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TINDERBOX by M.J. Akbar

TINDERBOX

The Past and Future of Pakistan

By M.J. Akbar

Pub Date: July 1st, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-06-213179-9
Publisher: Perennial/HarperCollins

Among the spate of recent books about Pakistan, India Today editorial director Akbar’s (Have Pen, Will Travel: Observations of a Globetrotter, 2011, etc.) elegant, probing work exhibits a sympathetic insider’s understanding of the complex, evolving relationship between Muslims and Hindus in the area.

The author traces the early isolation and vulnerability of the Muslim community in India with the collapse of the Mughal Empire in the mid-18th century, squeezed from both sides by the increasingly numerous Hindus and increasingly powerful British. “A strange alchemy of past superiority and future insecurity shaped the dream of a separate Muslim state in India,” he writes. The Muslim clergy thrived as an educated, military class, led by the moral instruction of Shah Waliullah, who propounded a “theory of distance” regarding the Hindu infidels. His idea of a separate Islamic state without dynasty was taken up by the first Muslim political party, the Muslim League, in 1906. The community’s sense of inferiority rendered it ripe for the embrace of a great galvanizing leader, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, an English-educated lawyer who was embarrassingly unfamiliar with Islamic teachings. Yet it was Gandhi who won the hearts of the Muslims by insisting on carrying out his “non-violent jihad.” Akbar masterly reconstructs the final tensions among the Indian Congress and Muslim League, Gandhi, the British and Jinnah, as unity broke down and partition was declared in August 1947. The struggle between a religious and secular state was just beginning, however, undertaken next by Sayyid Maududi, “godfather” of Islamic fundamentalism in South Asia, charismatic leader Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and strongman General Zia. The author concludes darkly with a contemporary portrait of Pakistan still beset by secessionist worries and religious extremism and Balkanized by Western influence.

Though the chapter on current affairs yields little new insight, Akbar presents a thoughtful historical perspective, rich in detail, research and gloom.