Books by American academics, officials and journalists on India and Pakistan almost invariably portray reluctance of the authors to call a spade a spade. They underplay the serious global implications of Pakistan’s links with radical Islamist terrorist groups and the dangerous role of these groups within Pakistan and beyond its borders, particularly in India and Afghanistan. Bruce Riedel is different. He is an American specialist on the Middle East, South Asia and counter-terrorism, with 29 years’ experience in the CIA. He has also served four presidents in the White House.
Riedel’s new book, Avoiding Armageddon: America, India and Pakistan to the Brink and Back, is a colourful and interesting account of the imperatives, twists and turns of America’s policies, especially since the days of World War II and the subsequent partition of the sub-continent in August 1947. While the birth pangs of the partition, the dispute over Jammu and Kashmir and the India-Pakistan conflicts of 1965 and 1971 are covered factually and impartially, it is important for all those interested in the geopolitics of India’s neighbourhood to read and absorb Riedel’s analysis of how the US cultivated Pakistan’s military dictator, General Zia-ul-Haq, to “bleed” the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. In the process, America made Pakistan a playground for radical Islamist groups worldwide, which undermined security and stability within Pakistan and across its entire neighbourhood.
General Zia laid the foundations for Pakistan’s ambitions to make Afghanistan a radical Islamic state and the epicentre for global jihad. Over 80,000 Afghans were armed and trained by the isi during the Zia period, with an aim of ending Afghan territorial claims on Pakistan and eliminating Indian and Soviet influence there, while also making Afghanistan “a real, Islamic State, part of a pan-Islamic revival that will one day win over the Muslims of the Soviet Union”. Riedel reveals how General Zia used the Afghan conflict for carrying his enthusiasm for jihad into Jammu and Kashmir, following a secret meeting with Kashmiri Jamat-e-Islami leader Maulana Abdul Bari in 1980. Riedel also reveals Zia’s role in fomenting terrorism in Punjab in the 1980s. He exposes US duplicity in rewarding Pakistan in the 1980s, by deliberately turning a blind eye to its nuclear weapons programme.
Riedel explains how short-sighted American policies promoted Wahhabi-oriented radicalisation in a nuclear-armed Pakistan. These policies also increased the dominance of the army, weakening democratic institutions. They led to the emergence of global links between radical Islamist organisations in Pakistan and Afghanistan and their counterparts across the world. The Kargil conflict is discussed in detail, as is the military standoff that followed the December 2001 attack on the Indian Parliament. Riedel is unsparing on the links of the isi with the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT). He dwells on the nexus between isi-supported terrorist groups like the let and the Jaish-e-Mohammed, with the Taliban and with groups like the al Qaeda and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. The book commences with the 26/11 terrorist strike on Mumbai. The actions of the let and its chief Hafiz Mohammed Saeed and their terrorist links are clinically analysed. Riedel describes how the tentacles of the ISI extend from the let to the Taliban and jihadi groups worldwide.
Riedel spells out two nightmare scenarios. The first is a takeover of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons by terrorists. The second nightmare he alludes to is a 26/11-type terrorist attack leading to nuclear escalation, after an angered India responds militarily.