'Deadly Embrace' a gripping read but has gaps
The book doesn't clear too many of our doubts about the US-Pakistan relationship.
I'm not a strategic affairs expert. So maybe what I'm going to write about this book is pure bunkum.
But for a book written by a former CIA operative, an advisor to four US presidents, one who helped shape America's policy towards the Middle East and Pakistan and one who helped carve President Obama's current Afghan strategy, the book doesn't clear too many of our doubts about the US-Pakistan relationship.
It definitely is gripping reading though. My uncle in Kerala is a travel operator by profession - no connection whatsoever to the secret services. But he read the book from cover to cover, without a break for a good four hours.
My wife is a school teacher who teaches Physics for a living and tries out newspaper recipes on the weekend. Again, no connection to anything strategic. Inexplicably, she had her head buried in the book through a good part of our three day Kerala-Delhi train trip. And quoted material from it for many days during our meals together.
My problem probably is this. If Riedel was among the back room guys who helped draft America's foreign policy all these years, he's probably messed up quite a bit. Else, why would we be where we are today?
Why would the world's richest democracy turn up its nose at the world's largest? And join hands instead with a dictatorial state ruled by military strongmen and spies? Why would it slap sanctions on India's nuclear ambitions, yet wink knowingly at Pakistan's clandestine programme?
Why would it refuse to hear India's repeated and vociferous allegations of terrorists lurking in Pakistan and then take out Osama Bin Laden when its own people were killed. The latest fad is to call Pakistan the hub of global terror, an international exporter of Jihad. Who's to say that claim isn't as exaggerated as the hunt for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq?
The stark raving cynic in me says America acts only in its own interests. The land of the brave and free throws those high principles to the wind in foreign lands. For an alternative view, you could read "Deadly Embrace".
For a lay reader, there's a lot of facts and history. I'm ashamed to say this, but I didn't quite know why India took the trouble to fight a war and create Bangladesh, except to massage a national leader's ego.
Riedel's account of the political troubles between East and West Pakistan, the racial tensions, the slimy insinuations of cowardice, the wholesale massacre of Bengali intellectuals, the mass exodus of thousands of Bangladeshis onto Indian soil and the logistical problems that created for us - it might be nothing new to many informed readers. But it was to me.
So was the idea that in the beginning America tilted towards Pakistan largely because of very superficial reasons. Winston Churchill hated losing to a dhoti clad fakir called Gandhi and so, did ceaseless back-room lobbying for the cause of Pakistan to the Americans, just to spite India.
Then there was Eisenhower and his secretary of state John Foster Dulles. Fiercely anti-communist, he received a cold reception in New Delhi, which was against setting up regional blocks like NATO in south Asia, to contain communist Russia and China.
But Karachi received him with open arms and he went back gushing that Pakistan would fight communism with its bare hands. That its soldiers were "Six feet two inches tall and rode on great big horses that were out of this world".
Add to that the charms of the Sandhurst Academy trained General Ayub Khan and the White House was well on its way to making Pakistan its' most allied ally" in waging the global cold war. Silly? Perhaps, but then it's easy to criticize in retrospect.
Another surprise was the fact that Afghanistan, at least in 1947, actually had a tense relationship with Pakistan. The British mandated Durand Line, which was used as an international border, also divided and separated members of the Pashtun tribe into two different countries. Afghanistan wanted pressed for a revision of the border, Pakistan refused.
In the meanwhile, in 1978, the year I was born, communist officers in the Afghan Army overthrew the country's neutral government. That made devout Muslims in the rural countryside revolt, which made the Soviet Union send in troops into the region, just to keep the peace.
That's when the ultra religious General Zia Ul Haq jumped into the fray, using the ISI to arm and train the rural rebels. Soon ultra conservative Saudi Arabia and an opportunistic CIA hopeful of destabilizing the USSR were backing him up. What began as small spark, blew up into an inferno that still hasn't been extinguished today.
There's also a fascinating little reference to Abdallah Yusuf Mustafa Azzam, who's sometimes called the father of global Islamic jihad. A Palestinian who studied in Syria and Egypt, taught in Jordan and Saudi Arabia and then moved to Pakistan.
There are references to the secret services in these countries noticing what he was up to, warning each other. But they couldn't stop his prolific writings and ideology from infecting an impressionable student called Osama Bin Laden.
There are references to a whole body of Islamic literature that analyze and dissect and put forward reasons for carrying forward the global jihad that I never knew about. Apparently there are huge tomes like "The Defense of Muslim Territories", and the 1600 page "Global Islamic resistance Call" - books that define and justify the Islamic struggle.
There is a lot of background material on terror groups in Kashmir, the Bin Laden- Mullah Omar alliance in Afghanistan and so on and so forth. All quite eye opening, very illuminating.
But I didn't see the book clearly explaining why in all these years, the US stood by Pakistan. Sure there is mention of the Pressler sanctions against the country, the confiscation of F-16's that Pakistan had paid for.
There's even a detailed outlining of how desperate the situation in the country is today, how close to complete collapse. And how that could truly turn Pakistan into a ticking bomb, overrun by international outlaws, free to wreak havoc on the civilized world.
But the repeated need for the Americans to go back, appease and co-operate with the military leadership there - that hasn't been justified. They're acting tough now, after bagging Osama Bin Laden. But what are the bets that ten years from now, they won't be back, playing the same slimy game?
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