Descent Into Chaos: The United States and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia

In This Review

Descent Into Chaos: The United States and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia

By Ahmed Rashid
Viking, 2008
544 pp. $27.95
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The politics and diplomacy of Afghanistan and its neighbors have long been Rashid’s beat. His highly regarded Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil, and Fundamentalism in Central Asia was published a year before 9/11, and his reporting and writing since have been unremitting. Descent Into Chaos is a seasoned specialist’s history of the international politics of the region essentially since September 11, 2001. Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the United States are the principals, but woven into the story are parts played by India, Uzbekistan, the United Nations, and others. This is no “above the fray” account. Rashid offers scathing condemnations. The United States, after defeating the Taliban and routing al Qaeda, basically just walked away from reconstructing Afghanistan. Pakistan accepted lining up with the United States after 9/11 but then let many Taliban and al Qaeda members escape the U.S. invasion in 2001 and maintained ties with such forces thereafter. Even Hamid Karzai, the post-Taliban president of Afghanistan, whom Rashid admires, is faulted for giving Afghan warlords too much sway. It all rings true, and yet Rashid’s prescription for what must now be done involves so much coordinated change of behavior by so many players as to raise doubts about its viability.