Kirkus Reviews QR Code


Pakistan in the Contemporary World

by T.V. Paul

Pub Date: Feb. 3rd, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-19-932223-7
Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Pakistan is a mess, writes Paul (International Relations/McGill Univ.; Asymmetric Conflicts: War Initiation by Weaker Powers, 2011, etc.) in this grim yet thoughtful analysis of how it got that way and how, however unlikely, it might straighten out.

Everyone’s list of failing states contains many in Africa but also includes Pakistan, which is equally poor and ruled by a military that pursues a pugnacious, hyper-realpolitik foreign policy and ignores the necessity of economic development. In the chaos following the 1947 partition of British India, Pakistan received little of the bureaucracy, infrastructure and treasury and lost the first of four wars with India. Yet India, despite its own turmoil, corruption and ethnic quarrels, has prospered during recent decades and maintained democratic institutions. Pakistan, on the other hand, remains an impoverished autocracy. “Neither the national security state approach nor the use of religion has pacified the class and ethnic division of Pakistani society,” writes the author. “It is indeed one of the least globalized countries in terms of the core economic categories of trade and investment.” When generals do not govern directly, weak civilian leaders defer to a military that absorbs most of the budget and remains fixated with the next war with India. Other great powers feed this obsession. China considers Pakistan an ally in its border disputes with India. Happy to learn that the generals opposed communism, the United States sent aid, which vastly increased after the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and continues. American leaders are aware that Pakistan spends most on her forces facing India, but they continue to yearn (in vain) for more cooperation in the war on terrorism. This aid has proved a “geostrategic curse,” perpetuating a perilously unstable warrior state and rescuing it from bankruptcy more than once.

Painting a broader picture but covering much the same ground as former Pakistani ambassador Husain Haqqani’s Magnificent Delusions (2013), Paul delivers an equally insightful and harsh portrait of a dysfunctional nation.