My review of Anatol Lieven’s must-read book, originally published at IPS.
It is almost obligatory these days to subtitle books on Pakistan with some conjunction of ‘failed’, ‘dangerous’, ‘lawless’, ‘deadly’, ‘frightening’ or ‘tumultuous’. Pakistan is a ‘tinderbox’, forever on the brink, in the eye of the storm, or descending into chaos. It is an ‘Insh’allah nation’ where people passively wait for Allah. In the narrow space ‘between the mosque and the military’, there is much ‘crisis’, ‘terrorism’, ‘militancy’ and ‘global jihad.’
British author and policy analyst Anatol Lieven’s refreshingly understated title Pakistan: A Hard Country eschews emotion for description, which is fitting because the book is a 519-page myth- busting exercise.
Lieven, currently a fellow at the New America Foundation, argues that some of the alarmist claims about Pakistan are indeed true – it is a corrupt, chaotic, violent, oppressive and unjust country. But it is also a remarkably resilient one. It is not nearly as unequal as India or Nigeria, or for that matter the United States. Its security is beset by multiple insurgencies but they affect a smaller proportion of its territory than the ones India faces. Its cities are violent, but no more so than those of comparable size in Latin or even North America. It has an abysmally low rate of tax collection, but, at five percent of the GDP, it also has one of the world’s highest rates of charitable donations. It is no doubt corrupt, but this is due less to the absence of values than to the enduring grip of the old ones of loyalty to family and clan.