This is one of the most refreshing books I have read on Pakistan affairs. Well one can say it is one of the best written books in that department. That certainly does not mean everything is accurate or agreeable at times. The writer who however was not biased or wrote with “western prejudice” especially being a British. This book really well, sums up Pakistan till 2010. Nothing much has changed since except that maybe time of early 2000s may be returning, regarding our relations with India and USA. The terrorism situation since then has improved in some ways, in others, it probably has not. But morale definitely has improved and so has trust in army.
The most highlighted problems are ecological ones in the first few chapters. Especially water problems in Pakistan. The constantly decreasing water table, the floods and lack of dams and reservoirs in face of it. He also shows his surprise at water wastefulness of Pakistanis, considering water shortage is drastically increasing. When an English tells you, you are wasting water considering he comes from country were it rains nearly one third of the year, we need to listen because he might have a point.
He also runs comparison between, traditional law and Shariah. Something I was pleasantly surprised by. As he states:
“The population of Pakistan by contrast has a choice between the law of the state, law of the religion (The Shariah), and local folk, tribal or community law.
People move between these three codes depending on circumstances and advantage, often pursuing their goals through several of the simultaneously as well as through violence or more often threat of it. The authorities which are supposed to implement the state law in conjunction with Shariah, very often end up following community law or even turning blind eye to violence. Often this is because they have been corrupted or intimidated but often, too, it is because the police concerned share the cultural attitudes of the populations from which they are recruited. So the sorry nature Pakistan as a ‘negotiated state’, in which authority is a matter of negotiation, compromise, pressure and violence, not formal rules, is exemplified by the area of law and justice.
What a sorry state of affairs that is, unfortunately he could not have put it in better words.
He also kind of denies the western views that Pakistan might suffer from Islamic revolution or some people who are afraid that Pakistan might me liberalized. In words of a young Lahore man Ali Hasan, he sponges off all these assumptions
“If I were to jump on a box and preach revolution with the best programme in the world, you know what would happen? First, people from all the other provinces would say that we can’t follow him, he’s a Punjabi. Then most of the Punjabis would say, we can’t follow him, he’s from such and such biradari. Even in my own village, half of the people would say something like, I can’t follow him, his grandfather beat my uncle in a fight over land. If you preach Islamic revolution most people won’t follow you they practice different kinds of Islam and worship different saints. So you see we can’t unite behind a revolution because we can’t unite behind anything.
. It covers more or less all the plights of this nation on provincial level. This book is solely about Pakistan and its coordination, within a province and between provinces. Also the provincial parties and their damaging roles. I mean they hardly ever play any other kind.
The thing that most shocked me in this book was his take on MQM. It was most surprising. He nearly seems to be in awe of MQM. Which is little weird. Maybe they were not that bloody pre 2010, I don’t know. However I think his tilt towards MQM might be because, they are, unlike PPP and PMLN not feudal or big family run party. It is more of a middle class party to him. What he termed as modern urban politics. I still can’t understand how that is better in wake of what they do but he did play down their open killings in Karachi “a lot”. Again maybe at that time period they were not so active. Also he does not believe in any speculations and against MQM, real evidence is hard to come by or did before Rangers.
There is this reference which sort of describes a lot about our society,
Imran Aslam of Geo described what he called ‘the Sharifs’ Pakistan as
“Conservative with small ‘c’. It is a form of religion that gives stability and comfort but is not fanatical, and is peace with itself – unlike our psychologically and culturally tortured liberals, and equally tortured Islamists.”
It might make more sense in the context he was speaking, but still kind of does, doesn’t it?
This book is worth a read. Highly recommended, very well written done and one gets the feeling he gets Pakistani mentality, well he really tried to at least.