Back in 1966, The Times gushed over Pakistan’s success, describing it as ‘one of the most remarkable examples of state and nation building in the post-war period’. In the decades since, the newspaper’s discursive arsenal has been equipped with somewhat different ideas: in March 2009, it described a Pakistan that was ‘losing the war on religious extremism’ and facing a future as a ‘failed state’.
Anatol Lieven sets out to demonstrate that both these discourses are false. His Pakistan is a ‘quite inert and somnolent mass of different societies, with two modernizing impulses fighting to wake it up’ – Islamism and Westernisation. Barring a catastrophic catalyst, like a climate-change disaster or an invasion by the United States, there is ‘a fair chance that Pakistan will in effect shrug both of them off, roll over, and go back to sleep’.
Perched somewhat uncomfortably between scholarship, journalism and travel-writing, Lieven’s book self-consciously locates itself in the tradition of the colonial chroniclers whose thoughts pepper the text. Kinship and patronage, he contends, constitute the basic building blocks of Pakistan’s polity; ideological movements ‘can topple regimes and bring new ones to