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  • The Pakistan-US Conundrum: Jihadists, the Military and the People — the Struggle for Control
  • Robert G. Wirsing (bio)
The Pakistan-US Conundrum: Jihadists, the Military and the People — the Struggle for Control, by Yunas Samad. New York: Columbia University Press, 2011. 336 pages. $30.

Yunas Samad’s study of Pakistan’s relationship with the United States comes in company with a number of other important recent studies focusing in whole or in part on this subject. These include Bruce Riedel’s Deadly Embrace: Pakistan, America, and the Future of the Global Jihad,3Ahmed Rashid’s Pakistan on the Brink: The Future of America, Pakistan, and Afghanistan,4 and Anatol Lieven’s Pakistan: A Hard Country.5These authors vary considerably in the judgments they make of US policy in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, but none of them exhibit much optimism about Pakistan’s future prospects.

Samad, a Pakistan-born but British-schooled social scientist who is currently Professor of South Asian Studies at the University of Bradford, writes from a liberal Western perspective and shares with these [End Page 746] other authors a degree of despair about Pakistan. His book is divided into three parts. Part 1 deals with the War on Terror, in particular, its impact on both Pakistan and Afghanistan. Part 2 focuses on what the author calls the “revenge of history” — essentially how the first war in Afghanistan (1979–1989) triggered militant Islamic movements in the region that seriously impact the war currently in progress. Part 3 is concerned primarily with the struggle for control of Pakistan, which presently pits an authoritarian-minded military against a determined assortment of democracy-inclined civilian forces in an environment suffused with contradictions emanating from the War on Terror.

A seasoned scholar, Samad has produced an unusually knowledgeable, substantially documented, and well-reasoned book that is clearly more notable for its virtues than for its flaws. The flaws, however, are not inconsequential.

One flaw is that the title is quite misleading. Anyone expecting to find in this book’s nearly 300 pages a thorough examination of Pakistan-US relations — even one limited to the era of the War on Terror — is going to be disappointed. Most of the book is concerned with other topics; even when it does turn to the specific relationship between these two allied countries, it is anything but exhaustive. Washington’s War on Terror itself is now more than a decade old. Pakistan’s role in it has been massive and complex. Samad’s generalizations about the War on Terror are very often right on target; however, generalizations about this epoch phenomenon are just not enough.

A second flaw is that the book, although bearing a publication date of 2011, is seriously out of date. Written about a part of the world where major political and strategic changes occur at an extraordinarily rapid pace, this is partly excusable. But in a book with an Epilogue dated July 2011, it seems odd that there is no mention of Usama bin Ladin’s killing, which occurred on May 2, 2011. This is especially hard to forgive since Samad throughout the book berates Washington for having failed to achieve its major objective in the War on Terror — the elimination of bin Ladin and other al-Qa‘ida leaders. Noticeable also is the absence of any but a few passing references to the Obama Administration, which took office in January 2009. The book makes commendably heavy use of interviews with key personalities; however, of the 56 that are listed, only one was done after 2005, and the vast majority in 2003 and 2004. The book’s consideration of the War on Terror is, in fact, focused on the Bush Administration in the United States and the Musharraf era in Pakistan. That has value, of course, but it is far from the whole story.

Perhaps the biggest flaw is the book’s heavy emphasis on description and lack of a clear analytical framework. There is no readily recognizable thesis tying all parts of the book together. It is almost an anthology of discrete essays.

Let it be said, however, that Samad’s book has many virtues. Apart from those...


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pp. 746-747
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