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BOOK REVIEW: Frontline Pakistan: The Struggle With Militant Islam (2007)

Author: Zahid Hussain

PUBLISHED IN THE POST JUNE 14, 2007

Reviewed by: Afrah Jamal

Frontline Pakistan: the struggle with militant Islam goes for the jugular with an insiders look at a deformed culture borne of a dated ideology, fueled by vested interest and driven by intolerance; and a nation’s complicity.

Not surprisingly, the legitimacy granted jihadists by ISI-CIA ran out soon, as did the sympathy for their jihadist actions formally perceived as heroic. Once used to counter the threat of communism, the rapid shift in their objectives that placed Pakistan’s national interest on a collision course with its security rendered them an anachronism.

This led to a parting of ways with the ISI; consequently, the deadliness of operations and depth of penetration in society seen in the context of 9/11 forever breached the line between liberators and terrorists.

Veteran journalist Zahid Hussain, Pakistani correspondent for the "Times of London", "The Wall Street Journal", "Newsweek and Newsline draws on interviews with President Musharraf, and unique access to some jihadist organizations for his book that looks candidly at a nations culpability in fostering and harboring a radical culture.

Devoid of sentiments, ‘Frontline Pakistan’ is a grave commentary on the incendiary nature of a nascent Jihadist culture that ‘shares a common culture and anti western world view’ , threatens the integrity of a nation and aims to hold the world hostage. As one of the leading expose of recent times, this sharply critical piece uncovers the emergence of the jihadist trend responsible for sectarian divide in some cases with a rare insight into the origins, dogmatic ideologies, and modus operandi of known jihadist outfits.

In hindsight, the war on terror is the progeny of that war on communism as “The Afghan resistance was projected as global jihad against communism” ( Chp 1 P-17 Para 4); Clearly It was fanaticism employed as an accessory in that battle that soon came to be wielded by the paragons of myopic vision. Admittedly, the noble concept of jihad has become warped; it has continued to lure in the poor, the illiterate and above all, the misguided nonetheless, in a bid to deliver a death blow to the moderates.

Extraordinary details emerge about the Islamic seminaries that “became a transit point for foreign militants aspiring to join al-Qaeda and Taliban forces in Afghanistan” with a probing look at the military links which gave them sustenance and the effectiveness of the present administrations policies. Furthermore, the politicization of religion, Al-Qaeda links of better known militant organizations, pieced together by the capture of elusive agents and ISI‘s alleged complicity make this particular book a riveting piece of investigative journalism.

Now that yet another dimension has been added to the war on terror with this book, it puts this governments’ position in perspective. The tone of the book remains reproachful towards an administration whose actions against militants seem more driven by international pressure than national interest.

Passages like “very little was done to rein in the militant madrassas despite their continuing involvement in jihadist politics” reflect the writers unsympathetic outlook but the formidable nature of the undertaking better known as the war on terror, given the hostility of terrain and society that dwells within the tribal belt and provides safe havens to likes of Taliban and Al-Qaeda is portrayed in vivid detail in the chapter on tribal warriors; a place where “ Bin Ladens men distributed millions of dollars amongst tribal elders in return for shelter” and the ‘intensity of fighting shocked the Pakistani army commanders’ (P-148, Para 2) and this illustrates what the government is up against in the lawless wild west of Pakistan.

Having said that, allegations of simultaneous condemnation and reluctant but nevertheless imprudent patronage and administrations ineffective counteractions of such groups has now reshaped a fearsome foe, as responsible for sponsoring anarchy within as terror without.

In brief, ‘Frontline Pakistan’ is a wakeup call. The book, confirms our worst fears regarding the current state of affairs. Then again, the world will comprehend the complexity of unraveling the network of terror spread to the lawless frontiers of Pakistan.

Unfortunately, this rather unflattering portrait of an administration unable to restrain the monster it created will fuel rather than curb the mounting Western paranoia against the madrassa and jihad.

‘Frontline Pakistan: the struggle with militant Islam’ reads more like an extended article than a book, and while it may not qualify as a literary masterpiece, it still remains a well researched, provocative and intriguing piece of work.

The authors’ assessments make one thing abundantly clear; this movement is not in remission; the pervasiveness of radical teachings, its broadening reach and ominous intent bodes ill for the future.


Hardcover: 220 pages
Publisher: Columbia University Press (March 15, 2007)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0231142242
ISBN-13: 978-0231142243

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