Book Review

'The Wrong Enemy': War correspondent surveys Afghanistan, but sees Pakistan everywhere

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In “The Wrong Enemy: America in Afghanistan, 2001-2014,” New York Times reporter Carlotta Gall provides a sweeping history of the War on Terror led by the United States in Afghanistan based on her on-the-ground reporting that began shortly after 9/11.

Ms. Gall depicts the real situation starting from the surrender of the Taliban in October 2001 due to the U.S. Air Force bombings, the resultant fatalities of innocent Afghan civilians, al-Qaida’s regrouping, the killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, the explosion of militancy in Pakistan and the re-insurgency of the Taliban.

Ms. Gall, who has also reported extensively for The Financial Times and The Economist, has tried to prove Pakistan is the real enemy. According to Ms. Gall, Pakistan’s military — especially Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the country’s premier intelligence agency — has been secretly training militants within Pakistan and Afghanistan while vowing to be the main ally of the U.S. in its War on Terror.

By Carlotta Gall
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt ($28)

Ms. Gall makes her claim on the basis of interviews with Afghan people, politicians and generals of both countries and the United States. She also gives credence to accusations based on hearsay and statements of victims’ families.

For example, Ms. Gall quotes the brother of a Pakistani suicide bomber killed in Afghanistan: “All Taliban are ISI Taliban. It is not possible to go to Afghanistan without the help of the ISI. Everyone says this.”

She urges the United States and NATO forces to stay in Afghanistan until the new government stabilizes and continue its support for Afghan government and its forces to help maintain the passion of Afghan people against Taliban.

“Pakistan, for its part, has to stand up to its responsibilities as a nuclear power and one of the world’s largest Muslim countries and stop spreading terrorism and fanaticism around the world,” Ms. Gall writes.

She borrows the title of her book from a quote by the late U.S. special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard C. Holbrooke, who had said, “We may be fighting the wrong enemy in the wrong country.”

At the same time, Ms. Gall leaves many questions unanswered when she asserts in the foreword that Pakistan is the real enemy.

Ms. Gall rightly says that around 42 journalists have been killed in the past decade, 23 of them murdered, in retaliation for their work in Pakistan.

They have faced tough time while reporting in conflict-heavy areas. While recalling a raid at her room in Quetta in 2006, Ms. Gall links the ISI with the Taliban and ISI’s role in keeping journalists away from their duties.

At the end of the book, Ms. Gall writes, “By my own rough estimate, between 50,000 and 70,000 Afghans have been killed since the start of the war, as well as 3,300 foreign soldiers, 2,220 of them American.”

However, she rarely writes about the losses and sacrifices borne by Pakistani military and citizens. Around 4,000 officials of the Pakistan Army, almost double the U.S. officials’ death toll, lost their lives during the U.S.-led War on Terror while around 36,000 citizens have lost their lives during the same period.

Ms. Gall says that Pakistan is supporting militants in Afghanistan because it considers itself vulnerable in the region in the presence of India and other neighboring countries. However, she declines to write about the role of India in the conflict, which is supporting Afghans for its own reasons.

She correctly reports that the Taliban are regrouping across the border in Pakistan and Afghanistan but she doesn’t tell the readers that the United States has yet to focus on that border to stop insurgency and infiltration which could be helpful in maintaining peace in both countries.

Ms. Gall criticizes the role of the United States in supporting two-time Afghan President Hamid Karzai, despite knowing that he was unable to govern the region.

Ms. Gall also points out the blunders of the U.S Air Force that resulted in scores of innocent Afghans being killed while generating hatred against NATO forces. She rarely talks about the loss of lives as a result of drone strikes in Pakistani territories, either.

Ms. Gall concludes her book with a thought-provoking note: “The United States has already paid heavily in this war, in blood, treasure, and prestige, yet it is not in danger of collapsing as the Soviet Union did after that war, as al-Qaida leaders frequently imagine will happen, and it still has much work to do before leaving to bring Afghanistan and Pakistan into better shape, or be responsible for even more blood and destruction.”

Arshad Dogar, a reporter from Lahore, Pakistan, is an Alfred Friendly Press Partners fellow at the Post-Gazette (

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