Pakistan is a terrorist haven, a nest of corruption, a tinhorn dictatorship—and, writes New Yorker correspondent and long-time Pakistan resident Weaver, a supposed friend whose future is of great strategic importance to the US.
Weaver (A Portrait of Egypt, 1999) prophesies that “the real battleground [against Islamicist terrorists] will be Pakistan,” the strife-torn country at the crossroads of South Asia and Central Asia that has been instrumental in shaping power relations in the region. As, too, has been the American government, which comes in for some hard knocks in Weaver’s pages. To judge by her account, Osama bin Laden was a product of the CIA as much as of the darker side of Arab nationalism, though his wide contacts with Pakistan’s military, scientific, and commercial elite haven’t hurt his ascent. Traveling to places like Karachi, where tensions between Sindhi and Pashtun ethnic factions threaten to erupt in civil war at a moment’s notice, and Peshawar, where “well-appointed villas—including a number owned by Osama bin Laden—nestle concealed behind towering, whitewashed walls,” Weaver talks to fundamentalists and secularists alike, exploring the rifts that obtain among progressives and those who have nearly succeeded in turning Pakistan into a theocracy along the lines of Iran or Taliban-era Afghanistan, stymied only by a military dictatorship as corrupt as any in the world. She does not quite say as much, but one gets the sense that Islamicist victory is imminent—especially because the US is pursuing an antiterrorist policy that targets al-Qaeda almost exclusively while overlooking dozens of Pakistan-based groups that may be more dangerous and murderous still. And if that victory is forthcoming, she warns, “Pakistan could well become the world’s newest failed state—a failed state with nuclear weapons.”
Clear-eyed reporting and graceful prose in a highly readable—and sobering—work of political geography for policymakers and anyone concerned by the risks of an uncertain future.