given the situation in Pakistan today. But this collection of essays by Pakistan’s finest minds does not fall into the trap of reiterating all the problems. Instead, it focuses on solutions. The themes in the book are governance, security, foreign policy, energy, militancy, economic and human development and the country’s troubled past.
In many ways, it is a poignant recording of the story of a hardworking and proud people so sadly shortchanged by an inept civilian leadership and a violently ambitious army. Historian Ayesha Jalal speaks of how a refusal to study the country’s history in a fair manner has acted as a barrier to people remodelling their emotional framework. An authority on contemporary Islam, Akbar S Ahmed writes with regret of Mohammed Ali Jinnah’s vision of an inclusive, modern State could have been the answer to the problems that Pakistan has faced in its tumultuous history. But Jinnah’s legacy has been frittered away, distorted by his political heirs, most of them unable to see beyond the here and now.
Novelist Mohsin Hamid is highly optimistic in his essay about Pakistan’s ability to pull itself up by the bootstraps. He identifies poor and skewed tax collection as a reason for Pakistan’s coffers not having enough to fund its own development and being trapped in a client State mode vis-à-vis the US. He is upbeat about the richness of Pakistan’s tradition, its fledgling democracy and diversity as factors that will eventually pull it back from the brink.
Like Banquo’s ghost, the Pakistani military features throughout the book, its influence in literally every sphere of life in the country. Saeed Shafqat is hopeful that the military that has held sway over the country for so many years since the creation of Pakistan will eventually be restricted by a national political consensus.
Zaid Haider’s essay is perhaps the one that will be of most interest to Indian readers. It deals with Pakistan’s daunting struggle against extremism and militancy. He is critical of the wasted opportunity that presented itself to Zulfikar Ali Bhutto when he became the first civilian politician to rule Pakistan after a 15-year military rule. Coming to power on a populist platform, Bhutto at first settled on a hotch-potch ideology of Islamic socialism. But along the way, he turned more hardline, banning alcohol and gambling and declaring the Ahmadis non-Muslims. Launching Pakistan’s nuclear programme, it was Bhutto who came up with the concept of an ‘Islamic bomb’ to counter the ‘Jewish’, ‘Christian’ and ‘Hindu’ bomb.
But the Bhutto years were a Sunday school picnic compared to the tenure of Zia-ul-Haq who saw Islam as part of the revolutionary process to overhaul Pakistan. His Islamisation drive did not leave any institution untouched, including the judiciary. He cultivated a pernicious strain of Islam and under his benign gaze, many of the militant outfits which plague Pakistan and the region today began to flourish. Perhaps the greatest disservice he did to his country was the radicalisation of the army. His death did not make things better for Pakistan. In fact, it began a dangerous drift into political instability, isolation and jihadism, the effects of which are felt even today.
Journalist Zahid Hussain builds on this with his essay on battling militancy. He documents the rise of the Taliban and its ruinous effect on Pakistan. He doesn’t see an armed response as the antidote to militancy but a more holistic approach in which there has to be political mobilisation of people to combat terror.
No volume on Pakistan can be complete without the India factor and this is what Syed Rifaat Hussain deals with. Tracing the fractious relationship between the two countries, he dispassionately examines why India has insisted on recasting any dialogue with Pakistan around the issue of terrorism. Yet, for all the problems and hostility, he sees hope in Pakistan taking note of India’s rise in the global arena and setting its own house in order. The other option would be to step up jihadism so that India would bleed. But then again, so would Pakistan. He even sees Pakistan hitching its stars onto the Indian economic wagon while the two work out ways to bury the hatchet on a number of contentious issues.
The other chapters on Pakistan’s nuclear quest, its economy, educational shortcomings and pursuit of energy make for compelling reading. Where this book scores is that it contains many viable solutions for a country that has so spectacularly failed to live up to its potential. If even some of the suggestions were to be taken up, it could be the beginning of the realisation of the vision of its great founding father.