Bruce Riedel’s underwhelming new book

It doesn’t tell us any more than we already know

It is hard to see what Bruce Riedel’s new book “Deadly Embrace: Pakistan, America and the Future of Global Jihad” seeks to do.

It covers the history of the United States’ relationship with Pakistan from Partition onwards, but is too brief and too shallow to provide a good picture. Dennis Kux and Howard Schaffer deal with this in much greater detail. As an analysis of Pakistani politics and civil-military relations, it is a subset of Stephen P Cohen’s excellent book. As a narrative of the creation and growth of the military-jihadi complex, it is supered by Ahmed Rashid and Hussain Haqqani, who go much deeper. Finally, as an account of the Obama administration’s handling of the war in Afghanistan-Pakistan, it has little to add to Bob Woodward’s book published last year.

Coming from one of the most astute analysts of Pakistan, and from someone who was “in the room” during important moments in contemporary history, the book is a disappointment. Mr Riedel could well have cited Kux, Schaffer, Cohen & Rashid as references in his introductory chapter and gone on to provide us with a deeper, broader analysis of Pakistan’s current situation and fleshed out the possible directions it may take in the future. Yet, we are left with just one single chapter on the implications of one single—what he calls “possible (but not probable)”—outcome: the implications of a jihadist state in Pakistan. That begs the question: what about the probable outcomes? Shouldn’t the book be discussing those in detail?

Perhaps because he is still too close to the policy-making in Washington, Mr Riedel uses statements like “the United States currently has better relations with both India and Pakistan than any other time in the past several decades”. This, after he lays out in great detail how deeply unpopular the United States is in Pakistan (not least because of Washington’s improved relations with India), how the Pakistani military is at loggerheads with its US counterpart, and after mentioning incidents like the suicide attack on the CIA base in Khost. Let’s hope Mr Riedel was merely being diplomatic and politically correct, because the alternative is unflattering.

The disappointment deepens when you see the author accepting the trite argument that Pakistan’s insecurities vis-a-vis India will be assuaged if there is a settlement of the Kashmir dispute, even on Pakistan’s own terms. A person who correctly sees a hasty US withdrawal from Afghanistan as a victory for al-Qaeda’s global jihad somehow fails to consider the geopolitical implications of India yielding to Pakistan’s military-jihadi blackmail. To be fair, Mr Riedel recommends nothing more than what was agreed in India-Pakistan back channel talks, but even so, the premise that Pakistan will pose less of a threat to international security if only India were to make some concessions takes the heat off the protagonists—Pakistan and its scaffold states. And no, privately nudging the Indian leadership to pursue dialogue with Pakistan is unlikely to be any more effective than doing so publicly.

What is the book’s big prescription for Pakistan? The combination of carrots (Kerry-Lugar long-term aid) and sticks (drone attacks and suchlike) that are currently employed by the Obama administration. There is very little by way of identification and evaluation of other options. This might, again, be due to the fact the Mr Riedel was recently a part of, and still very close to, the ongoing deadly embrace. By that token, this book might have come too early.

More makers of modern India

Rajadhyaksha’s review of Guha’s book

Niranjan Rajadhyaksha has a fine review of Ramachandra Guha’s “Makers of Modern India” in Mint.

Reading through the selections of the 19 makers of modern India, one is struck by the sheer diversity of concerns that gripped their minds—the gradual reformism of Gopal Krishna Gokhale, the militant populism of Bal Gangadhar Tilak, the enlightened globalism of Rabindranath Tagore, the attacks on caste by E.V. Ramaswami, the feminism of Shinde, the nation-building of Nehru, the futile quest for alternatives to parliamentary democracy by Jayaprakash Narayan, the fight for a free market economy by C. Rajagopalachari, the sharp investigations into caste as a central fact of Indian life by Ram Manohar Lohia and the insights into tribal life by Elwin.

These and other leaders have continued relevance. The splendid economic boom that India is in the middle of will inevitably be socially disruptive as well. It is a well-documented fact that the social strain of such disruption often leads to rebellion or hyper nationalism, to anarchy or oligarchic rule. We see early signs of all these in India, in tribal rage harvested by the Naxalites and the flag waving encouraged by the mainstream political parties. It is critical at such as juncture that India remains in touch with the enlightened political thought that emerged in response to colonial rule and later gave us a liberal republic.

A sound understanding of Indian political traditions would also help us understand the importance of Ambedkar’s perceptive warning on 25 November 1949. [Read the whole thing at Mint]

That Ambedkar’s Grammar of Anarchy speech should make it into the book is appropriate. Contemporary India must read and reflect on perhaps the most prescient set of warnings that the republic’s founding fathers left behind. Ambedkar is well-known, even if his actual ideas are now forgotten, but Mr Guha has done well to commemorate lesser known, not no less brilliant thinkers too. (The book has Gandhi, Nehru, Tagore, Ambedkar, Periyar, Raja Rammohan Roy, Syed Ahmad Khan, Jotirao Phule, Gokhale, Tilak, Tarabai Shinde, Jinnah, Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay, Golwalkar and Lohia)

Mr Rajadhyaksha rightly points out that Mr Guha’s work will be contentious because of who it leaves out. I personally think Goparaju Ramachandra Rao, or “Gora”, should be more than a footnote in modern India’s intellectual history. There are many more.

So why not share who you think ought to be considered a maker of modern India in the comments space? (Note: if you are linking to a URL, please ensure that you enclose it in valid HTML tags)

By Invitation: On Rivals in Asia

A review of Bill Emmott’s Rivals: How the Power Struggle Between China, India and Japan Will Shape Our Next Decade

By V Anantha Nageswaran

Mr Bill Emmott, former Editor-in-Chief of “Economist” has written another book. It is on China, Japan and India and is appropriately titled, Rivals. The temptation to go for “Pillars of the new Asian century” would have been too high to resist for some others. But, Mr Emmott is not one of those woolly eyed observers of Asia to take the common consent that this would be Asia’s century for granted. He sees plenty of risks and rightly so.  

For the most part, the book is an engaging and easy read. As it winds down, the pace appears to slacken and the reader gets impatient. But that could quite legitimately be put down to the reader’s unjustified lack of interest in the subject of North and South Korea that comes up in the end. The book has at least two fascinating chapters on the environmental risks of the rise of China and India, not just to the rest of the world but also to themselves. Whereas India’s pollution comes from its poverty, China’s comes from its breakneck capacity addition. In other words, the story of India’s pollution and environmental decay is in its early chapters. 
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