August 10, 2008

Books of Note: Descent into Chaos

Regional perspective on an escalating crisis

Ahmed Rashid dissects the tangled geopolitical mess in his native part of the world with insight, warm sensitivity and a readable style that focuses on the human element at the heart of events

JANICE KENNEDY, Canwest News Service; Ottawa Citizen

Published: Saturday, August 09

Canada figures into Rashid's book, but only marginally. He cites the Maher Arar case in "America Shows the Way," his chapter on torture, renditions and secret jails. But the country itself appears primarily as just another member - albeit a fully contributing one - of a NATO presence that has been confused and misguided. He also writes of Canada's ongoing public debate on its role in Afghanistan, a heated discussion echoed by other NATO members.

"The critical mistake Canada made,"
he said in our interview,
"was that it had no policy toward Pakistan. It just went along with whatever the Americans were telling them." This had its impact as Canada arrived in Kandahar, where it "didn't have a clue about what to expect. You can not look at Afghanistan without looking at the neighbouring countries. You need to have a strategic policy that looks at the entire region."

His recommended strategic policy would also address what he calls the "biggest conundrum," the vast and proliferating safe havens for Islamist terrorists along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

Rashid says he is not entirely without hope. But in the disastrous narrative of that powder-keg world he knows so well and describes with such compelling authority in Descent into Chaos, it will be difficult for the average reader to share that sliver of optimism.

DESCENT INTO CHAOS, by Ahmed Rashid, Viking, 544 pages, $31.

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