This is one person's chronicle of life as a newspaper reoprter in present-day Pakistan and Afghanistan. Evidently, even today, war has its humorous moments
The author was a total newbie, when, in 2004, she became the South Asia Bureau Chief of the Chicago Tribune. She spent much of her time in Afghanistan, when the world's attention was focused on Iraq. Everyone knew that they were fighting the "other war," so they tended to relax. Everyone, that is, except the Taliban, who spent the time quietly regrouping. President Hamid Karzai has been called "The Mayor of Kabul," because his influence extends only that far. According to Barker, even that description might be too generous.
Afghanistan is run by warlords, and is a place where your tribe or clan, and your language, is taken very seriously, especially if you find yourself in the "wrong" part of the country. Barker attends a training session of the Afghan National Police, the people who are supposed to take over after America leaves. Descriptions like "travesty" and "fiasco" come to mind. There is little, or no, coordination of aid, so the chances of aid getting to those who need it the most are tiny.
In Pakistan, the city of Islamabad is not just a sleepy, quiet city; one person described it as "twice as dead as Arlington National Cemetery." Barker is romantically pursued by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who offers to play matchmaker, and wants to be her "friend" (which has a very different meaning in Asia). Vacations in Europe or America are few and far between, and are usually cut short by some major happening in South Asia. For Barker, in both countries, there are a couple of attempts at romance, which don't end well. She meets a constantly changing group of journalistic colleagues, aid workers, military people and various kinds of adrenaline junkies.
After several years of American money, effort and lives, why are Afghanistan and Pakistan still so messed up (for lack of a better term)? This book does a fine job at giving the answer. This is not meant to be a sober political analysis of both countries, but one person's subjective chronicle. It is very much recommended.