A scholarly, depressing portrait of a country whose allegiance to Islam has not been able to hold it together nor prevent its being convulsed by cycles of violence.
Pakistani-American historian Jalal (History/Tufts Univ.; The Pity of Partition: Manto's Life, Times, and Work across the India-Pakistan Divide, 2013, etc.) offers a comprehensive history of Pakistan since its inception in 1947, with an eye toward its defining post-colonial element: military rule. Envisioned by its founder, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, as an arrangement of equitable power sharing between the Muslim provinces and Hindustan (as he called India), Pakistan nonetheless emerged with the dismembered provinces Punjab and Bengal a “truncated…moth-eaten and mutilated state” that was expected to collapse under the weight of its own contradictions. While created as a Muslim homeland, Pakistan left 40 million “to their own devices in mainly Hindu India.” Adding to the imminent instability was the new nation’s push to adopt Urdu as its official language, when nearly 25 percent of the population of East Pakistan was Hindu and used other predominant languages like Pashtun. Jinnah’s early death in 1948 left an unfortunate leadership vacuum and a perpetual internal debate over Pakistan’s national identity. Jalal delineates painstakingly how, in the decades that followed, Pakistan, unlike India, was unable to build institutions of participatory democracy and instead moved toward a centralization of power “under the auspices” of military and bureaucracy. Alliance with the United States is not the sole reason for its militarism, argues Jalal, but it was fed by paranoia of India’s dominance over Kashmir and the need to build its defense forces. Tracing key events—the initial imposition of martial law by President Iskander Mirza in 1958, the 1971 civil war that created Bangladesh, the rise and fall of populist leader Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, and one assassination after the other—Jalal brings us to the present day, where Pakistan, despite being called a failing or failed state, continues to hope for change.
A hard sell for nonacademic readers but an elucidating journey for scholars.