Harshly critical of the American-backed Pakistani military and deeply concerned with the plight of his native country’s people, London-based filmmaker and novelist Ali (Dictatorship of Capital: Politics and Culture in the 21st Century, 2008, etc.) warns of an imminent “conflagration of despair.”
His narrative moves gradually through the sad morass of Pakistan’s history: its bloody, ethnic-driven birth in 1947, repeated dictatorships, entrenched corruption and incipient Islamic radicalization. The fight against terrorism has renewed America’s interest in the country, he notes; since 9/11 the United States has pressured President Musharraf to the tune of $10 billion to cease harboring tribal insurgents from neighboring Afghanistan. America’s fear that Pakistan is flirting with the jihadists may precipitate more unwanted U.S. intervention, he warns. Ali carefully examines Pakistan’s long, troubled relationship with America since U.S. support of the first military dictatorship by General Ayub Khan in 1958. Patrician political leader Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, father of Benazir, took power during the turbulent period that led to the violent creation of Bangladesh from East Pakistan in 1972; his five-year leadership saw the birth of Pakistan as a nuclear state in defiance of the United States. Bhutto’s “removal,” according to Ali, was deemed necessary, and his chief of staff Zia-ul-Haq became president. Because it was instrumental in routing the Soviets after their invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, the author comments bitterly, “General Zia’s dictatorship thus became the linchpin of U.S. strategy in the region.” Ali considers the tenures of Benazir Bhutto and Musharraf, denouncing both for “clientilism, patronage and corruption on a gigantic scale.” The American-engineered political marriage of convenience between the two ended in disaster, and Musharraf’s military dictatorship is compounding the country’s misery rather than delivering stability. Sage and watchful, Ali considers how the “organic evolution of politics in Pakistan,” wrecked by American intervention, might be salvaged.
Intense, closely observed commentary on perilous developments in an unstable nation.