Pakistan v. Pakistan: On Anatol Lieven

Fatima Bhutto in The Nation:

Fatima372ready To write a book about Pakistan and give it the subtitle “A Hard Country” is a bit like writing a book on Russia and calling it “Russia: A Cold Country,” or dubbing one on Australia “A Far Away Country.” As Anatol Lieven explains, the accidental author of his book’s subtitle is a landowner-politician in the Sindh province of southern Pakistan. “This is a hard country,” the man told Lieven, a place where anyone not in government needs protection from the police, the courts, the bandits, from practically every corner of society. As Lieven shows, while Pakistan may not be hard to understand, it is a dangerous, fearsome country, a hard place to live and harder still to govern. Besides, “A Hard Country” has a nice ring when you consider that the preliminary title of Lieven’s project was “How Pakistan Works.” That would have made for a very short book.

One could also say that Pakistan, despite having the sixth-largest population in the world, is the most familiar unfamiliar country. Everyone knows why they should be afraid of Pakistan—terrorism, Al Qaeda, the Taliban, Asif Zardari (the country’s current president). But good explanations of what any of these menaces mean in a Pakistani context, and how they came to be a part of the nation’s nightmarish social fabric—if indeed they are—are hard to come by. It is a relief that Lieven begins with a calming down, stressing that for all the country’s problems, and contrary to the sensationalism of headline editors in the West, Pakistan is not a failed state. Nor are its problems regional exceptions; insurgencies, rebellions, corruption, autocratic tendencies and inept elites, he reminds us, are rampant throughout southern Asia. Lieven has written a sensible and thorough exploration of Pakistan’s political sphere—from its politicians, provinces and state structures to the burgeoning Taliban, which are unfairly coming to define the sixty-four-year-old country in Western minds. The terror inflicted on Pakistan by the Taliban, Lieven assures, is a sign not of the group’s strength but its weakness: the surest way to fail at building a mass movement is to kill the people most likely to offer support. Absent institution building, a revolt within military ranks and alliances with popular uprisings, the Taliban are a guerrilla movement operating in a blind alley. Pakistan is not, then, in danger of imploding—not unless the United States allows its disastrous war in Afghanistan to spill over into all of Pakistan, or dispatches the Navy SEALs to kill an Al Qaeda lieutenant living in the country.

More here. (Note: Thanks to dear friend C.M.Naim)