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’
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 through which outsiders have viewed the nation,” she has already rounded up the architects of a counter-narrative.
This book, she explains, is the product of a “virtual” conference (in cyberspace) — the voices featured within are bold, imaginative, at times humourous, (where need be) scathing — and, more importantly, powerful enough to carry over the din.
The names need no introduction. They are our nation’s leading historians, award winning journalists, diplomats and scholars who, with their grasp of Pakistan’s complex history, come forth to respond to the criticism — spoken or otherwise, the challenges — short and long term — and hidden dangers both internal and external.
Luminaries such as Shuja Nawaz, Zahid Hussain, Ayesha Jalal and Ahmed Rashid, to name just a few, give Pakistan some much needed context — be it historical, political or religious. They join others in taking on a range of issues that plague society, from its derelict state of the economy, spectacular energy crisis, sorry state of education and eroding sovereignty to its recent history of violence, ill conceived military adventures, the rising spectre of extremism, foreign policy issues and mounting security and governance challenges, in the light of seminal events from the past 64 years.
This parallel storyline has been created keeping regional complexities in mind. Mohsin Hamid’s comforting piece, ‘Why Pakistan will survive’, dwells on the many admirable qualities of this land, providing the perfect rebuttal for those who claim to have heard the ‘fat lady’. He says faugh to the extremists, observing that, “theocracy will not work”. Why? Because “we are too diverse to agree on the interpretation of religious laws”. He comes to the heartening conclusion that the “Taliban cannot win”. He further adds that “false nationalism will not work; we are too diverse to believe it”. Maleeha’s own piece scrutinises Pakistan’s governance failures, identifying five scenarios that range from bleak to optimistic; they can break the stalemate and salvage the future or watch it spiral out of control.
Bold reforms are needed to improve an aging infrastructure and shaky foundations, and the contributors bring imaginative solutions that ensure Pakistan’s longevity by attempting to reset its self-destruct button. Ziad Alahdad appraises the energy deficit, pushing a five-stage process (IEP — Integrated Energy Planning Process), a concept introduced in the 1970s. Dr Ishrat Husain brings out his eight pillars of good governance destined to thrive given a proper environment. Others keep it simple: support taxes, they say, because, apparently, “Pakistanis pay a pittance (10 percent of the GDP) compared to other nations”, and raising it by just a fifth means a gain of Rs 300 billion a year.
In some areas, the proposed business model asks for a system reboot. In others, it can survive with a little tweaking. Either way, their manifesto is worth exploring. These findings have added significance in the wake of recent events where Pakistan’s once powerful establishments have begun to show signs of the strain.
When they talk about the future of nuclear policy, they can envisage both scenarios, one where Pakistan repeats the “cold war nuclear experience of arms control and CBM with stakeholders” and the other where “a radical right-wing government in power wields nuclear assets as an ideologically based power instrument instead of as a security tool”. When they shift to military matters they argue that, “Pakistan’s defence lies in a smaller, highly mobile powerful military relying on nuclear, conventional weapons system with the capability of delivering a damaging riposte.” While scrutinising the army viewed as an entity “that protects its interests at the cost of national interest”, they dismiss the fearsome ISI as a counter-intelligence entity “that operates at behest of government, civil/military aligning with whatever centre of power is deemed more powerful or supportive of its functions”.
Drawing upon this collective wisdom helps readers understand the Pakistan of today in light of its foibles — both past and present. In Ms Lodhi’s words, “The prism of terror and extremism has deflected attention away from the strength and stability of its underlying social structures which have enabled the country to weather national and regional storms and rebound from disasters — natural and manmade.”
This book carries 17 viewpoints that show what Pakistan beyond the crisis state might look like provided it can align the projected vision with reality. It provides 17 reasons to hope.
Oxford University Press;