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F E B R U A R Y 2 0 1 2 / F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L
The Beginning
of the End?
The Unraveling:
Pakistan in the Age of Jihad
John R. Schmidt, Farrar, Straus
& Giroux, 2011, $27, hardcover,
288 pages.
For years now, the news from Pak-
istan has been relentlessly confusing
and grim: assassinations, suicide bomb-
ings, army assaults on and murky deals
with militants, U.S. drones killing ter-
rorists and civilians, CIA agents “outed”
and contractors running amok. Behind
all the violence looms a doomsday
threat: jihadi seizure of the Pakistani
nuclear arsenal.
Retired FSO John R. Schmidt has
produced a superb guide for the per-
The Unraveling: Pakistan in
the Age of Jihad
is a fluidly written
analysis of the mounting weaknesses of
this “improbable state.”
His primary sources, well-con-
nected Islamabad contacts he culti-
vated as political counselor from 1998
to 2001, are impeccable. His survey of
pervasive patron-client and clan rela-
tionships is also insightful, though it
draws mainly on secondary sources,
presumably reflecting the security risks
awaiting U.S. diplomats who venture
into the countryside.
Schmidt briskly furnishes curious
observers with the background and
context they need to understand how
and why Pakistan evolved as it has
since achieving independence in 1947.
He cites the fundamental tension be-
tween the vision of the nation’s
founder, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, of a
“homeland for the Muslims of the sub-
continent” —which complements the
tolerant Barelvi theology and Sufi
practices of most Sunnis — and Presi-
dent Zia ul-Haq’s imposition, during
his 1977-1988 tenure, of laws embody-
ing the harsh Deobandi interpretation
of sharia.
He also elucidates the harmful im-
pact of the refusal by the feudal
landowners who dominate politics to
permit their income to be taxed. For
instance, once the army has con-
sumed the lion’s share of meager
budget expenditures, little is left to
fund public schools — a vacuum that
is being filled by Deobandi madras-
sas. More generally, underpaid Pak-
istani bureaucrats demand bribes,
alienating the poor and foreign in-
vestors alike.
Schmidt’s profound understanding
of Pakistan’s military strategy is based
on the views of retired generals whose
confidence he gained. Because they
remain obsessed with the perceived
threat from India, most of the coun-
try’s forces are deployed along the
eastern border. As soon as the Soviets
withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989,
the notorious Inter-Services Intelli-
gence Directorate pivoted to infiltrate
Pakistani jihadis into Kashmir. There,
they collaborated with local insur-
gents to pin down several Indian
Army divisions.
Schmidt argues persuasively that
there are no ISI rogues: whether
they’re training and equipping the
Haqqani network militants who ha-
rass U.S. forces in Afghanistan or the
Pakistani terrorists who ambush In-
dian troops in Kashmir, ISI officers
Schmidt elucidates
the tension between
the two competing
visions of Pakistan’s
future: inclusive
and tolerant, or
and harsh.