Pakistan: A Hard Country; Deadly Embrace: Pakistan, America, and the Future of the Global Jihad

In This Review

Pakistan: A Hard Country
By Anatol Lieven
PublicAffairs, 2011
592 pp. $35.00
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Deadly Embrace: Pakistan, America, and the Future of Global Jihad
By Bruce Riedel
Brookings Institution Press, 2011
180 pp. $24.95
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Challenging the notion that Pakistan is fragile, Lieven presents in exquisite detail how things actually work, for better or worse, in that "hard country." Pakistan's political parties, he says, are best understood in terms of their different provincial roots, and each of the four major provinces offers a different culture. Islam in Pakistan, meanwhile, is about more than the Sunni-Shiite split, involving a complexity of contending movements. Lieven devotes an entire chapter to the Pakistani military, whose roots in the British Raj (1858-1947) he delineates. All this makes for a state that offers both limited services to and limited rule over society. In many areas, tribal or feudal customs provide the substance of governance, and along the 1,600-mile Durand Line, separating Pakistan from Afghanistan, the pretense of Pakistani sovereignty veils a de facto regional autonomy. In this system, the Pakistani Taliban will be resisted only as they thrust out from beyond their thinly populated border area. The Pakistani Taliban jihad, provoked by the U.S.-led campaign in Afghanistan, will subside only after a Western withdrawal from Afghanistan. Thereafter, Lieven warns, there should be "no more wars against Muslim states under any circumstances whatsoever."

The much shorter book Deadly Embrace is in a sense a primary source about U.S. policy toward Pakistan. Riedel, a veteran CIA official, was brought out of retirement in early 2009 by the Obama administration to chair a special committee reviewing Washington's policy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan. His conclusion is that a "jihadist state" is possible in Pakistan and a proactive U.S. policy to forestall that danger is needed. Thus, readers are presented with the conundrum of two intelligent specialists making plausible but opposing arguments, the one giving priority to Western withdrawal and the other to what in the Raj days would have been dubbed a "forward," or activist, policy.