In this grim but insightful sequel to Descent into Chaos (2008), veteran Pakistani journalist Rashid’s outlook is perfectly expressed by the title of that earlier overview.
Not yet a failed state like Somalia, Pakistan is inching perilously close. The irresponsible elite class pays little taxes to an incompetent government whose citizens, long among Asia’s most impoverished, are growing poorer. The army rules; civilian leaders defer to the military, handing over a lion’s share of the budget which it devotes to high-tech arms, including a nuclear arsenal, directed at India. Hatred of India is a national obsession. Preparations for the inevitable war require a compliant Afghanistan on its opposite border, so Pakistan has always supported the Taliban, whose fanatic Islam seems more anti-India than the traditional, easygoing Afghan version. No fan of international terrorism, Pakistan happily accepted the avalanche of American money that followed 9/11 and provided valuable aid in tracking down al-Qaeda militants even within its borders. Although no secret, its continued support of the Taliban seemed a mystery to the Bush administration for years, and Pakistan remains impervious to American hectoring and threats to cut off aid. President Obama took office promising to fix matters, but he has proved a disappointment. Supporting the Taliban has brought Pakistan few benefits. Perhaps most disturbingly, a separate Taliban faction has started to unleash a vicious, destabilizing terrorist campaign.