OVERRIDE

The Unraveling

Pakistan in the Age of Jihad

John R. Schmidt

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

How did a nation founded as a homeland for South Asian Muslims, most of whom follow a tolerant nonthreatening form of Islam, become a haven for Al Qaeda and a rogue’s gallery of domestic jihadist and sectarian groups? 

In this groundbreaking history of Pakistan’s involvement with radical Islam, John R. Schmidt, the senior U.S political analyst in Pakistan in the years before 9/11, places the blame squarely on the rulers of the country, who thought they could use Islamic radicals to advance their foreign policy goals without having to pay a steep price.  This strategy worked well at first--in Afghanistan during the anti-Soviet jihad, in Kashmir in support of a local uprising against Indian rule, and again in Afghanistan in backing the Taliban in the Afghan civil war.  But the government’s plans would begin to unravel in the wake of 9/11, when the rulers’ support for the U.S. war on terror caused many of their jihadist allies to turn against them. Today the army generals and feudal politicians who run Pakistan are by turns fearful of the consequences of going after these groups and hopeful that they can still be used to advance the state’s interests.

The Unraveling is the clearest account yet of the complex, dangerous relationship between the leaders of Pakistan and jihadist groups—and how the rulers’ decisions have led their nation to the brink of disaster and put other nations at great risk.  Can they save their country or will we one day find ourselves confronting the first nuclear-armed jihadist state?


How did a nation founded as a homeland for South Asian Muslims, most of whom follow a tolerant nonthreatening form of Islam, become a haven for Al Qaeda and a rogue’s gallery of domestic jihadist and sectarian groups? 

In this groundbreaking history of Pakistan’s involvement with radical Islam, John R. Schmidt, the senior U.S political analyst in Pakistan in the years before 9/11, places the blame squarely on the rulers of the country, who thought they could use Islamic radicals to advance their foreign policy goals without having to pay a steep price.  This strategy worked well at first--in Afghanistan during the anti-Soviet jihad, in Kashmir in support of a local uprising against Indian rule, and again in Afghanistan in backing the Taliban in the Afghan civil war.  But the government’s plans would begin to unravel in the wake of 9/11, when the rulers’ support for the U.S. war on terror caused many of their jihadist allies to turn against them. Today the army generals and feudal politicians who run Pakistan are by turns fearful of the consequences of going after these groups and hopeful that they can still be used to advance the state’s interests.

The Unraveling is the clearest account yet of the complex, dangerous relationship between the leaders of Pakistan and jihadist groups—and how the rulers’ decisions have led their nation to the brink of disaster and put other nations at great risk.  Can they save their country or will we one day find ourselves confronting the first nuclear-armed jihadist state?


BOOK EXCERPTS

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THE UNRAVELING (Chapter One)1. An Improbable State

Pakistan is an improbable country. The forefathers of the people who now dominate it politically and militarily were bystanders in the movement to create the Pakistani state. The people actually responsible for its creation were outsiders. Mohammed Ali Jinnah, leader of the Muslim League and founder of the nation, was a Bombay lawyer who wanted a separate homeland for the subcontinent's Muslims because he feared they would become a political underclass in a unified India dominated by Hindus. His vision was secular, not religious, similar to the

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REVIEWS

Praise for The Unraveling

“Pakistan is where all the headaches of the twenty-first century come together.  In The Unraveling, John R. Schmidt draws upon his first-hand experience as a diplomat in that nation to explain why. This is a book filled with useful information, objectively presented, and offered at precisely the right time.” —Madeleine K. Albright, U.S. Secretary of State, 1997-2001

“Schmidt, a career foreign officer and political analyst, ominously chronicles how a country conceived with great hopes as a homeland for South Asian Muslims has become 'the most dangerous place on Earth.' In a clear and systematic analysis of Pakistan's history, he examines the country's beginnings in the partition of India in 1947, exploring the rise of the feudal civilian politicians and the Pakistani army that now dominate Pakistan's politics, and who, united in their enmity toward India, nurtured jihadist groups as 'low-cost weapons of war' to defend their contested territory in Kashmir—and fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. Indeed, as Schmidt explains, the ruling classes' slavishness to the patronage system leaves them unable to address Pakistan's systemic problems, which include rampant illiteracy and the mushrooming of madrassas that serve as feeder institutions for many of Pakistan's radical Islamic groups. As radical Islamists continue to attack civilian targets, Pakistan's leaders waver between pursuing them and seeing if they can still be used to advance Pakistani interests; Pakistan still fears India more than the Taliban. Covering Pakistan's hostile relationship with India and uneasy alliance with the U.S., this thought-provoking, evenhanded, and sobering history is a 'cautionary tale' about the choices Pakistan ‘s ruling classes have made that threaten to bring it to the brink of destruction.”—Publishers Weekly

“John Schmidt pulls no punches in this timely book.  He makes a powerful case that Pakistan’s 'feudal political class' is that deserving but conflicted country’s worst enemy. He is just as frank in his critique of U.S. policy. His motive there too is entirely constructive: he administers a bracing and necessary dose of tough love to one of the most important and troubled inter-state relations on earth.”— Strobe Talbott, President of the Brookings Institution

“This is the go-to book for readers who want in-depth understanding of America’s No. 1 foreign policy conundrum: Pakistan.  A lively and forceful prose stylist, John Schmidt weaves clear analysis and skilled hands-on diplomatic experience among the country’s elites into our best explanation of its downward spiral toward incoherence, fueled by Islamist radicalisms they have nurtured and refused to confront.  Essential (and accessible) reading on a challenge Americans will face for years to come.” —Thomas W. Simons, Jr., former U.S. ambassador to Pakistan

“In the aftermath of the bin Laden raid, marking a new low point in U.S.-Pakistan relations, Senator John F. Kerry said: ‘This is a critical time to find a better way forward.’ But that will prove as elusive today as it was in the past if there is not a more informed, deeper and more nuanced understanding of the centrifugal forces at work in this critical nation. John Schmidt’s The Unraveling can serve as a lantern to shed light on these dynamics, and why the stakes are so incredibly high, for Pakistan and the world.”—Karl F. Inderfurth, Center for Strategic and International Studies (Washington, D.C.) and former U.S. assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs

“Pakistan is where all the headaches of the twenty-first century come together.  In The Unraveling, John R. Schmidt draws upon his first-hand experience as a diplomat in that nation to explain why. This is a book filled with useful information, objectively presented, and offered at precisely the right time.” —Madeleine K. Albright, U.S. Secretary of State, 1997-2001

“Schmidt, a career foreign officer and political analyst, ominously chronicles how a country conceived with great hopes as a homeland for South Asian Muslims has become 'the most dangerous place on Earth.' In a clear and systematic analysis of Pakistan's history, he examines the country's beginnings in the partition of India in 1947, exploring the rise of the feudal civilian politicians and the Pakistani army that now dominate Pakistan's politics, and who, united in their enmity toward India, nurtured jihadist groups as 'low-cost weapons of war' to defend their contested territory in Kashmir—and fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. Indeed, as Schmidt explains, the ruling classes' slavishness to the patronage system leaves them unable to address Pakistan's systemic problems, which include rampant illiteracy and the mushrooming of madrassas that serve as feeder institutions for many of Pakistan's radical Islamic groups. As radical Islamists continue to attack civilian targets, Pakistan's leaders waver between pursuing them and seeing if they can still be used to advance Pakistani interests; Pakistan still fears India more than the Taliban. Covering Pakistan's hostile relationship with India and uneasy alliance with the U.S., this thought-provoking, evenhanded, and sobering history is a 'cautionary tale' about the choices Pakistan ‘s ruling classes have made that threaten to bring it to the brink of destruction.”—Publishers Weekly

“John Schmidt pulls no punches in this timely book.  He makes a powerful case that Pakistan’s 'feudal political class' is that deserving but conflicted country’s worst enemy. He is just as frank in his critique of U.S. policy. His motive there too is entirely constructive: he administers a bracing and necessary dose of tough love to one of the most important and troubled inter-state relations on earth.”— Strobe Talbott, President of the Brookings Institution

“This is the go-to book for readers who want in-depth understanding of America’s No. 1 foreign policy conundrum: Pakistan.  A lively and forceful prose stylist, John Schmidt weaves clear analysis and skilled hands-on diplomatic experience among the country’s elites into our best explanation of its downward spiral toward incoherence, fueled by Islamist radicalisms they have nurtured and refused to confront.  Essential (and accessible) reading on a challenge Americans will face for years to come.” —Thomas W. Simons, Jr., former U.S. ambassador to Pakistan

“In the aftermath of the bin Laden raid, marking a new low point in U.S.-Pakistan relations, Senator John F. Kerry said: ‘This is a critical time to find a better way forward.’ But that will prove as elusive today as it was in the past if there is not a more informed, deeper and more nuanced understanding of the centrifugal forces at work in this critical nation. John Schmidt’s The Unraveling can serve as a lantern to shed light on these dynamics, and why the stakes are so incredibly high, for Pakistan and the world.”—Karl F. Inderfurth, Center for Strategic and International Studies (Washington, D.C.) and former U.S. assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs

In the Press

THE UNRAVELING by John R. SchmidtKirkus Book Reviews
Read the Kirkus Review of THE UNRAVELING Pakistan in the Age of Jihad. A rare lucid take on the turmoil in Pakistan by a former State Department official.
- Kirkus Reviews

Reviews from Goodreads

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

  • John R. Schmidt

  • John R. Schmidt teaches at the Elliott School for International Affairs at George Washington University.  He served in the State Department during a thirty-year service career, including as Political Counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad in the years leading up to 9/11.

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Available Formats and Book Details

The Unraveling

Pakistan in the Age of Jihad

John R. Schmidt

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FROM THE PUBLISHER

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

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