Pakistan on the Edge

Pakistan: The Eye of the Storm

by Owen Bennett Jones
Yale University Press, 352 pp., $29.95

Pakistan: In the Shadow of Jihad and Afghanistan

by Mary Anne Weaver
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 304 pp., $24.00 (to be published in late October)
Pervez Musharraf
Pervez Musharraf; drawing by David Levine


September 11 was a defining moment throughout the world, but all the more so in South and Central Asia. While the US and its allies can claim success in their quick military victory against the Taliban and al-Qaeda forces in Afghanistan and in the creation of a new government in Kabul, the Western coalition has been much less successful in dealing with the problems that afflict the region today.

Afghanistan is still a dangerous place. On September 5, there was an attempt to assassinate President Hamid Karzai in Kandahar a few hours after an explosion in Kabul that killed at least twenty-five people. The Taliban and al-Qaeda were among the suspects in both cases. Sporadic terrorist attacks on US forces in the country continue. Nine months after he took office last December, President Karzai is still unable to extend his authority across the country; and he has not been able to control the warlords outside the capital, who grow stronger and more defiant of central authority day by day. Donald Rumsfeld reflected the strangely disconnected attitude of the Bush administration when he described the situation as getting better but admitted that it is still “untidy,” and that it “will take time and effort for the government to find its sea legs.” That Afghanistan is landlocked and most Afghans have never seen the sea does not seem to have occurred to him.

But Rumsfeld was right in one respect. In a region where dictatorship is the norm, Hamid Karzai is now the most legitimate ruler among most of Afghan- istan’s neighbors. In June he was overwhelmingly elected as president for the next two years by the Loya Jirga, or traditional tribal assembly. None of the rulers of Afghanistan’s neighbors can claim to have achieved a legitimate government through open and fair elections, or even through a process resembling a tribal assembly. Only Iran—one of Washington’s bêtes noires—has anything approximating a legitimately elected parliament, and its government is paralyzed by conflict between moderates and authoritarian religious leaders who are blocking free expression.

It is in Afghanistan’s neighborhood that the political fallout of US policy is getting worse and more unpredictable. In the five Central Asian Republics, the question of legitimacy has never been more pertinent. The leaders still hold Soviet-style elections in which there is only one candidate—the leader himself. Even then the vote is heavily rigged. Since September 11, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan have allowed the US and some European countries to set up military bases for use in the war against terrorism. Local leaders, such as President Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan, have used their importance to the West as a convenient excuse to step up repression of their political opponents, not only Islamic fundamentalists but moderates who advocate democracy. They continue to reject domestic and international pressures to carry out political and economic reforms. Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan do not have Western military…

This is exclusive content for subscribers only.
Get unlimited access to The New York Review for just $1 an issue!

View Offer

Continue reading this article, and thousands more from our archive, for the low introductory rate of just $1 an issue. Choose a Print, Digital, or All Access subscription.

If you are already a subscriber, please be sure you are logged in to your account.