The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power

Published by Scribner, 2008

Pakistan is the sixth most populous country in the world. It is the only Islamic state to have nuclear weapons. Its border with Afghanistan extends over one thousand miles and is the likely hideout of Osama bin Laden. It has been under military dictatorship for thirty-three of its fiftyyear existence. Yet it is the linchpin in the United States’ war on terror, receiving over $10 billion of American aid since 2001 and purchasing more than $5 billion of U.S. weaponry in 2006 alone.

These days, relations between the two countries are never less than tense. Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf reported that U.S. deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage threatened to “bomb Pakistan back to the Stone Age” if it did not commit fully to the alliance in the wake of 9/11. Presidential hopeful Barack Obama said he would have no hesitation in bombing Al Qaeda inside the country, “with or without” approval of the Pakistani government. Recent surveys show that more than 70 percent of Pakistanis fear the United States as a military threat to their country.

The Bush administration spent much of 2007 promoting a “dream ticket” of Musharraf and Benazir Bhutto to run Pakistan together. That strategy, with Bhutto assassinated and the general’s party winning less than 15 percent of the contested seats in the 2008 election, is now in tatters.

With increasingly bold attacks by Taliban supporters in the border regions threatening to split the Pakistan army, with the only political alternatives—Nawaz Sharif and Benazir’s widower Asif Ali Zardari—being as corrupt as the regime they seek to replace, and with a newly radicalized movement of lawyers testing its strength as championsof the rule of law, the chances of sustained stability in Pakistan look slim.

The scion of a famous Punjabi political family, with extraordinary contacts inside the country and internationally, Tariq Ali has long been acknowledged as a leading commentator on Pakistan. In these pages he combines deep understanding of the country’s history with extensive firsthand research and unsparing political judgment to weigh the prospects of those contending for power today. The labyrinthine path between a secure world and global conflagration runs right through Pakistan. No one is better placed to trace its contours.

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Reviews: The Independent

From the archive

  • ‘Daughter of the West’

    December 13, 2007

    ‘Daughter of the West’ by Tariq Ali for The London Review of Books, December 13, 2007

    Arranged marriages can be a messy business. Designed principally as a means of accumulating wealth, circumventing undesirable flirtations or transcending clandestine love affairs, they often don’t work. Where both parties are known to loathe each other, only a rash parent, desensitised by the thought of short-term gain, will continue with the process knowing full well that it will end in misery and possibly violence. That this is equally true in political life became clear in the recent attempt by Washington to tie Benazir Bhutto to Pervez Musharraf.

    The single, strong parent in this case was a desperate State Department—with John Negroponte as the ghoulish go-between and Gordon Brown as the blushing bridesmaid—fearful that if it did not push this through both parties  …

  • An Open Letter to Fausto Bertinotti on Afghanistan

    July 8, 2006

    An Open Letter to Fausto Bertinotti on Afghanistan by Tariq Ali, July 8, 2006

    Dear Fausto:

    I was surprised to hear that Rifondazione was preparing to vote in favour of keeping Italian troops in Afghanistan, for ‘humanitarian reasons’. I want to try and convince you that this would be a serious error, just as I argued in the last century with those on the left, who supported the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan.

    Big powers or surrogate states acting on their behalf have no right to occupy countries. The two big projects of the global neo-liberal order have been (1) to insist that the new capitalism is the ‘sole’ way of organising humankind from now till the planet implodes and (2) to disregard national sovereignty as a key to international relations in the name of ‘human rights’.

    A few weeks after  …

  • Tariq Ali takes on “Any Questions?” on BBC Radio 4

    November 5, 2010

    Tariq Ali joined Jonathan Dimbleby in Leeds as a panellist on BBC Radio 4‘s “Any Questions?” show, with journalist Peter Hitchens, Sayeeda Warsi, Chairman of the Conservative Party and Jack Dromey MP. The panel answered topical questions including those on housing and civil liberties.

    Visit the BBC Radio 4 website to listen to “Any Questions?” in full.