New Book Reviews
Pakistan : Before and After Osama bin Laden
By Imtiaz Gul
Explicating the pre- and post-Bin Laden Pakistan, Imtiaz Gul relooks at questions plaguing the nation: Why and how this country became home to the worlds most wanted terrorist? Bin Ladens escape from the Tora Bora Mountains in Eastern Afghanistan in December 2001 to his last hideout in Abbottabad, and to find answers to the dozens of questions surrounding his stay in Pakistan as well as the US blitz raid in the wee hours of 2 May 2011. Had the worlds most wanted person at all been living in Pakistan for all those years, how did he manage to stay undetected, together with his big family, including an eight-month-old son? Who from within the security establishment provided the safety network to the family? What stakes did the Pakistan Army and the ISI have at all if they were complicit in protecting him? Why did Bin Laden fascinate certain people and groups within Pakistan?
Pakistan: Before and After Osama is an attempt to analyze present-day Pakistan in the light of two narratives one stitched together in Washington and the other woven in Pakistan about the checkered history of its relations with Pakistan and its involvement in the region, and how differences over how to tackle Al Qaeda and its local affiliates continue to sour and strain the ties between the two long-time allies.
Published Date: 26/08/2012
Imtiaz Gul's book "The Most Dangerous Place" was released in June by Penguin/Viking.
For details of related events you visit the June links to New America Foundation (June 16th), Asia Society (June 14th), and Council on Foreign Relations (June 14th).
Also, for Gul's interviews visit NPR's Diane Rhem show link, Riz Khan's at Al-Jazeera, BBC - World Service, Foreign Policy Magazine and its AfPak Channel.
Advance praise for
THE MOST DANGEROUS PLACE
Pakistan’s Lawless Frontier
“A dense, timely study….Informational rather than didactic, Gul’s insider take will serve as an excellent resource.”
“Veteran Pakistani reporter Imtiaz Gul brings his deep knowledge and reporting to bear on one of the world's most opaque and under-reported places, Pakistan's tribal areas, the headquarters of Al Qaeda and key elements of the Taliban. Gul delivers a balanced account of the evolving relations that the Pakistani military, government and public have had with Pakistan's own militant groups. This book could not be more well timed as President Obama faces the most important foreign policy challenge of his presidency from the violent extremists who call this place their home.”
—Peter Bergen, author of Holy War, Inc. and The Osama bin Laden I Know
“Imtiaz Gul takes the reader into the lion’s den – into Pakistan’s tribal areas, the meanest, toughest region of the planet. He has a journalist’s sharp eye for the personalities and conspiracy theories that are woven through this area. This is the best guide yet to understanding the fascinating, frightening place where Al Qaeda lives today.”
—David Ignatius, syndicated columnist for The Washington Post and author of Body of Lies
“One word comes to mind: indispensable. To understand the mess we’re getting into in Pakistan's lawless tribal areas, there's no better book out there.”
—Robert Baer, bestselling author of See No Evil
“Gul offers an unparalleled inside view of the region where Al Qaeda lives and still thrives.”
—Ahmed Rashid, bestselling author of Taliban and Descent into Chaos
“Imtiaz Gul has provided an invaluable service … drawing together reporting and research on Pakistan’s tribal areas and adding his own firsthand experience. A timely and important work.”
—Jason Burke, author of Al-Qaeda and On the Road to Kandahar
On sale June 14, 2010
The Most Dangerous Place Pakistan’s Lawless Frontier By Imtiaz Gul Penguin
On May 21, a drone attack killed Al Qaeda’s No. 3 leader and top Afghanistan commander, Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, at his hiding place in Pakistan’s tribal areas, Three weeks earlier, an American citizen parked his Nissan Pathfinder in New York City and, with bombmaking training learned during his time in Pakistan’s tribal areas, attempted to blow up Times Square.
Their connection, of course, is an area the size of Massachusetts in western Pakistan that is formally called the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). It is where the Taliban, Al Qaeda, and other militant groups are believed to be based.
“For the American people, this border region has become the most dangerous place in the world,” President Obama said on March 27, 2009.
That America helped turn this region into the hotbed it is today, and that Pakistan’s own spy agency has for the past decade allowed it to remain a source of terror, is addressed in a new book, The Most Dangerous Place: Pakistan’s Lawless Frontier, by Imtiaz Gul, head of the Center for Research and Security Studies in Islamabad.
Gul has reported on the region for 25 years, and he is periodically sourced in the Monitor as an expert on militants. His contacts within the Pakistan military, including Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, give the book credibility and insight. As a Pashtun born in Peshawar in what used to be called Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province, he knows the language and customs of the Pashtun tribes that comprise the Afghan Taliban and Pakistani Taliban.
For the lay reader, this probably isn’t the first book to read on the subject. At times, Gul’s book feels more like list of dates and deaths than a narrative. He sometimes leaves the lay reader behind because he knows his subject too well, breezing through names and acronyms without explaining exactly who belongs to various insurgency groups such as TTP, JeM, LeT, SSP, and LJ. Of aid is a 35-page encyclopedic rundown of every major militant and militant organization in Pakistan’s tribal areas.
For those seeking greater depth in this area, however, Gul can be trusted as a skilled and informative guide.
He argues that Afghanistan’s war, and to an extent global jihad, won’t be resolved without Islamabad’s help in eradicating jihad in Pakistan. His argument is strengthened by a recent RAND report, “How Insurgencies End,” which argues that the Achilles heel for the Taliban is the loss of their Pakistani sanctuary.
As with many wars and conflicts, this one is fueled by a problematic border drawn up by a colonial power. The 1,600-mile Durand Line dividing Pakistan and Afghanistan, established by colonial Britain in 1893, cuts through the Pashtun tribal region. Under the Durand Agreement, tribes living on either side of the border are allowed to pass through it freely, which contributes to its porous, lawless nature, writes Gul.
When the Soviet Union effectively ruled Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989, Western countries financed a Pashtun-led insurgency. The US funneled $6 billion to the mujahideen through the Pakistan spy agency Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), giving rise to two Pashtun insurgency groups: Mullah Omar’s Afghan Taliban and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hizb-e-Islami.
“Besides dozens of training camps located in FATA and Balochistan, where ISI instructors trained Afghan mujahideen, hundreds of new seminaries catered to the tens of thousands of Afghan refugees and also served as indoctrination centers for recruits in the war against the godless communist forces next door,” Gul writes. This is a well-known and often-embellished story, obvious from Hollywood spinoffs such as Rambo III and Charlie Wilson’s War, but Gul’s book roots the reader back in the facts.
Kabul fell in 1996 to the Afghan Taliban, who fell in 2001 to US-led coalition forces. The Taliban and Al Qaeda fled across the border into Pakistan, offering the Pashtun tribes money and, according to Gul, “ideas of Muslim fraternity and Islamic ideology, which appealed to emotional tribesmen.” This gave rise to the Pakistani Taliban, known formally as Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). It was this environment that Faisal Shahzad, the would-be Times Square bomber, visited last year, when he learned how to make a bomb.
The US began spending vast sums of money attempting to deconstruct the mujahideen it had built up. From 2002 to 2008, the US gave Pakistan $6.6 billion in military aid. In October 2009, the US agreed to give Pakistan $7.5 billion over five years.
This amount is practically negligible compared with the $270 billion spent on operations in Afghanistan by the end of 2009. Gul questions why the US government is not allocating more to Pakistan. After all, he argues, this is where the war in Afghanistan – and the formerly dubbed “War on Terror” – will be won or lost.
Gul is hopeful. In February 2010, The Christian Science Monitor broke the story that in one week Pakistan’s government had arrested nearly half of the Afghan Taliban’s senior leadership council, known as the Quetta Shura. Further reported deaths of Pakistani Taliban leaders appeared to show evidence that the Pakistani government was stepping up its hold on the region. Gul believes the recent arrests and killings have put pressure on Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar to enter peace talks. Gul also sees increased US-Pakistan military cooperation as leading to more precise drone strikes that will kill top leaders.
Overall, “The Most Dangerous Place” is a useful guide for any journalist, policy-maker, or concerned civilian. It also supports the assessment of Richard Holbrooke, US special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, who has said: “To me, the most important issue for our success [in Afghanistan] is dealing with the sanctuary in Pakistan.”
Stephen Kurczy is a Monitor correspondent.
Daily Times, March 13
Book review: Chilling truths —by Afrah Jamal
The Al Qaeda Connection By Imtiaz Gul Penguin Global; Pp 320
Today, the landscape has been transformed into a hunting ground as the showdown between the military and militants gets underway and retaliatory strikes against the public intensify. While attempting to curb insurgency within its borders, Pakistan’s security forces have been accused of stage-managing militant outfits that once served as counterweights against traditional enemies. Never disarmed, and left unguided, these heat-seeking entities latched on to a new target.
Ever since the region tested positive for militancy post-9/11, there has been a lack of consensus regarding, well, just about everything. Many continue to seek alternative explanations to justify the raging insurgency. The ISI is considered guilty by association, because the writer believes the stigma of abetting terrorist groups is deep and would require more effort to remove (page 213), but foreign hands, rogue agencies, duplicitous governments and a global conspiracy to defang the nation of its nuclear assets are equally popular theories.
Imtiaz Gul has authored The Unholy Nexus: Afghan Pakistan Relations under the Taliban Militia (July 2002). As a journalist who spent years analysing these troubled regions, Imtiaz Gul is uniquely qualified to analyse militancy from a number of directions, juxtaposing an open declaration of war through violence that bears the hallmarks of al Qaeda with the faint murmurings of unrest seen in sporadic instances of sectarian violence, led by homegrown militant outfits. These groups go as far back as the anti-Soviet jihad, only to evolve into lethal sectarian entities (page 155) with a little prodding by some Muslim countries. This book attempts to put the ongoing insurgency in perspective, taking on standard Ws — what, who, where, why and when. It is a chilling look back at a state silently engaged in breeding the likes of Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT), Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), etc., organisations already involved in 350 counts of terrorism by the year 2001, and a look forward at a Pakistan in the throes of a full-fledged militancy.
Before laying the entire blame at the military’s doorstep, readers come across an interesting revelation where the civilian government of Bhutto (mid-1970s) decided to recruit dissident Afghans to use against a Kabul that was favouring the ‘godless’ Soviet Union (page 18). Imtiaz Gul marks this as the turning point that led Pakistan’s “semi-autonomous tribal areas to become a spring board and training ground for Afghan dissidents” (page 18). He goes on to explain why ‘al Qaeda central’ (page 31) — Pakistan’s tribal areas — earned the unfortunate name and returns to the scarred landscape to determine that “the current turmoil stems from decades of neglect, political expediency and connivance and complacence of successive Pakistani governments” (page 37). He also confronts the ugly face of sectarian violence that had turned sub-districts of Jhang and Faisalabad into battlegrounds with “sniper and terrorist attacks” (page 166) in the 1990s and examines the presence of banned organisations once active in Kashmir, in the tribal areas (page 103).
He follows the dissolution of Swat (local Switzerland) into a milder version of Auschwitz, as Taliban rule gained traction, examines the factors that led North and South Waziristan and Bajaur to become havens the second time around since they had served as staging posts once before (page 138), while commenting on regions that slowly became no-go areas for their own kind, e.g. Orakzai’s former governor, ANP members, etc (page 111).
In a chapter titled ‘Tribal Lands: Cauldrons of Militancy’, he explores the metamorphosis of al Qaeda from an organisation to an ideology that transcends borders (page 39). About FATA he opines that history, ideology, conservatism and socio-political alliances all combined to transform the border regions into sanctuaries (page 38). There is a tragic irony in the fact that regions deemed inhospitable for their own countrymen have been more than hospitable to visiting enemies of the state.
This remarkably well-researched account comes with a detailed who’s who of militants in FATA, profiles of militant organisations, alongside a revealing look at life in Taliban strongholds like Khyber, Orakzai, Bajaur (birthplace of Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM) — forerunner to the Pakistani Taliban) (page 98). In the ‘ISI factor’, interviews with locals and a survey conducted for Centre for Research and Security Studies (CRSS) demonstrate how Muslim separatists from across the border were openly trained in FATA and ‘Pakistani-administrated Kashmir’ as recently as March 15, 2004 (page 205). Such findings bolster international suspicions. According to the writer, locals are equally baffled by ISI’s inability to rein in its progeny and allowing them to gain ground.
A chapter devoted to militant funding tries to trace possible sources of income and reveals the indirect support by donor money routed through the Pakistan government that ends up with militants as ransom money or to fund agreements aimed at peaceful coexistence (page 233). The book also covers the phenomena of suicide bombings — the militants’ favourite MO, showing how they troll orphanages, mosques, seminaries, asylums and streets looking for recruits, especially in areas “devoid of basic facilities, poor education infrastructure, dismal employment opportunities” making “the tribal areas [an] ideal hunting ground of Islamic militants for young warriors” (page 149).
An unfettered access to facts and figures enables readers to not only deconstruct the last four decades but also confront the ghosts of a rarely acknowledged past. His research is highly relevant — and disturbing — given the staggering cost of this war and the misguided policies that have allowed militants to become so well entrenched. Anyone who tells Pakistan to “do more” should be presented with a copy of the Al Qaeda Connection, if only to appreciate the enormity of the challenge and the complexity of the situation.
Afrah Jamal is a freelance journalist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org