He discusses at length the varieties of South Asian Islam, and their political and social roles in Pakistani society. Islamist politics, he demonstrates, are extremely weak in Pakistan, even if they provoke hysterical headlines in the west. Secularists may see popular allegiance to Islam as one of the biggest problems. But, as Lieven rightly says, "the cults of the saints, and the Sufi orders and Barelvi theology which underpin them, are an immense obstacle to the spread of Taliban and sectarian extremism, and of Islamist politics in general.
From afar, a majority of Pakistanis appear fanatically anti-American while also being hopelessly infatuated with Sharia. Lieven shows that, as in Latin America, anti-Americanism in Pakistan is characterised less by racial or religious supremacism than by a political bitterness about a supposed ally that is perceived to be ruthlessly pursuing its own interests while claiming virtue for its blackest deeds. And if many Pakistanis seem to prefer Islamic or tribal legal codes, it is not because they love stoning women to death but because the modern institutions of the police and judiciary inherited from the British are shockingly corrupt, not to mention profoundly ill-suited to a poor country.
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As one of Lieven's intelligent interlocutors in Pakistan points out, many ordinary people dislike the Anglo-Saxon legal system partly because it offers no compensation: "Yes, they say, the law has hanged my brother's killer, but now who is to support my dead brother's family who, by the way, have ruined themselves bribing the legal system to get the killer punished?
Lieven, a reporter for the Times in Pakistan in the late s, has supplemented his early experience of the country with extensive recent travels, including to a village of Taliban sympathisers in the North West Frontier, and conversations with an impressive cross-section of Pakistan's population: farmers, businessmen, landowners, spies, judges, clerics, politicians, soldiers and jihadis.
Pakistan: A Hard Country
He commands a cosmopolitan range of reference — Irish tribes, Peronism, South Korean dictatorships, and Indian caste violence — as he probes into "the reality of Pakistan's social, economic and cultural power structures". Approaching his subject as a trained anthropologist would, Lieven describes how Pakistan, though nominally a modern nation state, is still largely governed by the "traditions of overriding loyalty to family, clan and religion".
There is hardly an institution in Pakistan that is immune to "the rules of behavior that these loyalties enjoin". These persisting ties of patronage and kinship, which are reminiscent of pre-modern Europe, indicate that the work of creating impersonal modern institutions and turning Pakistanis into citizens of a nation state — a long and brutal process in Europe, as Eugen Weber and others have shown — has barely begun.
This also means that, as Lieven writes, "very few of the words we commonly use in describing the Pakistani state and political system mean what we think they mean, and often they mean something quite different. With some exceptions, this is also true of India's intensely competitive, and often very violent, electoral politics; it explains why of the members of the last Indian parliament faced criminal charges, ranging from murder to human trafficking, and why armies of sycophants still trail the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. Lieven's book is refreshingly free of the condescension that many western writers, conditioned to see their own societies as the apogees of civilisation, bring to Asian countries, assessing them solely in terms of how far they have approximated western political and economic institutions and practices.
He won't dismiss Pakistan's prospects for stability, or its capacity to muddle along like the rest of us, simply because, unlike India, it has failed to satisfactorily resemble a European democracy or nation state. Rather, he insists on the long and unconventional historical view. In the past European societies were in many ways close to that of Pakistan today — and indeed modern Europe has generated far more dreadful atrocities than anything Islam or South Asia has yet achieved. Busy exploding banalities about Pakistan, Lieven develops some blind spots of his own; they include a more generous view of the Pakistani military than is warranted.
Still, Lieven overturns many prejudices, and gives general readers plenty of fresh concepts with which to think about a routinely misrepresented country. Transcending its self-defined parameters, his book makes you reflect rewardingly, too, about how other old, pluralist and only superficially modern societies in the region work.
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. This book really well, sums up Pakistan till Nothing much has changed since Would have given it complete 5 but there are few things which i cant just digest so. Nothing much has changed since except that maybe time of early s 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.
Pakistan: A Hard Country
He also runs comparison between, traditional law and Shariah. Something I was pleasantly surprised by. 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. 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. 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.
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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. It is more of a middle class party to him. What he termed as modern urban politics. 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. 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.
This book is worth a read.
Pakistan: a Hard Country by Anatol Lieven: review
Highly recommended, very well written done and one gets the feeling he gets Pakistani mentality, well he really tried to at least. View 1 comment. A sympathetic and ground-level portrayal of Pakistan. The author approaches the study Pakistan with a fresh look and without any patronising tone that is common to many western writers. The best part of the book is where he presents a realistic picture of the ground realities of Pakistan's legal, economic, social, and cultural power structures and the opposing forces at work in this complex society.
But there are plenty of flaws and blind spots in this work too. He presents an incomplete picture A sympathetic and ground-level portrayal of Pakistan. He presents an incomplete picture especially regarding the Pakistan army and its history of asymmetric warfare. I had to laugh when he calls Pakistan army an "honest" force. He downplays the ideological fanaticism and the state of denial of the Pakistan army and the ISI, and the various strategic decisions that it led to with brutal repercussions.
But still a very insightful book as he portrays a flesh and blood picture of the Pakistani society based upon many ethnographic and first-hand sources, that destroys many stereotypical myths.
And as he says, "Pakistan is in fact a great deal more like India — or India like Pakistan — than either country would wish to admit". View all 4 comments. Mar 31, Fahad rated it it was amazing Shelves: favorites. I recommend this book to anyone who is tired of hearing about Pakistan as a failed state.
In This Review
This book gives a realistic snapshot of what the recent political, social, and cultural situations are in Islamic Republic of Pakistan. I highly enjoyed reading a journalistic account of Pakistan with a sprinkle of history. For a non-Pakistani, or anyone not interested in political parties of Pakistan, it may feel like a bit of a drag. In my opinion, the author does both Pakistan and the West justice.
He is I recommend this book to anyone who is tired of hearing about Pakistan as a failed state. He is not particularly biased towards one view. This should serve as an excellent guide for anyone trying to look at Pakistan objectively, and as a primer for modern history of the South Asian region. View all 3 comments. Apr 12, Bushra rated it really liked it. Superb analysis of Pakistan's history, politics, social norms and even insight into Pakistanis. Have I missed anything? It's basically all one needs to know about about Pakistan.
Lieven seem to know Pakistan than us Pakistanis. It's a shame that no Pakistani has written a neutral and candid analysis of Pakistan like that before. Dec 01, Mikey B.