Review: The Unravelling
By John R. Schmidt. Grade: B+
How did a nation founded as a homeland as a homeland for South Asian Muslims following a tolerant form of Islam become a haven for Al Qaeda and rogues’ gallery of domestic jihadist and sectarian groups?
This groundbreaking history of Pakistan’s involvement with radical Islam places the blame on the rulers of the country, who thought they could use Islamic radicals to advance their foreign-policy goals without having to pay a steep price. But the government’s plans began to unravel in the wake of 9/11, when the rulers’ support for the U.S. war on terror caused many of their jihadist allies to turn against them. The Unravelling is a clear account of the complex relationship between the leaders of Pakistan and jihadist groups – and how the rulers’ decisions have led their nation to the brink of disaster and put other nations at risk. Can they save their country, or will we one day find ourselves confronting the first nuclear-armed jihadist state?
If you look at the cover page of The Unravelling, it shows a matchbox with Pakistan’s flag on it – reading FRAGILE – and an extinguished match emitting fumes. This shows pretty accurately, if not more, the precarious and inflammatory state of affairs in the nation of Pakistan. The book begins with a series of important events in the past decade with Pakistan playing an important role in each of them. The book is then divided into ten chapters – the first eight showing the fashion in which things have progressed in Pakistan and the last two dealing with a more futuristic aspect of the Pakistani state of affairs.
The book has a very nice flow to it. The complete structure of the book – the layout, the framework, the sequential explanation of events, the style of writing – gives a very positive air about it. The language of the book, at least grammatically, is really good. The phraseology, for example nom de guerre, is par excellence.
There were a few proofreading errors, which were disturbing given the background of the author.
“… they could have found away to gain physical access …” – a way
“… aimed at placating Musharraf new Washington allies …” – Musharraf’s
“Galbraith said Perle had areued that the …” – argued
“The techniques used – lEDs, car bombs…” – IEDs (small L was used instead of capital I)
Now, the conceptual and content-based problems.
“Even in an army that is still largely secular and nationalist in orientation, soldiers who die in combat are described in army press releases as having ‘embraced martyrdom’.”
What the author implies by this line is that using the expression ‘embraced martyrdom’ for a deceased army professional is religiously communal in nature. As a citizen of a country which is inherently secular in nature and has the third-largest army in the world, I can vouch for the fact that this is not the case. Even we in India do so, so having written this statement indicates a conceptual problem on part of the author.
Also, in later discussions of South-Asian scenario, there is no mention of China. In any discussion of geopolitical warfare in the South-Asian region, it is imperative that China’s role be mentioned as it is an important deterrent as well as catalyst in the United States policy.
There are a few questionable aspects of the book’s perspective more than the book itself.
In the initial chapters, there is a continuous mention of secularism with a hint of preaching and teaching. Before doing so, why do the people of USA/UK forget that they are both Christian states? They are only religiously tolerant, not secular.
“Nonetheless, the Indians have passionately stuck to their position on bilateral negotiations despite the fact that they had previously accepted both the United States and Britain as mediators…”
The problem is two-fold here. First, what makes the United States think that they shall be competent enough to deal with the issues prevailing in the valley of Kashmir? Second, if they were such firm believers of negotiations, interventions, mediations and arbitrations, why did the United States, or more specifically the Bush administration, not actively respond to any negotiations by the UNO in Iraq before and during Operation Enduring Freedom?
“It is difficult to feel sympathy for a government prepared to employ groups that are virulently anti-American in pursuit of a hopeless cause.”
The author here is talking about the Pakistani government. The point to be noted here is that until they turned anti-US, the United States government, directly or indirectly, were funding groups running on a similar agenda to advance their anti-Soviet agenda. Why, this skewed sense of morality?
Time-and-again, the United States has been known to sport a holier-than-thou attitude, especially in crisis situations. When it came to questions and loopholes on Operation Enduring Freedom, the Bush administration flagrantly donned a cloak of this attitude and self-attested its actions. The whole practice-before-you-preach phenomenon suddenly takes a backseat when US is under attack. But, otherwise, if any country tries to do so, claims like “stubborn”, “obstinate”, “perils to global sovereignty” are made, if not in so many words.
Having said that, I would sum up with mentioning that The Unravelling, to say the least, is loaded with information. Factually speaking, it is very sound and impeccable. It is full of insights from the heartland of Pakistan, some of which are pretty startling. Kudos to Mr. John R. Schmidt for touching successfully a topic which is both obscure and underprivileged.