Every country has two facets. The public and the private. It is but of course the private that one is most after – the eagerness to know more and be able to make sense of it. Pakistan as a country has been quite mysterious. Like a detective novel enticing the reader and arousing almost all senses. That is Pakistan for you. It has become important for probably all the wrong reasons and yet one doesn’t know the true country. This book is one of the many who attempt to know Pakistan and go beyond what is visible to the eye,.
If I had to review the book `Pakistan: A Hard Country’ in one line I would say it is brilliant. The book is well researched, informative, insightful, but most of all for a country that finds itself often in headline news for the wrong reasons, empathetic.
Pakistan is an enigma for even its own citizens. Mr Lieven loosens the knot of this enigma one thread at a time. Lieven has spent many years in the country and the region as a journalist. The network, knowledge and understanding he has assembled is evident each page of the book. What is more, he explains the country not just to western readers. His analysis opens new space for Pakistani readers too. The book is written with that empathy and insight. It makes you often wonder about Pakistan and India (parallels will be drawn) and how the two countries have grown since Independence and the fate of the two.
Lieven leads the reader through an apparent chaotic labyrinth that for many defines Pakistan. Step by step, he picks up each strand of the country’s many facets: its politics, social structure, economy and security to weave a narrative that explains a country and its many problems. Pakistan’s apparent follies no longer remain unique to the country. Its rent seeking and insensitive elite has its counterparts in many countries around the world. Its citizens’ penchant to put the blame for all of the country’s problems on foreign governments and their inability to own up to responsibility too is not unusual. Lieven contextualizes Pakistani attitudes in its social structure. He dedicates chapters to each of Pakistan’s four provinces. They reveal a country diverse in many ways and yet integrated by common values and shared insecurities.
Among all these currents, Lieven leaves the reader reassured.
Despite many natural disasters and challenges resulting from the follies of its governing class, the Pakistani people retain their heads above water. Through hope and surprising self-belief, the larger Pakistani population not only survives, but also believes in a better country for their children. Lieven feels that the country is too important to be given the capricious treatment it has so often received from its allies. The focus on Afghanistan must not detract from Pakistan’s centrality. There will be no stability in the region without progress in Pakistan. Any military adventure against the country would not just be counterproductive. It may be a catastrophe.
Lieven’s lucid prose is alive with details of personal anecdotes that enrich and strengthen his narrative. Perhaps the definitive work on Pakistan and one to be read by all those interested in the country and the region.