The Butterfly Effect

In a masterly essay that has just appeared in the New York Review of Books, William Dalrymple writes of Ahmed Rashid's Descent into Chaos, a Penguin Viking title that came out in 2008.

The review is long. A pleasure to read for the prose, and terrifying to read for the content- Dalrymple updates Rashid to beyond 26/11 to alert us to the problems that remain and the problems that lie ahead in this part of the world post Bush. He writes "Ahmed Rashid's book convincingly shows how the Central and Southern Asian portion of this tragedy took shape in the years since 2001. Rashid has long been an authority on the politics of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia.... In his new book, Rashid is particularly perceptive in his examination of the causes of terrorism in the region, and the way that the Bush administration sought to silence real scrutiny of what was actually causing so many people in South and Central Asia violently to resist American influence. "

The Penguin description is forceful too. "Since 9/11, the war in Afghanistan and the invasion of Iraq, the West has been fighting a "War on Terror", through force and through the building of new societies in the region. In this clear and devastating account, with unparalleled access and intimate knowledge of the political players, Descent into Chaos chronicles our failure.

Having reported from central Asia for a quarter of a century, Ahmed Rashid shows clearly why the war in Iraq is just a sideshow to the main event. Rather, it is Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the five Central Asian states that make up the crisis zone, for it is here that terrorism and Islamic extremism are growing stronger.

Documenting with precision how intimately linked Pakistan is with the Taliban and other extremist movements, while remaining the US's main ally in the region, Rashid brings into focus the role of many regional issues in supporting extremism, from nuclear programmes to local rivalries, ineffectual peace-keeping to tyrannical rulers. For Rashid, at the heart of the failure in Iraq is the US's refusal to accept the need to build nations.

Ambitious and urgent, analyzing events, policies and personalities across the largest landmass in the world, Descent into Chaos chronicles with chilling accuracy why Islamic extremism is now stronger than ever."

Clearly an important book to read if one is to understand the fragility of the situation... when small changes can have big effects. So to adapt a metaphor of the Chaos Theory, it is as if the flapping of a butterfly's wings in Washington can eventually create a thunderstorm in Islamabad.

A special import now on our Essays and Nonfiction and Strategic Affairs sections. In paperback, 544 pages. Rs 495, ISBN: 9781846141751.