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Islam and Democracy in Pakistan

Jayant Prasad

By Ayesha Jalal
Harvard University Press, Harvard, 2014, pp. 448, $35.00


Ayesha Jalal’s latest work is a reflective account of Pakistan’s contemporary history and the nascent effort by its citizens to reimagine Pakistan, free from military dominance and as a ‘more resilient federal union’. Much of Jalal’s account of Pakistan covers the skewed civilian-military balance within its state structure.  Lord Mountbatten likened Pakistan’s creation to putting up a tent, not a permanent building nor a Nissen hut. ‘The proverbial tent’, writes Jalal, ‘has been metaphorically transformed into a sprawling military barrack.’   The Army’s dominance of Pakistan’s polity has been such that since the first coup in 1958, military dictatorships have ruled Pakistan for three-fifths of the next 56 years. During the remaining period, elected leaders have increasingly worked within margins determined by the Pakistan Army, especially in respect of Afghanistan, China, India, the United States, and the management of Pakistan’s strategic assets, which include favoured terrorist groups used as sub-conventional instruments to redress its perceived military weaknesses. The Pakistan Army is indeed responsible for much that is wrong with the country today, including its reputation for double-dealing, making Pakistan simultaneously ‘a victim and a springboard of the terror networks,’ according to Dr. Jalal. It is an army that manufactures its own enemies.  The Army’s dominance over civilian institutions, adds Jalal, was facilitated by ‘an insecurity complex based on fears of Indian hegemony.’ It is difficult to dispute her symptomatic description of modern day Pakistan, such as its ‘state sponsored Islamization,’ or as its reputation as ‘the epicenter of Muslim terrorism.’  Where Jalal falters is in suggesting that these flow from ‘the relentless collateral damage of the US-led wars against the Soviet Army and Al Qaeda,’ and that it was American funding of Islamist groups that gave the Afghan ‘jihad’ a global character, as if Pakistan made no contribution to it. She also attributes Pakistan’s ‘difficult postcolonial transition,’ to ‘an international system shaped by Cold War rivalries.’ On the contrary, Pakistan joined the U.S.-led military alliances in response to its own overtures and in its perceived interest. It was a willing partner and beneficiary of the Cold War alliances. A Pakistani military delegation conveyed to American counterparts in Washington in 1951 the country’s willingness to defend the Middle East, opening the doors to the sale of U.S. military equipment to Pakistan. A few years later, when Ayub Khan could not convince Eisenhower ...

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