Skip to main content

BOOK REVIEW: Pakistan at Knife’s Edge

Thanks to Liberty Books for the review copy

Published in DAILY TIMES (15 MAY 2010) under the heading: Anatomy of a crisis

Reviewed by: Afrah Jamal

Post-2001, Pakistan is braced for impact, trying to keep its strategic interests from getting tangled up with other agendas. Yet, the country is not a first-time entrant in the game of power. It came out of the Soviet-Afghan adventure with its wits intact, and went on a (mis)adventure in Afghanistan aiming to gain strategic depth immediately afterwards, with carefully cultivated ‘assets’ and quietly managed sideshows with the leftover jihadists in Kashmir, to the dismay of many.

Accepting the lead role of an impartial observer in the second round of regional power games has brought it some unwanted attention from extremist quarters and left it shaken to the core. Allies may be footing the bill for this performance but ordinary Pakistanis are paying the price. It has been an unseasonably busy few years, what with keeping terror at bay, restoring democracy, safeguarding the judiciary and preventing the trend of radicalisation from spreading.

The late Naqvi (1928-2009), a prominent journalist, is an astute observer, who provides a bird’s-eye view of a region feeling the deadly blowback of its policies — past and present — geared up for the ultimate fight for survival. Add to this an economy, which, he opines, has been made bankrupt by trying to keep up with the Indian Joneses.

Little surprise, then, that the nation is facing its most challenging set of problems in its 62-year history. The new regime has its hands full, but its present set of policies, towards India and Afghanistan at least, according to the writer, are unsustainable and a prescription for trouble. His view that the country is being run for the benefit of the top capitalists and the US reflect his feelings for the allies.

Naqvi championed human rights and founded the ‘Pakistan-India Peoples’ Forum for Peace and Democracy’ and the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP). He, like so many others, must have read the writing on the wall when he decided to fashion some new parameters for success from the outdated policies lying around.

This is a posthumous publication that follows the transformation of Pakistani civil society, the vegetative state of affairs, and picks up on the outside influences that seem to be shaping Pakistan’s foreign policy. Naqvi screens the past for signs of change, settling on the judicial crisis and Red Mosque debacle as turning points for one regime, and focusing on the subsequent spin-offs that have affected the course of another. While going back and forth between the two regimes, he casually notes that it is as if Musharraf is still running the show from his retirement retreat, for all the difference it has made.

Most of his concerns have been echoed in the mainstream media with growing urgency. He thinks that blindly following the American piper will end badly and takes stock of Western contingency plans should the unthinkable occur and extremism prevail. In his assessment, this worst-case scenario is preventable by allowing a working democracy to continue (no sudden overthrows) and “letting the rule of law prevail to facilitate economic, social reforms and using political reforms to resolve conflict situations”.

He explores options still open to a nation in freefall. His solution is to introduce some drag by asking for withdrawal from the American Asian adventure, but without working against allies or supporting the extremists. When Naqvi suggests a resolution of problems through democratic methods, not American dictates, he will no doubt find many takers in today’s charged environment.

Yet, where he ascertains the bitter cost of this strategic partnership, he is also not afraid to take a swipe at cowardly parties that decry drone attacks to gain political mileage, pointing out that those who favour this war should have the moral courage to accept the drone presence in Pakistan.

He scrutinises the new age phenomenon of the local Taliban with a practised eye, referring to the collateral damage as the Taliban’s collateral advantage. But even as he suggests a change in tactics, he is under no illusions about the Taliban’s agenda. He sweeps aside the religious undertones to reveal their true colours, pointing out that “the course of Pakistan is being subverted in the name of Islam, a favourite alias of different militant outfits fighting for their own narrow ambitions of power”.

That they must be destroyed is a given, but he has little confidence in any foolhardy approach that relies purely on military might where chances of making headway “by acting thoughtlessly like the US administration” lessen. Instead, he sees a war where civilian casualties trump militant deaths and militant recruitment increases due to resentment against Pak-US-led bombings. Shortsighted and suicidal are the words he uses for this strategy.

Pakistan at Knife’s Edge is an exploratory work that proposes alternate routes that are perhaps less likely to end in disaster. While it covers a lot of ground and makes good calls along the way, it also keeps circling back to the points already made earlier in the narrative, which can be very distracting. M B Naqvi’s parting shot aimed at the façade of democracy, however, will make up for any shortcomings.

Roli Books;
Pp 260;
Rs 650
Author: M B Naqvi

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

BOOK REVIEW: Pakistan: Beyond The ‘Crisis State’ / Author: Maleeha Lodhi

Thanks to Liberty Books for the review copy

Published in Daily Times / Saturday, June 18, 2011

Reviewed by Afrah Jamal

Published under the title: 17 Reasons to Hope

“History will be what we make it. If we go on as we are, history will have its revenge and retribution”— from the movie, ‘Good Night, & Good Luck’

A region known for most “terrorist sightings”, a place feared for harbouring medieval mindsets next to progressive thinkers and a nation shunned for having an affinity for nuclear toys. By turns a cautionary tale, an indispensable ally and an international pariah, Pakistan does not fit into any mould — for long. But its name crops up whenever things go awry.

Pakistan: Beyond the ‘Crisis State’ is a compilation of articles put together by Maleeha Lodhi that countermands the grim prognosis. When Ms Lodhi, who has served as Pakistan’s ambassador to the US and UK, acknowledges that “resilience has been part of Pakistan’s story from its inception, obscured by the single issue lens…

Quarter Preview: ‘MANTO’

The Good Times GT Magazine (Friday Times) published the official images sent with this write-up, posting the coverage here.

Manto is all the rage these days.

The writer who orbits the South Asian literary stratosphere recently marked his centennial anniversary and now appears as the subject of a new film. It has been directed by Sarmad Sultan Khoosat, who also plays the title character and scripted by Shahid Mahmood Nadeem. Babar Javed produces. Media men & women invited for a first look in August had high expectations.

Contrary to what many thought, this was not a curtain raiser but a quarter preview, and the attendees found themselves at the screening of an extended teaser of ‘MANTO’ - the movie at Nueplex Cinemas – Karachi. The private showing also unveiled trailers of upcoming serials courtesy of GEO Films Production. The figure of Manto himself stays in shadow till 11th September – a day red flagged after 2001, but one that has always been significant for Pakistan and observ…

VIEW: A (Deep) State of Denial

First Published inDaily Times / 31 Dec 2012 (Monday)

By: Afrah Jamal

Thank you to the folks interested in publishing this in Urdu


Hapless polio teams are in the crosshair of extremists and people have come up with their own theories to explain the presence of health workers in the montage of violence. If a polio team does not reach any home, the residents can call a number and let them know. Many houses were left wondering about the fate of the drive this year after the three-day carnage that claimed nine lives, six of them women. A maulana on the media attributes the sudden spike in polio-related violence to government. More polio means more $$, he hisses confidentially. Twitter-sphere assigns the subsequent instability to the dreaded ‘deep state’.



According to them, it can sacrifice anything and anyone on the altar of national interest or in this case — the lure of more dollars. Every ‘whodunit’ begins or ends with a deep state cameo. Apparently, their interference is legendary, as is …

BOOK REVIEW: Thinner Than Skin

Published inDaily Times (Pakistan) / 23 Feb 2013
Author: Uzma Aslam Khan
Reviewed by: Afrah Jamal



Uzma Aslam Khan is the author of critically acclaimed, award winning books like Trespassing and Geometry of God. Her new novel, 'Thinner than Skin' goes off the beaten track for inspiration. A realm built upon incomprehensible layers of intrigue, violence, fairytales and legends provides the stage. People foraging for a lifeline become the props. And the inevitable soundtrack of radicalism now coursing through every fibre sets Pakistan’s modern heart to an ancient beat.

It is these paradoxes that bring its US-based protagonist, Nadir, along with a German-Pakistani girl, Farhana, on a trek from northern California to the Kaghan Valley. Wesley — the American in the background — is drawn to the mating glacier ritual, which is an actual thing. And their trusty ally/guide Irfan charts the course to their path of self-discovery past majestic mountains and ice encrusted lakes.

Their quest …

KARACHI DIARIES: KOMAL RIZVI VDO Launch / Press Conference

First Published in Economic Affairs (Islamabad) / June 2014



This brother / sister duo came highly recommended. Their music video launch / press conference held at Port Grand, (Karachi) will be the talk of town. And their experimental new sound would be put up for review.



Komal Rizvi, who made her debut as a singer / actress / VJ in the 1990’s, was staging a comeback with her new single - ‘Kalli Kalli’ in April 2014. Hasan Rizvi stars in the video with his sister; Sohail Javed directs. It would be Komal’s first launch and Hasan’s umpteenth choreography.



The filming had been eventful, the storyboard toyed with the elements - water, fire,,,, etc, as did the musicians; one was scorched, the other drowned, several times over reportedly. Nothing had dampened their ardour, or kept them from bombarding Sohail with a steady stream of creative input. ‘Add a tabla’ one would say, ‘how about a sitar’ the other would suggest.


The award winning director survived, and was later hailed for his …

INTERVIEW: What makes a Fighter Ace? (2006)

Written many moons ago when i was an Asst. Ed with Social Pages.

Published in Defence Journal September 2006

Republished in PROBENEWS(2006)


Legend has it that a Sabre took off from Sargodha airfield to intercept Hunters on a fateful September morning & landed back with an Ace.

120 Seconds: Squadron Leader Alam in a Sabre is on Air Combat Patrol accompanied by his wingman. Upon observing IAF Hunters exiting after an unsuccessful air strike over Sargodha, Alam sets off in hot pursuit of the enemy formation. He pursues a fleeing Hunter and eventually shoots it down with a missile shot.


He spots the other members of the Hunter formations flying very low and as he approaches the trailing member he is spotted and the entire formation breaks (violent turn) in the same direction - a fatal error as in less than two minute Alam has taken out four of them, (as confirmed by more than one independent eye witness) 1 bringing his tally for the mission to five…… And an Ace is born - a legendry ins…

BOOK REVIEW: Hira Mandi / Author: Claudine Le Tourneur Dlson

Published in Daily Times Saturday, February 11, 2012

Reproduced on Claudine Le Tourneur Dlson's Website

Translated from French by Priyanka Jhijaria

Reviewed by Afrah Jamal

A programme about Hira Mandi did the internet rounds a couple of years ago. It claimed, among other things, that the sons of the ‘dancers’ reportedly end up as lawyers, doctors, artists — a few join politics and some even reach the military. These outrageous statistics may be one of the reasons the documentary was banned from the mainstream media. That and its primary premise — the plight of the fallen women — would prompt the conservatives to howl with dismay before scurrying off to bury any evidence in the backyard along with other bodies.


Claudine Le Tourneur d’Ison embeds such wrenching moments in a bold narrative where its doomed protagonist can hail the brave new world and its genteel patrons from an extraordinary vantage point. The expedition to the underworld with the unfortunate progeny and the hapless…