As the US government makes the transition from the Bush to the Obama administration what will this mean for foreign policy? Media pundits have been and will be speculating on this question for months to come, but it is important to seek out independent analysis, particularly the kind of analysis that provides a solid historical context.
In his third book on Pakistan, Tariq Ali does the monumental job of providing us with an important study of the historical relationship between the US and a country that has only experienced sovereignty since 1948.
The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power covers a sixty year period from the birth of a nation to a US ally in the “war on terror.” Ali, with a keen sense of history and a personal commitment to the quest for justice in his home country of Pakistan, has provided us with an important framework for how to understand the role of his country in US foreign policy.
The book begins with the tensions that existed between India and Pakistan after the British turned over rule of the region. As Ali reminds readers throughout the book, the US was very interested in having Pakistan as an ally considering its strategic location. Pakistan borders India, Iran, Afghanistan and China. Pakistan was an important ally in the “Cold War” especially during the Reagan years and the US support for the Afghani resistance to the Soviet occupation of the 1980s.
However, before their role in the first “war on terror,” Pakistan became one of the first nations to develop a highly political vision of Islam. It was during the dictatorship of Zia-ul-Haq that the reality of Pakistan being a predominantly Islamic state came into fruition. General Zia-ul-Haq promoted a Sharia (Islamic) law and developed the notorious intelligence agency known as the ISI, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate. The ISI was notorious for its repression of dissent and played a valuable role in supporting the US financed mujahideens in Afghanistan during the 1980s.
The Duel also provides important insight into the post Zia-ul-Haq years and the legacy of the Bhutto family in Pakistani politics. Despite the US media canonization of Benazir Bhutto after her assassination last year, Bhutto was not a strong advocate for democracy in Pakistan. Her death had more to do with factionalism than her being a champion for democracy. Bhutto’s death opened the door for Pervez Musharraf to take complete control of power in Pakistan, an outcome the US government was quite pleased with.
Musharraf has continued to be an important ally for the US, particularly in the current “war on terror.” Ali underscores that point by devoting the last part of the book to the role that Pakistan has played in the current US/NATO occupation of Afghanistan. Pakistan has played such an important role in the US/NATO occupation of Afghanistan that the war has now spilled over into Pakistan. The Duel does not provide great details on the US military incursions into Pakistan, a topic Ali has written on since the book was published, but it does provide an important framework for why Pakistan will be critical in the US/NATO campaign in Afghanistan.
Just before the November, election Tariq Ali made a video plea to Barack Obama, asking him to reconsider his public position in support of increasing US troops in Afghanistan. Continuing in that spirit, The Duel will provide anyone with an important perspective, especially if you want to push the new administration to break with a long history of using Pakistan as a tool to further imperialist policies in that region of the world.
Tariq Ali, The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power, (Scribner, 2008).