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Why Pakistan Is on the Brink

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For three decades, peace in Afghanistan has been interlinked with Pakistan's policy toward its landlocked western neighbor. The debate has recently shifted with the change in the dynamics of regional politics and security. The state of peace in the post-2014 Afghanistan hinges on the future of Pakistan, which has reached the highest level of failure and fragility since 1947 when the Muslim state was founded. Bob Woodward quoted President Obama saying that 'poison' (the war in Afghanistan) had actually shifted to Pakistan. While Pakistan continues to regularly feature on the top of the world's Failed States Index, Newsweek called it the "most dangerous place on the earth."

What eminent Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid shares in his latest book Pakistan on the Brink is too obvious but very alarming. Pakistan is currently in deep internal trouble economically and politically but it is also a deeply troubling state for its neighbors and the United States. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta recently said the United States was fast running out of patience with Pakistan (considering its unwillingness to cooperate in the war on terror).

Rashid, whose book Taliban became a New York Times bestseller, admits that Pakistan faces even a "much more dangerous situation" than Afghanistan. While Islamabad pretends to cooperate with the United States in fighting radical groups, it also retains not-so-secret contacts with Taliban's Haqqani Network that killed American soldiers and attacked the U.S. embassy in Kabul.

Pakistan on the Brink begins with the details of the Abbottabad raid which killed Osama Bin Laden. According to Rashid's research, the manhunt for the Al-Qaeda chief firstly began in 1990s following the killing of U.S. troops in Somalia in 1993 and Saudi Arabia in 1996 but the Saudi dissident became America's most wanted man after the 9/11 attacks. The CIA made the first major breakthrough in 2010 by tracking down Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, a Pakistani born in Kuwait with intimate ties with the Al-Qaeda don. The compound in which bin Laden was found had been custom-built by Ahmed and his brother in 2005. The CIA rented a nearby house and expedited surveillance of the compound. It also conducted a fake polio campaign to sneak into the house. Pakistan eventually terminated and imprisoned Dr. Shakil Afridi, a local physician who had assisted the C.I.A conduct the campaign, on sedition charges.

Bin Laden's killing should have ideally come as the most successful accomplishment in the decade-long war on terror, but it instead caused an unprecedented diplomatic row between the two countries The United States asked whether Pakistan was incompetent to trace the world's most wanted terrorist or it was simply complicit in providing him protection in Abbottabad, a well-guarded garrison town.

Pakistan's overreaction to Bin Laden's killing highlighted a worrisome trend that has gradually engulfed the country. "Pakistan has become an abnormal state that uses Islamic militants --- Jihad groups, nonstate actors -- in addition to diplomacy and trade to pursue its defense and foreign policies," Rashid writes.

While Islamabad created and patronized the Afghan Taliban in 1990s, it lost control over them as they went under the mentorship of Bin Laden. Within Pakistan, an indigenous Taliban group known as the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (T.T.P) emerged in the tribal region bordering Afghanistan. The T.T.P aspires to overthrow Pakistan's current government and replace it with an Islamic emirate. The Pakistani Taliban are more dangerous and brutal than their Afghan counterparts. They have killed thousands of civilians in hundreds of suicide bombings at public places besides attacking official installations. Operations against the Pakistani Taliban have failed because everyone in Pakistan's army is not motivated enough to fight what they view as "America's war" against 'our fellow Muslim brothers.'

Besides security issues, Pakistan faces a separatist insurgency in its largest province of Balochistan while Karachi, the largest city that serves as the engine of the nation's economy, has witnessed a resurgence in ethnic violence and economic breakdown. The economy is in a shambles and political leadership is unusually corrupt.

So, who can help Pakistan normalize? Rashid explores a list of options to see whether or not Pakistan's traditional friends can help it become a normal state. This is no longer an easy, if not impossible, option. Pakistan has also lost the support of several friendly nations in the wake of its continued support for Islamic radical groups that have stirred trouble inside their frontiers.

For instance, China, largely regarded in Pakistan as "our best friend," is now as deeply concerned as the United States is about Pakistan's failures and the growth of extremism there. According to Rashid, China believes that Uighur Islamic groups are based in Pakistan's federally administered tribal areas (FATA). On the eastern border, India blames the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Tayyba (LeT) terrorist group for masterminding the Mumbai attacks in 2008. Iran, Pakistan's western neighbor, complains about Islamabad's alleged support for Sunni militant groups, Jundullah and anti-Shia Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. Lastly, Rashid argues, Pakistan can look at Turkey as a success model to emulate in order to strike a balance between military and civil rule and to define the role of religion in the country's politics.

While Pakistan on the Brink thoroughly outlines the country's domestic woes, the book convincingly subscribes to Pakistan's official narrative of victimhood. Rashid blames President Obama for not taking ample interest in Afghanistan. He keeps switching hats between reporting and opinion. At one point, he writes of Obama, "When it came to his handling of Afghanistan, I was deeply disappointed." Readers generally do not like reporters who voluntarily place themselves on commanding positions and then express 'personal disappointment' with heads of states and governments. Rashid's frequent first-person insertions about his meetings with President Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel replace objective reporting with chest-thumping.

Unlike Rashid's previous books, Pakistan on the Brink depicts a positive and optimistic image of the Taliban. He looks at the Talban as a people who have learned lessons from their past mistakes and now Rashid hopes that they will become more civilized administrators if provided the opportunity to rule Afghanistan.

While Rashid formerly advocated the deployment of more troops in Afghanistan, his views about Taliban have drastically evolved as he views international forces' exit from Afghanistan as the most urgent option to normalize the war-torn country. He proposes deradicalization measures to integrate the "reconcilable Taliban".

The future of Pakistan, nonetheless, remains murky considering the growing perception among its rulers and intellectuals that their country is a victim of American policies. Engulfed in a persistent state of denial, Pakistan must bury the burden of its history and get out of the victimhood mode for a better future.

The views expressed in his article are personal and do not reflect the policy of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) where the writer is currently a Regan-Fascell Democracy Fellow.