- - Tuesday, November 8, 2011

By James P. Farwell
Foreword by Joseph D. Duffey
Potomac Books, $29.95, 360 pages

As Pakistan has forced its way into America’s national con sciousness over the past few years, bookshelves have grown crowded with publications devoted to deciphering the murky politics behind this nuclear-armed nation in perpetual crisis. The latest entry to this roster, “The Pakistan Cauldron: Conspiracy, Assassination and Instability,” is a welcome one, and comes to us from James Farwell, a strategic communications guru and longtime adviser to U.S. Special Operations Command and Strategic Command.

Well regarded in military and political circles alike, the Louisiana-born attorney brings a fresh perspective to the study of Pakistan through a book structured more like a spy novel than an academic textbook. Playing to his own strengths as an analyst, Mr. Farwell shines an investigative light on some of the key figures and events that have shaped Pakistani politics over the last decade and - perhaps more interestingly - how its leaders crafted complex strategic communications strategies to achieve their aims.

“The Pakistan Cauldron” directs the bulk of its attention at three pivotal figures: the infamous nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan, father to Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program and the most damaging global nuclear proliferation ring in history; Benazir Bhutto, the liberal former prime minister who was assassinated in 2007; and former president and army chief of staff, Pervez Musharraf, who as unofficial dictator of Pakistan from 1999-2008, played a central role in all of the shadowy events outlined in the book.

The book opens with an investigation into Mr. Khan’s infamous nuclear proliferation network, whose global reach and malignant impact are thoroughly documented but difficult to overstate. Today no one doubts that a veritable who’s who of rogue regimes benefited from Mr. Khan’s nuclear trafficking, including Libya, Iraq, Iran and Syria. The real debate centers on how much of Mr. Khan’s activities were officially sanctioned by the regime, and to what degree the network is still operating today.

Donning his lawyer cap, Mr. Farwell musters a compelling case that Mr. Khan operated not as a rogue agent, as Islamabad argues, but as an extension of state policy. As he does throughout the book, Mr. Farwell illuminates the issue by raising provocative questions. Pakistan’s Kahuta nuclear complex was, according to the son of an imprisoned Khan associate, “ringed by the Pak military and by legions of intelligence agents. … Given that transfers were made using military C-130s, how did these transport aircraft fly in and out in large numbers, and regularly, without the military and its chief knowing?”

When Mr. Khan’s proliferation ring was fully uncovered in the early 2000s, Mr. Farwell argues, Mr. Musharraf orchestrated a brilliant strategic communications campaign designed to absolve Islamabad of complicity. On public television, the president extracted a forced confession from Mr. Khan, who unconvincingly pleaded he had acted alone.

Mr. Musharraf then pardoned the scientist (Mr. Khan remains a hero in Pakistan) before putting the serial proliferator into “forced retirement” to shield him from international investigators. “[W]ith his phone line severed, newspaper deliveries halted, and access to television denied. … No one was prosecuted. No intelligence was shared.” Perhaps most troubling, the Bush administration applauded Mr. Musharraf’s handling of the situation and Mr. Khan has yet to face a single question from U.S. or international investigators.

The central focus of “The Pakistan Cauldron,” however, remains the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. Bhutto, who served twice as prime minister (1988-90, 1993-96) and returned to Pakistan in 2007 to campaign for a third term, met a tragic end on the campaign trail when a suicide bomber detonated explosives near her convoy. The assassination has been shrouded in mystery, with accusations leveled at any number of Bhutto’s long list of enemies.

Mr. Farwell addresses many of the long-lingering questions about Bhutto’s assassination, and in the process raises several more. He avoids pointing the finger of blame at a specific party - “what seems most plausible is a that a combination of parties played a role” - but he absolves one key suspect of culpability and meticulously outlines the potential motivations of a range of others, including the Haqqani network, a former ISI chief, al Qaeda, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Jaish-e-Mohammed and the head of Pakistan’s Intelligence Bureau.

The book later turns its attention toward contemporary events, examining everything from the Mumbai attacks of 2008, to trends in Pakistani public opinion and finally, the dramatic ruptures that emerged in U.S.-Pakistan relations in 2011. In the end, “The Pakistan Cauldron” offers vivid accounts that are not merely fodder for historians of Pakistani politics. The recent discovery of what appears to be a new uranium enrichment complex in Syria raises fresh questions about the degree to which Damascus benefited from A.Q. Khan’s proliferation ring.

And with Pervez Musharraf mulling a return to Pakistani politics, Mr. Farwell’s behind-the-scenes accounts of pivotal moments in his presidency are rendered all the more prescient. More than just a survey of the past, Mr. Farwell’s journey into Pakistani politics offers us critical insights into the country’s future.

Jeff M. Smith is the Kraemer Strategy Fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council and managing editor of the council’s “World Almanac of Islamism.”

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