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Pakistan: Muddling Through, Crisis by Crisis

D. Suba Chandran

By Stephen P. Cohen
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2011, pp. 311, Rs.695.00


A plethora of books independent and edited have been written on what is happening within Pakistan and where it is heading—by academics, journalists, retired bureaucrats and strategic analysts within Pakistan and elsewhere. Why is there such an interest in Pakistan, in the last few years, especially on its problems and its future? Undoubtedly, the central role of Pakistan—both positive and negative, in the War against Terrorism in the Af-Pak region is a major reason for the interest. Besides, there are three other major interests—the role of Pakistan in the future stability of Afghanistan, and the region, especially its relationship with India, the internal struggle within Pakistan along the moderate and radical divide. These four issues together keep analysts glued to events in Pakistan on a day to day basis. The objective of this volume led by Stephen Cohen and a host of authors from the US, Pakistan and India, as mentioned in the preface is to ‘briefly set forth important variables or factors that might shape Pakistan’s future and to speculate on the likely outcomes.’ This in itself is an arduous task, as anyone following events unfolding in Pakistan would understand. Events and issues change overnight, are undermined or overshadowed by new developments. Problems and crises do not decline or get over; instead there is a bigger crisis, subsuming an earlier crisis. Keeping in mind the above inherent problem in observing Pakistan, despite the self critique in the preface that some authors adhered to the above more closely than the others, the individual chapters address key issues and problems, and more importantly also raise significant questions. Obviously, when the volume was being put together, the crisis between the two main institutions of democracy—the Judiciary and Parliament—had not blown as it did in the first half of 2012. As Cohen himself would argue, predicting the future is more of an art, than a science; and in Pakistan’s case, where at times, even the newspapers get outdated by the time one reads them in the morning, Islamabad forecast is perhaps the toughest assignment for any analyst. Cohen quotes a former Ambassador to define the conundrum: ‘I don’t know where Pakistan is heading, but once it gets there, I will explain to you why it was inevitable.’ Cohen also presents seven scenarios—a few are less likely such as democratic consolidation, breakaway and breakup, and an ...

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