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‘West Asia At War’ Book Review: A Comprehensive Guide To A Highly Complex Region

West Asia is a complex region with ever-changing situations driven by endless political turmoil, regional battles, religious struggles, and people’s movements that make headlines often in a manner that indicates an unstable, difficult, unmanageable, and war-stricken region. Yet, it is also a region that has a long and deeply fascinating history of some of the most ancient civilizations in the world. This makes the region culturally valuable with a rich heritage and one that bears symbolic significance in terms of a region that draws people to its multifaceted social, political, religious, and cultural aspects. Hence, it takes a significant amount of understanding and study to decipher the happenings of the region, which is attempted and achieved by Talmiz Ahmad.

If first-hand, on-site, grass-roots experience and an observant mind can come together, then that culminates in West Asia at War by Talmiz Ahmad. With a storytelling style that has an eye for detail, this book serves as a comprehensive non-fictional guide or a handbook to contemporary events in West Asia, also known as the Middle East. Ahmad’s experiences of a long and successful career in the Indian Foreign Services gave him the opportunity to travel far and wide, meet new people, explore new cultures, and understand the dynamics of international politics more closely. This forms the basis of his observations and explanations in this book.

However, he bases these ideas on long years of study, interdisciplinary understanding of the geopolitics, economics, and social setup of the region, and a good amount of hands-on experience that he has gained in handling his position as the Indian ambassador to some countries in the Middle East. This adds to the acceptability of his thoughts, though undoubtedly, this book is his personal take or opinion on his view of the West Asian region and its surrounding areas that have felt the impact of the socio-political developments in West Asia. His ideas delve into the nuances of a region that is highly misunderstood, or rather not understood at all, but a sense of objectivity is attempted throughout the length of the book, despite the entire book being Ahmad’s subjective observations based on his understanding. His take on the region proceeds in a logical, rational, and scientific manner, which forms the basis of the content of this book.

The book’s content spans the time frame of the late 1790s to the present day, with 1798 marking the turning point when West Asia entered the modern era. For the most part, the content of the book revolves around the geopolitics of the region and the impact of that on regional growth as well as global Eurocentric politics. Ahmad notes how strategically important the West Asian region is for the new world order that places stress on Eurasia, West Asia, and the Indian Ocean region. This strategic importance has a lot to do with the globally significant natural gas and oil reservoirs that have high international market value and can turn around the power game. This understanding forms the focal point of the text, which goes on to decipher with exactness, through elaborating facts, historical turning points, and startling observations, the desire to have a hold over the region and its resources. This helps to simplify the complexities of the region and gives readers a closer look at the overall growth and development that the region has seen by charting out country-wise details. There is a lot of space given to explaining the events in a chronological manner and dealing with them with equal importance.

The scientific bent of mind of the author helps to reduce any inkling of bias as he deals with the topics in a rational manner. It is this understanding of maintaining a sense of distance while having spent a few decades in the region that adds to the sense of authenticity of the content and helps to relate to the observations of the author. Despite all this, the book does not stress too much on any specific topic but provides a bird’s-eye view of the contemporary history and present situation of the region. While pre-requisite knowledge about some of the events, names of people, recent historical developments, and understanding of the regional players will be beneficial to readers, that does not mean that the book cannot be read otherwise. The ability to simplify the complexities in a writing style that looks at things from different angles in the same situation adds a freshness to the content that is informative and interesting.

Ahmad presents to explain and not to influence the understanding of the reader. This makes the author add to existing knowledge about the region while creating his own niche as a reliable voice about West Asian happenings. However, the book is rich in information and facts and clearly does not make for a light, leisurely read. It calls for a lot of attention from the reader, who is expected to understand and assess the matters delineated in the book with the help of ample examples, some maps, and cross-referencing other reputed thinkers, activists, observers, and writers about the region. There is also ample discussion of the exactness of the term West Asia as the author presents a perspective of West Asia from the eyes of a South Asian diplomat. He explains the nomenclature and the subtle differences in the meanings of each word, like West Asia, the Middle East, the Gulf, or Middle East and North Africa (MENA).

The book is rather insightful and timely, considering the most recent developments mentioned in it. The chapter on the Gulf War and the aftermath of 9/11 and the way in which West Asia may be perceived comes midway through the book and serves as a critical turning point in the narrative. Other interesting chapters include the impact of the Arab Spring on the region and the significance of Indo-West Asian ties. With a well-done book cover, the text spans over 500 pages of serious content, making it a lengthy read that will be of interest to students of politics, history, economics, sociology, and international relations, or just about anyone who is intrigued by the events in the region.


Tasnima Yasmin
Tasnima Yasmin
Struck by bouts of bibliophilia several times a day, Tasnima can often be found between the pages of a book. She loves switching between book genres and can get terribly garrulous when it comes to discussing her recent reads. With an ever-growing TBR, she is frequently guilt-ridden at not being able to attend to all her book pals at the same time.

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