Book Review: Pakistan

First I have to tell what this book, “Pakistan:In the Shadow of Jihad and Afghanistan”: is not about. It is not a history of Pakistan, nor does it attempt to tell it anywhere. It does not talk about the partition or the origin of Pakistan. These are all very casually mentioned.
In the introduction the author says “This book grew out of my own personal journey through Pakistan and my curiosity about the paradocical forces that shape the Pakistani life”. This book is a part travelogue, part biography, part I-was-there-when-it-happened, kind of book. This is a collection of seven articles written by the author based on her travel in Pakistan and the angle of the book mentioned in the subtitle “In the Shadow of Jihad and Afghanistan”.

At the end of the book, many images of Pakistan stay with us, and those are not pretty images. One image is that it is a lawless country. One chaper in the book is about Balochistan province, where only the tribal law matters and nawabs still rule. If a man is accused of murder, he has to walk on a bed of burning coals to prove his innocence. Once on a wedding day, the girl’s brother got a doubt that the two had relations before. So he killed both of them. Under tribal law there is no punishment for this.
Another image that the book conveys is of a country that hates America to the core. Like the Arab world, the Pakistanis too blame everything that is wrong in their country to United States. As a Pakistani General told Weaver about the Mujahideen, “These guys are your creation. And you have created one hell of a mess”. Benazir Bhutto tells the same. “The US Government armed these groups, trained them, gave them organizational skills; huge, huge amounts of money were spent, and both the money and the Islamic zeal spilled over here. Then the Americans retreated to Washington and look at the mess they left”.
The Americans still continue to insult Pakistanis increasing the anti-American feelings. On Aug 20, 1998, during the Clinton Administration, several missiles were fired into Afghanistan over Pakistan after a 10 minute warning. The people who were killed by that were many ISI officers who were helping the Taliban. After that President Clinton made a 6 hour visit to Pakistan after a five day visit to India and gave a lecture to Pakistanis on Islamic extremism and democracy.
But even so, if you put sufficient pressure, the whole country can be made to dance to your tune. During the Afghanistan war, several airfields were given to the Americans including a private airport belonging to a Saudi Prince because of the pressure put by the Bush Administration. In the fourth chapter titled “Hunting with the Sheiks”, Weaver, explains how from January for four months, various Sheikhs, Kings, Princes from the Arab world come to Pakistan to hunt the houbara bird, a bird which is becoming extinct. These people do not pass through customs or passport control and violate all laws of the land, but the Govt. of Pakistan does not prevent them because the same Sheikhs spend about 10 million dollars per hunting trip as well as put in money into various madrassas.
Then we get images of what democracy means in Pakistan. When Benazir was the Prime Minister, the army and the ISI was involved in a major way in setting up the Taliban. The President kept the files away from her, the Army never reported anything to her, and the ISI ran domestic surveilance on her and counselled her political oponents. And the Prime Minister of Pakistan came to know the details of her country’s nuclear program from the American Ambassador to Pakistan and the director of CIA. The Indian president has more power than a democratically elected Pakistani Prime Minister.
Each of the seven chapters are easy and exciting to read. The exitement part comes from the fact the author is interviewing the people involved first hand and is present on various other occasions. She is in Chagai desert when a truckload of arms shipped by the Americans are being transferred to the Mujahideen. She is present when Prince Fahd of Saudi Arabia is in Pakistan on a private trip to hunt the houbara bird, the killing of which is banned for all Pakistanis.
The collage we get out of this book is very disturbing. As an Indian, I knew many of the facts. But this disturbing book reveleaed lot more information and gave me an understanding of the deeper problems in that country. This book is a recommended read.

2 thoughts on “Book Review: Pakistan

    JK has an excellent review of Mary Anne Weaver’s Pakistan: In the Shadow of Jihad and Afghanistan, a rather meandering–

  2. The Benazir bhutto govt defeinitely know about the taliban. Taliban was set up to fight heykmatyur – an afghan warlord. The story goes liks this, zardari- benazir’s hubby is a big biz man in cotton industry. Pak during Benazir faced 2 yrs of drought and cotton pakistan’s main exporter earner dried up. so to make up, zardari made arrangements to buy cotton from CIS countries thru the only known way- Afghanistan. But these goods were “confiscated” by Mujahideens among others under Heykmatyur, partly under ahmed masood..etc. To counter these people and for a smooth passage thru afghan, Benazir supported taliban . But things went completely differenet from what they intend to be ,as in history, ans as always will be for eg, Just like East India company did in India or abhimanyu did in mahabharatha. Know that it is easier to get into something than it is to get out of it

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