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F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L / F E B R U A R Y 2 0 1 2
are following orders.
Similarly, after U.S. commandos
killed Osama bin Laden last May, dis-
trust between Islamabad and Wash-
ington threatened to disrupt U.S.
economic assistance programs and de-
livery via Pakistani roads of materiel for
U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
President (and General) Pervez
Musharraf’s decision to cast Pakistan’s
lot with the U.S. after 9/11 revealed the
underlying contradictions in ISI ma-
nipulation of the militants. Schmidt
recounts how jihadi groups, motivated
by religious zeal, not Pakistani patriot-
ism, turned on the government. They
descended from the Waziristan moun-
tains to threaten Islamabad, killed sev-
eral thousand soldiers, terrorized the
Shia and Ahmadi minorities, and al-
most assassinated Musharraf. The
Lashkar-i-Taiba group further flaunted
its disdain for his government by
mounting a 2008 terrorist assault in
Mumbai that almost led to war.
Schmidt rightly discounts some of
the more neuralgic possible denoue-
ments: another army coup, jihadi con-
trol of the nuclear arsenal and ethnic or
linguistic conflict (although he under-
estimates Sindhi, Baluchi and Pushtun
resentment of Punjabi hegemony).
Even so, Pakistan remains the South
Asian state with the greatest capacity to
harmU.S. interests, while India, to the
Pakistanis’ annoyance, offers the U.S.
the greatest prospective benefits.
Authoritative and valuable as Sch-
midt’s analysis is, he does not attempt
to delve into Pakistanis’ unresolved
identity issues. So I recommend the
insightful analysis in
Bangladesh and
Pakistan: Flirting with Failure in South
by Ambassador William Milam,
who was his boss in Islamabad, as sup-
plemental reading.
That lacuna aside, I cannot recom-
mend this book highly enough to any-
one seeking insights into Pakistan’s
Retired FSO Richard McKee served as
a political officer in Karachi, Pakistan
desk officer, and consul general in La-
hore. He is a member of the Foreign
Service Journal Editorial Board.
Breaking Bad
The Pirates of Somalia:
Inside Their Hidden World
Jay Bahadur, Pantheon Books, 2011,
$26.95, hardcover, 320 pages.
The Pirates of Somalia
to be a book is almost as fascinating as
its subject matter. In 2009 Jay Ba-
hadur, 24, had just graduated from col-
lege and dreamed of becoming a
journalist. But viewing the prospect of
three years of journalism school as a
“waste,” he quit his market research
job to fly to Somalia. There he started
to interview pirates, Somali govern-
ment officials and former hostages.
While fascinating, Bahadur’s first-
hand account makes clear that there is
nothing exotic or entertaining about
piracy. In fact, it is all about the bot-
tom line — yet it’s not a well-run busi-
ness. Only profitable for a select few, it
has accelerated Somalia’s long descent
into poverty and anarchy, and in-
creased demand for qat, a narcotic leaf,
and Toyota trucks.
What makes
The Pirates of Somalia
much more valuable than an extended
blog entry is Bahadur’s in-depth history
and analysis. As he explains, the pi-
rates do not see themselves as brig-
ands, but as “saviors of the sea.” And it
is certainly true that Somali pirates
started out trying to protect their tra-
ditional fishing areas from foreign fish-
ermen, who came equipped with
artillery to steal catches from local fish-
When those intruders began using
fishing techniques that destroyed the
reefs in the Puntland area of the coun-
try, the Somalis struck back. Follow-
ing the collapse of President Moham-
med Siad Barre’s regime and his exile
in 1991, Badahur notes, “The hodge-
podge of rebel groups, militias and
warlords that had inherited chunks of
the Somali state began to arrest foreign
fishing vessels and extort ‘fines’ for
their release.”
In 2003 Somali piracy underwent
a metamorphosis when Mohamed
Abdi Hassan, known as Afweney (“Big
Mouth”), a former civil servant turned
crime lord, became the first participant
to realize the full potential of piracy as
a business model. From 2003 to 2006,
he and other pirates gradually accumu-
lated capital and experience, continu-
ally reinvesting their ransom money in
ongoing operations.
The situation deteriorated further in
2008, when the Puntland government
ran out of money to pay its security
forces. After that, Bahadur reports,
“Many members of the police and
army naturally sought alternative em-
ployment, and there was hardly a more
lucrative career than piracy for a young
man possessing nothing but a gun and
a desperate disregard for his own life.”
In order to establish a rapport with
his interviewees, Bahadur gave them
qat, and even chewed the “flower of
paradise” with them. That decision has
led to understandable questions about
his methods and integrity, but his
analysis is spot on.
My favorite chapter of the book is