Frontier of Fear: Confronting the Taliban on Pakistan’s border
David L. Gosling
The Radcliffe Press £25
Church Times Bookshop £22.50
DAVID GOSLING was Principal of Edwardes College, Peshawar, in the North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan, from 2006 to 2010.
A prestigious co-educational higher-education institution, it had a Christian foundation, but was grounded in the culture of an Islamic republic and equally acceptable to Christians and Muslims. Despite the external constraints of courts, education authorities, and intelligence agencies, it could seem to Gosling at times “an oasis-like existence amid the harsh realities of the surrounding area”.
Those realities were the activity of the Taliban and the Pakistani military in the borderlands around the college, intensified by the presence of the United States’ drones in the region. Unequivocally opposed to their use, wrathful at the resultant loss of innocent lives and radicalisation, he declares the robotisation of warfare a dangerous and slippery slope.
Increasing confrontation between militant groups and central and provincial governments put Peshawar and the college in the eye of the storm in 2007, and Gosling himself received death threats. There are very useful, factual chapters on Islam, the history of the region, and the rise of the Taliban.
He has axes to grind and sharpens them in a very personal perspective on the financial scandal (the embezzlement of around 60 million rupees) that erupted in 2010. Gosling’s contract was terminated, illegally and unconstitutionally, as he sees it.
In 2013, he became aware of “antagonism towards me in the UK originating from the Diocese of Peshawar. . . I had rocked the ecclesiastical boat and there appeared to be a co-ordinated campaign against me.”
In a trenchant afterword, he writes: “The persistent refusal of almost all the Church of England hierarchs in London and their Church of Scotland counterparts in Edinburgh to face up to the rampant financial corruption in Edwardes College and elsewhere, represents a gross dereliction of responsibility and betrayal of their donors.”
It is a provocative book, and will make uncomfortable reading in some political and church quarters. But the transforming power of education for all shines through as something to shape the future: “the most powerful weapon you can have to change the world”, he says, quoting Mandela.