and closed down the journal but, instead of punishing him, decided to send him to the US to study Western methods of education (1948-1950). He toured around to explore, as he later said, the United States from within, but stayed in Colorado for a longer period. On his return Qutb got in touch with young army officers including two who later became presidents of Egypt: Nasser and Sadat, who were members in the Brotherhood preparing for change in Egypt. As their adviser Qutb produced Social Justice in Islam (1949); Islam and Capitalism (1951); Islam and the Universal Peace (1951).

    Immediately after the Revolution in 1952, Qutb was appointed as advisor in the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC). During this period, Qutb reformed Egypt’s educational system and utilised the experience he had gained in the United States. In August 1952, one month after the Revolution, the RCC decide to celebrate their successful and bloodless revolution, and to present themselves to the people. On this occasion, Qutb was presented as thinker of the revolution like Comte de Mirabeau (1749-1791), the outstanding orator of the French Revolution.

    During his speech President Muhammad Naguib addressed Qutb with such words as these: ‘Our great teacher, the pioneer of our blessed Revolution, the First thinker of Islam in our epoch, Mr Syed Qutb.’ (p.75) In his speech, Nasser laid out the roadmap of the revolution but did not forget to address to Qutb with the following assurance: ‘And I would assure you brother that they cannot reach you except over my dead body. You know the commitment of the men of the revolution that we would sacrifice our life for your safety.’ (p.75) Nasser was to put him to death in 1966.

    Opinions began to diverge, as Qutb said, and he resigned from the RCC in 1953. Nasser opted for the Soviet camp, and Qutb opted for the Muslim Brothers’ camp. Qutb was appointed to the Guidance Council, he headed the department of propagation and guidance and edited the Brotherhood newspaper. Qutb was arrested and imprisoned n 1954 along with other leaders. He spent the rest of his life behind bars until the government executed him in 1966. (p.77)

    Qutb’s Ma ‘alim fi al-Tariq (Milestones) was the last book written in jail and was published in January 1964. Nasser himself read Milestones and permitted its distribution, and so did al-Azhar. However, the book was too popular and was printed six times in a month and each print was double the previous one. The government then banned the book, and so did al-Azhar. Following the execution of Qutb in 1966 demonstrations swarmed across the Muslim world.

    It was after this that violence and terrorism began to take shape, mainly in Egypt. Whenever the government moved against Islamists, some who escaped arrest found their way to other countries in the Middle East as well as Europe and the United States. (p.78) One such is Ayman al-Zawahiri who thinks democracy is an idolatrous idea designed specially against Islam. For him, following democracy is to assign partners with God.


    In his book The Bitter Harvest: Muslim Brotherhood in Sixty Years, Al Zawahiri says the Muslim Brotherhood’s educational programme was a form of ‘shirk bi Allah’ or associating partiers with God. To him, Islam renders sovereignty to God whereas democracy renders sovereignty to the people. The legislator in democracy is the human being while the legislator in Islam is the Almighty God. Hence, democracy is a blasphemous idea that usurps the right of legislation from the Almighty God and gives it to the people. (p.79)

    The challenge today is the resurgence of religion in public life, the misguided use of the state to support religion and finding a way to be religious in secular post-industrial societies. (p.199) Palestinians are factionalised and each faction is committed to use automatic rifles against the other on matters that seem trivial. In Algeria, over 50,000 have been killed during the 1990s. Similarly the violence in Sudan-south and Sudan-north (Darfur) has killed and displaced millions of innocent and unfortunate people. (p.200)

    The state participates in all this. Moving away from the Islamic ideal of democracy and human rights, it gives in to the temptation to derive power from enforcing a particular order backed by innocent people who need to put their faith into practice
    .
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  9. muse
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    Secular Shar'iah?


    Islam and the Secular State: Negotiating the Future of Sharia
    By Abdullah Ahmed an-Naim
    Harvard University Press 2008
    Pp324; Price $35


    Author Abdullah Ahmed an-Naim says: “This book is the culmination of my life’s work, the final statement I wish to make on issues I have been struggling with since I was a student at the University of Khartoum, Sudan, in the late 1960s. I speak as a Muslim in this book because I am accountable for these ideas as part of my own religion and not simply as a hypothetical academic argument.” And he has made us all think afresh about the nature of the state inhabited by Muslims.

    There are many ways you can save the Muslims from going pre-modern and hurting themselves in the 21st century. Some of us say Sharia itself is secular and that the state after the first immaculate caliphs separated the religious from the political. Some others say the Prophet PBUH himself created a state that gave equal status to all Muslim and non-Muslim communities living in it. This book gives an inside view of how Islam needs to absorb some of the values of secularism that don’t militate against Islam.

    The case is put like this: “The historical relationship among Islam, the state, and politics clearly reflects the permanent tension between claims of the conflation of Islam and the state and the need of religious leaders to maintain their autonomy from state institutions in the interest of their own moral authority over both state and society. The basic framework for the constant mediation of that tension was the expectation of Muslims that the state should uphold Islamic principles in fulfilling its obligations, on the one hand, and the inherently political and secular nature of the state, on the other.” (p.49)


    The state is inherently bisected by its religious authority and its political exigencies. The ulema may insist on a seamless state but they often lack the power to implement what they have in mind; and since what they have in mind is not a functional Islamic state but a utopia based on theory, an Islamic state ruled by them may run the risk of becoming like all utopias, beginning with the one visualised by Plato. Dangers arise from the lack of the will of the ulema “to confront practical questions of maintaining the peace among local communities, regulating economic and social relations, or defending the realm against external threats”. The ulema may have to become users of force by cutting themselves off from the mainsprings of their theory of the state.

    Author Naim refers to the authority of Ibn Taymiya (d.1328) to posit the possibility of a pragmatic state and its reliance on skill rather than religious piety with the support of the leading Islamic thinkers who asserted that ‘the selection of each public officer or magistrate should be based on the pragmatic requirements and the individual’s capacity to comply with the ethical and professional code of the job being assigned, not considerations of religious piety”. Ibn Taymiya cited in this context the example of how the Prophet PBUH repeatedly appointed Khalid bin Walid as commander of Muslim armies, despite his frustration and dissatisfaction with Khalid’s attitudes and behaviour from a religious point of view. (p.49)

    Ibn Jawziya too thought that intelligence and practical wisdom should be the principle on which to run a government and held that it was only “through misunderstanding the political dimension of Islam that rulers misconceived the relation between Sharia and the actuality of experience” thus making serious mistakes under the rubric of applying Sharia. (p.50) The book points out that the same principle was favoured by Imam Ghazali too.

    Naim tackles the more problematic question of the function of the state in regard to its population. He says: “Citizens often have a sentimental attachment to and identification with their state but this is not an essential characteristic of a state. The concept of the nation-state assumes common features, such as ethnicity or language, among groups that may identify with the state in this manner. But this can be misleading, because there is hardly ever a complete correspondence between a territory and the ethnic, religious, or other unity of its population. Such unity can be true of several groups within the territory of a state and may be shared by others living within the territory of another state. The fact that most states seek to cultivate feelings of uniform national identity is not a defining characteristic of the modem state.” (p.87)


    What then is the defining characteristic of the modern state? The book brings in the concept of civic reason here: “The concept of civic reason entitles all citizens to publicly debate any matter that pertains to or reflects on public policy and governmental or state action, including the views of citizens about such matters.” Here the fundamental purpose is to allow all citizens of the state regardless of their religion and ethnicity to join the debate from their separate points of view. Naim says: “Muslims are of course free to observe the ban on riba personally or to organise zakat through civic associations, all through an entirely internal Islamic discourse. But if they wish to involve state institutions in the process, then they must provide civic reasons through a civic reasoning process in which all citizens can participate without reference to religion.” (p.93)



    He links the concept of civic reason with the Quranic edict of shura or consultation even though it does not lay down any exact mechanism for this consultation. For the sake of avoidance of conflict in the modern state, he advocates consultation between the various communities inhabiting the state. And in this validation of the non-dominant communities together with the dominant ones he sees the function of the state as a neutral entity concerned with justice. And this no doubt is the fundamental characteristic of a secular state
    .
  10. Awesome
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    Reading through Jaswant Singh's book, Jinnah... For the first 100 pages hes been analyzing the statement "Muslims are a separate nation". Indians of his generation seem like they often wonder about this and how they let it all happen.

    Indians have to be really intolerant if they found this book offensive. I mean it clearly projects all the nice things about Jinnah from the typical Indian perspective. All he's done different is that hes accepted that there were circumstances created that would form Pakistan by the Hindu Indian leadership (or the Congress) that would re-affirm time and again the statement "Muslims are a separate nation".

    He explains that in all of Jinnahs and the Muslim Leagues political moves to attain parity with the Hindus of India, there never was a Pakistan demand between 1906 (formation of the All India Muslim League) up until 1940. Until 1945 there wasn't any clear Idea about what this Pakistan demand should unveil (remember until Nehru backed off, Jinnah was still demanding autonomous regions, not a country)...

    Hindu leaders called Jinnah "The greatest Ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity". All Jaswant Singh does is that he explains that some serious errors were made by their own leaders that changed his mind significantly and he like many others that became Pakistanis decided that we are a separate nation.
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  11. x_man
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    [​IMG]

    Just finished reading: Never in Anger

    Its a biography of a legendry RAF pilot Wing Commander Anthony ‘ Bugs ‘ Bendell who joined the RAF in 1953, just as the service was converting to jets, his career spanned 34 years.

    Besides trainers, he flew the Vampire, Hunter, Lightning, Republic F-105 on an exchange tour with USAF and the Phantom F-4. He also commanded an F-4 Phantom squadron in Germany and then later he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and had to leave service on medical grounds.

    He was a solo display pilot for RAF on Hunter and later on Lightening in 60s. A superb read for any aviation enthusiast and a great insight about RAF when it was transitioning from props to Jets. Book is full of anecdotes, stories about squadron life, fighter pilots, cold war era, fighter deployments, displays, weapon deliveries’ and various RAF Jets etc.

    I thoroughly enjoyed it, hope you will do too. :tup:
    Last edited: Oct 7, 2009
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    @Asim

    I', pretty sure 9/10 Indians would not have found it offensive, and the one that did would probably have not even read it. Even may senior politicians of the BJP were not happy with the decision. The Ban initiated by the Gujarat govt. to appease right wingers was struck down by Gujarat High Court. And of course all that controversy allowed his book to reach the best seller list in record time.

    Personally there is nothing new in the book and there are many other books that are much better researched and written on Jinnah, in particular Ayesha Jalal's The Sole Spokesman.
  13. EjazR
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    just finished Imtiaz Gul's Al Qaeda Connection. Here is a review from a Pakistani magazine that probably bests sums up the book.

    Newsline Blog Archive The Enemy Within

    Imtiaz Gul is a well-known and highly respected journalist who has covered Pakistan in general and the North West Frontier Province in particular for almost two decades. His book The Enemy Within is the outcome of his personal observations and interactions with the Taliban, tribal people, the military and other security officials and civil servants dealing with the Frontier. Besides this, his work has also benefited from the insights offered by other journalists and their writings.

    The prologue to the book begins with the dramatic siege of the village Landi Dok in Kaloosha district in South Waziristan by the Scouts on March 16, 2004. The Scouts wanted to capture Tahir Yaldashev, the leader of the Islamic Movement of Waziristan (IMU), along with his 25 followers. But why had Islamic militants from far away Central Asia established themselves in Pakistan’s FATA?

    This is the theme of the first chapter, aptly entitled ‘Why Pakistan’s Tribal Areas Fell to Al-Qaeda.’ The story is a familiar one: the army and the ISI believed that Pakistan should set up a friendly regime in Afghanistan so that the Durand Line is not questioned and the army can use that country in case of a war with India. This desire for ‘strategic depth’ opened up FATA to battle-hardened Islamic militants who had first arrived here to help the Americans in their proxy war against the Soviet Union in the 1980s.

    But Imtiaz Gul does more than repeat this hackneyed storyline. He begins with Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s policy of training Islamic dissidents from Afghanistan to pressurise the Kabul government in the mid-1970s. Somehow, when these nefarious policies are being made, nobody considers the moral dimension but, as we have seen in recent history, all of them backfire and haunt their perpetrators for decades. Unsurprisingly, Bhutto’s policy also backfired. But Bhutto was overtaken by events and General Zia’s Islamisation policies strengthened Islamic radicals and reduced the power of liberal ideas in Pakistan. It also increased sectarianism, which resulted in the deaths of prominent Shias.

    US policy was even more short-sighted than Pakistan’s. The Americans poured in their resources to give the Soviets a bloody nose but did not foresee that the spirit of Islamic militancy they had created would turn against them because of their own unpopular and unjust policies in favour of Israel and their imperial hubris. But the Arabs, brought into Pakistan and Afghanistan, stayed back and, under the leadership of Osama bin Laden, declared jihad against the Americans.

    But Imtiaz Gul does not confine himself to these well-known facts. He gives contemporary facts in order to provide an understanding of how our tribal areas became host to Islamic militants from all over the world.

    He explains the activities of both Al-Qaeda and Pakistan-based organisations like the Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, Brigade 313, Al-Badr Mujahideen and Jamaatul Furqan. All of them drew inspiration from the Hezb-e-Islami of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar – once favoured by Pakistan – Jalaluddin Haqqani, Mullah Omar and Maulvi Nabi Mohammedi. By providing this information, Imtiaz Gul is among the few Pakistani authors who have given any attention to the Punjab factor. Ordinarily, Pakistanis have been in the habit of ignoring the Punjab-based groups because they fought a proxy war against India for Kashmir. However, Imtiaz Gul gives detailed accounts of how all these jihadi groups share certain aspects of their worldview.

    However, the author describes the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in more detail. It has a 40-member consultative council (Shura) and has representatives from all seven agencies. Leaders very rarely give interviews to the media and the author reveals that he was present in an interview where Baitullah Mehsud boasted that he possessed suicide bombers (‘atom bombs’ as he called them) which he would use against Pakistan’s forces if they dared to attack him. The author also tells us how the Taliban control people in the areas which they rule. They always impose their stringent interpretation of the Shariah and punish people for transgressions or for perceived disloyalty to them. Among the most interesting narratives is Mullah Nazir’s resistance to the Uzbek militants and the resulting attempts to kill him.

    The militants are not a single united group. However, Gul’s area-by-area treatment of the whole FATA region is a welcome addition to this field of study. Equally useful is the chapter providing profiles of militants, which gives us a short biographical note on each high-profile militant.

    Imtiaz Gul’s chapter on the ISI is instructive though there is no new material in it. One nugget of information, though available earlier, is worth repeating: Benazir Bhutto did not know that the ISI was training and infiltrating fighters across the LoC. This may sound surprising but it also tells us that our civilian prime ministers have little power – and even knowledge – of foreign policy. This lack of unity in the exercise of power and the presence of several power centres has made Pakistan insecure, but there has been no scholarly study of it.

    The last chapter ‘Who Funds Militancy in FATA?’ is the most interesting of all. Here, the author goes through all the theories about who funds the militancy in FATA. After all, with hundreds of Pakistanis dying every other day in bomb attacks, people want to know who is paying for this. There are many conspiracy theories and the author considers some of them.

    Some believe the Americans themselves are involved, but the only evidence they offer is that American drones hit Al-Qaeda operatives in FATA (Abu Lait el libi, Hamza Rabia, Abu Khabab al-Misri etc) but not the Pakistani leaders of the militants. This appeared to be true when this book went to the press as Baitullah Mehsud was still alive. However, now that a drone strike has eliminated him, this claim does not stand ground. Another theory is that India funds this insurgency to take revenge on Pakistan for having supported Sikh dissidents and the proxy war in Kashmir. However, no hard proof is offered about the FATA situation considering the fact that the Taliban are violently anti-India. Yet another theory is that the ISI is in cahoots with the militants. While this was true in the past, it is hard to believe that the ISI would be supporting those who attacked the GHQ and against whom the army is presently fighting a war. It is possible, however, that some operatives still have a soft corner for groups which operate or may possibly operate in the future in Kashmir or India. The author leaves this possibility unexplored.

    Gul ends the book with the words: “The terror that was planned and nurtured in FATA is now knocking at our own doors.” Indeed it is, and it is only these kind of facts presented by researchers that will awaken Pakistanis to their problems. In the end, it must be pointed out that this is journalistic work not a scholarly treatise. This does not, however, diminish the worth of the book, which is extremely insightful. Its strength is Imtiaz Gul’s deep knowledge of the area, its language and its history. He has talked to, formally and informally, the most important actors in the area and his language is absorbing and clear. The book is highly recommended to all those who want to understand the current security situation in Pakistan.
  14. fatman17
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    High drama in the sky

    Reviewed by Muhammad Ali Siddiqi

    Sunday, 07 Mar, 2010

    Of the two principal characters involved in the nerve-racking drama on the evening of Oct 12, 1999, when the fate of 198 passengers on board flight PK 805 hung in the balance, one was supposed to be a paragon of virtue, the other a scoundrel. Author Aminullah Chaudry has tried to prove that both were great scoundrels. One was a household name, Nawaz Sharif; the other name would hit world headlines when he threw in Pakistan’s lot with America in the war on terror – Pervez Musharraf.

    Leaf after leaf seems to come straight from a page-turner. Here is a dialogue between flight PK 805 and the air traffic control tower at Karachi:

    Tower: Please convey to the Chief that this is Gen. Iftikhar. I would like to speak to him.

    PK 805: Standby, we will get the General…. Iftikhar this is Pervez. Where is Usmani?

    Tower: Sir, Iftikhar is on the set. Gen. Usmani is in the VIP lounge. He is waiting at the gate for you. I am here at the con tower.

    PK 805: Iftikhar what is the problem?

    Tower: I am sure you would not know. About two hours back your retirement was announced and you were to be replaced by Zia. The army has taken over and they were trying to divert your plane, so that it doesn’t land here. We have taken over the airport and you are coming in now.

    PK 805: Iftikhar, thank you. Tell Mahmood and Aziz nobody will leave the country.

    There is more of this drama across the book as apoplectic, nervous wrecks in Islamabad and Karachi exchanged angry messages full of mutual suspicion and often contempt. More important neither the givers nor takers of the orders were sure if they were acting professionally, ethically and legally.

    The only person who was sure of himself was the author – Director General of Civil Aviation. All through the book Chaudry hammers one point: he obeyed the orders of an elected prime minister. Well versed in civil aviation law, Chaudry says that under clause 62(2) of Civil Aviation Rules, 1994 he had the right to close the airport as ordered by Sharif. The prime minister rang him up personally twice in 15 minutes and told him categorically that the plane carrying Musharraf should not land in Pakistan – it could go to any Middle Eastern airport, except Dubai. Chaudry makes his position clear: ‘There was no doubt in my mind that I was duty bound to carry out the orders of the chief executive’.

    Both the prosecution and Sharif’s lawyers bungled – the former when the army arrested Chaudry; the latter when the case came up before the anti-terrorism court (ATC) headed by Judge Jafferi. A day after the coup, the CAA director was arrested and harassed to the point of torture and denied the medical care he deserved as a heart patient. But one day a ‘polite’ ISI officer came to him and told him that he was being interrogated because he would have to serve as star witness for the prosecution.

    According to the author, the brains behind Sharif’s defence strategy were bad lawyers who not only contradicted each other, but also reversed their position when the defence went in appeal to the Sindh High Court after conviction by Judge Rehmat Jafferi, who sentenced the former prime minister to two life terms.

    In the ATC the defence team argued that Sharif never gave the order for closing the airport. While in the high court they staged a somersault and accepted that Sharif did indeed order the closure of the airport in order to deny landing to flight PK 805. As prime minister, the defence lawyers said, Sharif had every right to consolidate his political position if he felt threatened by the army chief. Didn’t Bhutto, they argued, dismiss two service chiefs in one day to strengthen his power?

    The author’s criticism of Judge Jafferi is harsh, and he points to several flaws in the prosecution’s case. First, the FIR was registered 28 days after the alleged crime was committed. Second ‘hijacking’ was never part of Pakistan’s anti-terrorism law and was added to the law after October 12, 1999, with retrospective effect. Judge Jafferi, the author says, seemed not to have taken this into account.

    The pilot too gets his share of criticism as the author accuses him of falsifying the fuel position and climbing up while returning from Nawabshah – something Chaudry says wasted rather than saved fuel.

    Aside from the ‘hijacking from the ground’ drama, the book gives the reader an insight into the world of Pakistan’s unwieldy and highly politicised bureaucracy, mutual antipathies, the clashes of personality and the monopolisation of CAA jobs by the Pakistan Air Force.

    The author informs readers of the tacit hostility he faced from the PAF-CAA establishment because he was a civilian director general, as well as the distrust which Sharif had developed for him over the Islamabad and Lahore airport projects.

    The author ought to revise some earlier portions of his book for he has made some extremely unpalatable remarks about his colleagues. He accuses his secretary of virtually taking over as CAA director general. If this really was the case, it is less a reflection on his wing commander-secretary.

    For a book published in Britain it is poorly edited, especially the punctuation part of it. The transcripts of the messages add to the book’s utility as research material. There is no index.


    Hijacking from the Ground: The bizarre story of PK 805
    By Aminullah Chaudry
    AuthorHouse, UK
    ISBN 978-1-4490-1702-6 (sc)
    350pp. $11.60 Indian Rs875
  15. EjazR
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    BOOK REVIEW- My Life with the Taliban - Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef

    www.outlookindia.com | Confessions Of An Opiate Seeker
    An old Taliban hand lifts the lid on his old firm, a committedly duplicitous Pakistan, ambassadorial sparring, and laughs away US perception of and policy in Afghanistan.
    Chinmaya R. Gharekhan


    Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef has all the credentials to write a book titled My Life with the Taliban. He was 11 years old when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. He became a refugee in Pakistan and went to a madrassa. He was intimately involved in the movement that came to be known as the Taliban. He was in the same room as Mullah Omar when the latter lost his eye in a firefight with the Soviet forces. Zaeef was among those who proposed Mullah Omar’s name for leadership of the Taliban movement when it was formally launched in the autumn of 1994. Mullah Omar agreed, without too much fuss, but demanded total loyalty to him. Zaeef later occupied important positions in the Taliban government in Kabul, rising to the high posts of deputy and acting defence minister. Mullah Omar appointed him the Taliban regime’s ambassador to Pakistan, which he resisted but had to accept; no one could defy Mullah Omar once he had made up his mind. His stint in Islamabad provides the most interesting insights on Taliban rule, coinciding as it did with 9/11, the negotiations over handing over Osama bin Laden, the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas, isi’s repeated efforts to win or buy over the author, etc. Surprisingly, Mullah Zaeef does not seem to have met, even once, Osama. He spent four years in Guantanamo, and now lives in Kabul.

    Indian and Western as well as Pakistani readers would be surprised to learn from this book that relations between the Taliban and Pakistan were not always harmonious. In the weeks leading up to the American attack on Afghanistan in October 2001, Zaeef was accused by the isi chief of planning to assassinate Gen Musharraf. Zaeef invariably refused to go to the isi offices, insisting instead that they visit him at his official residence. Once the Russian ambassador asked the director in the foreign office to arrange a meeting with Zaeef, but Zaeef offered to meet him at a neutral place; the meeting never materialised. Tripartite talks between Afghanistan, US and Pakistan were sabotaged by Pakistan, he says. He told the American ambassador more than once that he should contact him directly. “Pakistan is never an honest mediator and will control and manipulate any talk they mediate or participate in,” Zaeef told him. Elsewhere, he writes: “Pakistan, which plays a key role in Asia, is so famous for treachery that it is said they can get milk from a bull. They have two tongues in one mouth, and two faces on one head so they can speak everybody’s language; they use everybody, deceive everybody. They deceive the Arabs under the guise of Islamic nuclear power, they milk America and Europe in the alliance against terrorism, and they have been deceiving Pakistani and other Muslims around the world in the name of the Kashmiri jihad.” As for imprisonment in Pakistani jails, he concluded that Afghan and American jails were much better than Pakistani jails. He is understandably bitter about the way he was treated by Pakistan and handed over to the Americans in Peshawar.

    Zaeef held four meetings with the US ambassador in Islamabad to discuss Osama bin Laden before 9/11. America had only one demand: hand over Osama. Zaeef told him that was the one thing they could not do. He made alternative proposals. If America provided enough evidence of Osama’s involvement in the Kenya and Tanzania bombings, Afghanistan would try him. Or, he could be tried in an Islamic country in a special court consisting of attorney generals of three Islamic countries. Finally, he offered to curb any and all activities of Osama, who would also be stripped of all communications equipment so as to limit his outreach. Eventually, he even suggested that Osama could be tried in The Hague. He met US state department official Christina Rocca, well known in India, and writes: “Every word she uttered was a threat, hidden or open”.

    Incidentally, Zaeef must have been a good diplomat. He frequently met with ambassadors of other countries in Islamabad, even though they did not recognise the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. The only one he refused to meet was the Russian ambassador. He has particularly negative memories of the Belgian, German and Kuwaiti ambassadors. He found the Palestinian ambassador “most sympathetic and pitiable”. He has high praise for the ambassador of China, who was the only one to maintain good relations with the Afghan embassy and with Afghanistan. Zaeef even arranged a meeting between the Chinese ambassador and Mullah Omar in Kandahar, where he conveyed his government’s concern that Afghanistan was allegedly assisting Muslims in Xinjiang. Mullah Omar gave him the necessary assurances. Zaeef makes no mention of ever having met the Indian ambassador.

    When the Taliban minister for the propagation of virtue and prevention of vice decided to destroy the world heritage Buddha statues in Bamiyan, ambassador Zaeef had a troublesome time. Delegates and diplomats from across the world descended upon his embassy in protest. He singles out China, Japan and Sri Lanka as being the most active. Sri Lanka proposed to take the statues out for ‘repair’. Japan made the greatest effort. It sent a delegation led by its prime minister and suggested that it could take the statues out piece by piece and reassemble them in Japan. Alternatively, it proposed that it could cover the statues from head to toe such that no one could recognise them. Japan also offered to pay for the statues. The Japanese argued that Afghans had been the forefathers of their religion and they had only followed them by adopting Buddhism. In that case, argued Zaeef, why did the Japanese not follow the Afghans when they found true religion and embraced Islam? Zaeef admits that the controversy surrounding the statues was a difficult period for him (just as the destruction of the Babri Masjid was a challenging time for this reviewer when he was representing India at the United Nations). He believed that while the decision on the statues was within the Sharia law, the issue was more than simply religious and that the destruction was unnecessary and badly timed.

    The main interest of the book for Indian readers would be the revelations of the mistrust between the Taliban—at least this particular Taliban member—and Pakistan. Just before the US attacked Afghanistan in October 2001, Zaeef had been warning his leadership, in particular Mullah Omar, about the impending disaster. Mullah Omar did not pay heed because he took at good faith the assurances of Musharraf and the isi, deliberately conveyed to mislead him, that there was no such plan. The book contains useful nuggets about the isi’s modus operandi. In addition to funding and equipping the Taliban, it also kept its options open with the Northern Alliance and regularly supplied them with funding and other necessities. There might be a lesson in this for us.

    Not surprisingly, Zaeef is convinced that the US will not succeed in Afghanistan. He summarily dismisses the distinction between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban. “They (meaning America, Britain and Karzai) think that the Taliban exist for money or power, so logically it would seem that they can be destroyed with money and power. In reality, the Taliban movement is one based on Islamic ideology.... The thought of dividing them into moderates and hardliners is a useless and reckless aim,” he concludes.

    Zaeef’s book reveals the lack of trust between the Taliban and Pakistan. He chooses to remain silent on the indispensable part Pakistan’s isi played in equipping, funding, training and leading the Taliban’s march to Kabul, thereby suggesting, not quite truthfully, that the Taliban was an entirely home-grown movement. Even Pakistan does not deny that the Taliban was and is their creation. In fact, Pakistan’s leaders proudly proclaim to the Americans that Afghanistan’s problems cannot be solved and it can never be stable without Pakistan’s help and involvement. It would be tempting for us in India to read too much into Zaeef’s bitterness towards Pakistan in today’s context, when Pakistan is poised to play a central role in constructing Afghanistan’s future political structures. My life with the Taliban, however, should caution the international community against accepting at face value all the claims of Pakistanis about their influence over the Taliban.