A clear account of the dystopian politics of Pakistan.
Journalist Schmidle arrived in February 2006, as the authoritarian rule of Pervez Musharraf was coming under attack. Along the northern border, Taliban forces were demonstrating increasing strength, controlling broad swaths of territory and ruling with merciless efficiency. Meanwhile, traditional religious parties battled each other, particularly the Sunni and Shia Muslims. There was also ethnic strife of all varieties, among such groups as the Baluchis, Punjabs, Sindhis, Pashtuns and Muhajirs, as well as the nationalist movement for a liberal, secular Pakistan. As a young reporter, Schmidle attempted to make sense of everything by traveling to where the story was and speaking to those making it. It was a dangerous game—reporter Daniel Pearl had been kidnapped and brutally murdered a few years earlier for attempting the same thing. Schmidle traveled to the north to interview emerging Taliban leaders and arranged clandestine meetings with radical Islamic clerics, one of whom was soon killed in an attack. He traveled with ethnic rebels and marched with student protestors, all the while avoiding the attention of the ubiquitous government intelligence agencies. The author lets his subjects speak, allowing the reader to understand the logic of their emotions and intentions—some evil are evil, some benign, but all are more than political caricatures of the Western imagination. Schmidle also follows the return from exile of popular former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, and her near-immediate assassination, as well as the August 2008 resignation of Musharraf.
A fully realized portrait of a nation struggling to survive its internal divisions and hatreds.