While veteran journalist Zahid Hussain’s articles are always worth a read, you’re in for a disappointment if you read his second book, The Relentless Rise of Islamic Militants in Pakistan: The Scorpion’s Tail, with high hopes. The book isn’t a patch on his stellar debut, Frontline Pakistan: The Struggle with Militant Islam (2007).
Zahid Hussain paints a harrowing picture of the country as an almost anarchic state as military operations, peace deals and negotiations fail to prevent attacks on civilian, government and military targets. The Scorpion’s Tail also looks at developments in the United States-Pakistan relationship and the “strategic depth” mantra that has been a part of Pakistan’s policy on Afghanistan for years but without any major insights.
The book could have been a more thrilling read if certain moments that are mentioned in passing had been described in greater detail. There are a few exciting incidents one wishes Hussain had expanded on, such as meeting Jalaluddin Haqqani in 1989. The other incident, which Hussain describes as “shocking”, is when he attended a gathering hosted by Malakand division commissioner Syed Mohammad Javed in April 2009, “which was apparently a celebration of Taliban takeover in the region”. Hussain witnesses regional government officials meeting senior Taliban commanders, including Faqir Mohammad, at the event and writes, “The presence of one of the most wanted militant leaders at the official residence of a top regional bureaucrat when thousands of army soldiers were engaged in bloody war against his men in Bajaur was astonishing.”
However, The Scorpion’s Tail seems to have followed the pattern of ‘cram all major events into one book and publish it’ that have been a signature of several books, such as Imtiaz Gul’s The Al Qaeda Connection, that have been published recently about militant groups in Pakistan. They serve as a handy reference for those unacquainted with Google, but provide little depth and analysis.
For a reporter of Hussain’s stature, it is surprising that the details of his reportage and on-the-ground analysis are largely missing from his book. The Scorpion’s Tail reads like an expanded timeline of major terrorist attacks and military operations in Pakistan in the past few years. Everything from the Swat operation to the Lal Masjid saga to Benazir Bhutto’s assassination and the attack on the Pakistan Army’s headquarters makes an appearance. An in-depth look at any of the attacks Hussain has reported on and mentioned in the book would have sufficed for a reader who is interested in and follows developments in the region, and would have made The Scorpion’s Tail a must-read.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 12th, 2010.
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