We’re all used to reading about South Asia in the headlines, but it takes an expert to grasp the complex political, social, and military history of a region that has spent the last thirty-plus years as one of the focal points of U.S. foreign policy. Dilip Hiro, author of more than 30 books, and a frequent commentator on South Asian and Islamic affairs, is just such an expert, and in Apocalyptic Realm: Jihadists in South Asia, Hiro offers a comprehensive look behind the headlines and into a region where Pakistan is “the keystone” in an increasingly unstable architecture in which India and Afghanistan are essential components.
Hiro follows the trajectory of the conflict over Kashmir, delves into the time leading up to Pakistan’s development of nuclear weapons, and, of course, traces the history of U.S. intervention in the region. Incorporating newly available information from the classified U.S. Embassy documents published by Wikileaks and recently released archival material from the Kremlin, Hiro gives an up-to-date, rigorous, and balanced analysis of a series of highly charged events—from before the rise of the Taliban all the way up to Obama’s May 2011 announcement that Osama bin Laden had been killed by U.S. forces.
Apocalyptic Realm offers more than a political history; a series of maps of the region allow the reader to follow Hiro’s geographical analysis, especially important in his treatment of Afghanistan. Throughout the book, Hiro also intersperses sections that deal with cultural and religious issues, opening his first chapter with a description of his visit to the mausoleum of a Sufi saint in Delhi, which he uses as a window onto the complex religious climate of South Asia.
The “apocalyptic” of Hiro’s title refers to jihadist efforts to destabilize existing structures in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the word conveying an urgency the reader cannot help but feel in the face of what Hiro makes clear is a rapidly escalating threat of terrorism in South Asia. In his introduction, Hiro does not mince words; the growing jihadist efforts, he writes, represent a “complex but interrelated sociopolitical phenomenon, covering a vital region in turmoil, which has the potential to threaten world peace.”