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Pakistan: In the Shadow of Jihad and Afghanistan


Pakistan: In the Shadow of Jihad and Afghanistan

Mary Anne Weaver, a journalist who has covered the Islamic world
for The New Yorker for over 20 years, has produced a timely book
that is as captivating as it is informative. Recognizing that I
knew almost nothing about this part of the world, which is
currently and negatively impacting my long-held hope to see peace
in the world in my lifetime, I was glad to be given a chance to

Pakistan is an artificially created state. By this I mean the
country wasn't allowed to develop within naturally delineated
geographic boundaries over hundreds, much less thousands, of years.
(It's impossible not to note that we have other such artificially
created states, and they've all been, or still are, trouble.) There
was no Pakistan until 1947, when the former British Empire withdrew
from India. At that time within The Raj, Britain's larger India,
there was pressure to create a separate state for the followers of
Islam. Acceding to that wish, as a kind of good-bye wave to
imperialism, Britain created Pakistan for the Muslims. The Hindus
got to keep the rest of India, and both have been fighting over
Kashmir, and a couple of other things, ever since (a great
oversimplification but for a starting-off point, it will do.) The
territories that became the new country weren't asked if they
wanted to be Pakistan, or not, and therein lies a clue to the
various behaviors we have today.

Publishers Weekly and Kirkus called this book "geo-political" and
"a work of political geography," respectively. With the exception
of the opening chapter and the second chapter, which is about
current Pakistani ruler General Pervez Musharraf, Weaver's writing
seems more in-depth social commentary than political analysis,
which I think is why she is so readable. Her long (albeit
part-time) residency in the countries of which she writes ---
together with her entry to the highest levels of their society ---
gives her a unique view.

On Musharraf, she is unable to enlighten us much; instead she gives
us a number of keenly observed examples, over a long period of
time, of all the contradictions that make Musharraf a chameleon and
an enigma. He is a military dictator who says he will no longer be
a dictator once he has solved certain problems. Those problems,
when detailed, make any U.S. mess seem negligible by comparison.
Considering Pakistan's difficulties probably are worse than Weaver
knows --- because let's face it, what Islamic country is going to
let its secrets out to a woman journalist --- the situation is
mind-boggling indeed. This is where a chill sets in, because the
lives of Americans have already been impacted by this country about
which we know so little, in ways we have never heard of, and we
haven't wanted to think about it. Until now.

Read on, and read between the lines. Soon a one-word subtext
appears. The subtext is spelled O - I - L.

No, Pakistan itself does not have any. But look at the map
following the Contents page: this artificially created country
occupies a crucial gateway --- between the Persian Gulf and all
those exotic-sounding countries that are hard to spell and harder
to pronounce, which used to be part of the Soviet Union; countries
beneath which there are untapped, unexplored reserves of black
gold, AKA oil. Aha! No wonder the United States has had people here
trying to build roads and to act as "advisors" long before most of
us were paying any attention. On the other side of the Persian
Gulf, there's Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and some tiny countries whose
names ring a bell even to the geographically uninitiated: Qatar,
Bahrain, Kuwait. And to the Northwest, Iran.

Closest of all, so close that to the tribes who live in the
mountains of northern Pakistan there is no geographical division at
all, there's Afghanistan. All these countries are Islamic. Some are
fundamentalist and support the Taliban, which the United States
also supported during the first Afghan war, when we wanted to help
drive out the Russians. The Taliban which grew up to bite the hand
that fed it.

Now just when things begin to get heavy, Weaver redirects our
thoughts in a masterful stroke, taking off into a chapter that
reveals her greatest skills. She writes of the tribal lands, of
Balochistan, which is in area the largest state within Pakistan.
She brings us new words, nawab and sardar (tribal princes, nawabs
of the larger tribes and sardars, smaller, all of them powerful in
their own places); slips us into an older, bigger picture that she
illuminates with vivid tales from her own experience. Before we
know it, we've entered another world, a world that has existed
parallel with the one where we live day to day, all this time, but
little did we know. Then she takes us deeper inward, with a
breathtaking chapter in which we observe an ancient tradition:
Saudi princes hunting a fabled bird, the houbara bustard, with
falcons -- hunting in Pakistan, because they've hunted the houbara
to near-extinction in their own land. Her description of the
fabulously wealthy Saudis, who hunt now from specially modified
Mercedes instead of the camels of their forefathers, will linger
long in my mind --- as will the implications of these hunts, which
last for six months on lands not their own.

There is more: a chapter on Benazir Bhutto ("Daughter of
Pakistan"), which is fascinating but hard to read, especially if
you are female yourself and wish the outcome could have been
different; one titled "Deja Vu" that is a collection of learned,
provocative what-ifs about Osama Bin Laden, who couldn't have done
what he did without his years of support from Pakistan and
individual Pakistanis. The well-rounded and provocative picture
concludes with a chapter on Kashmir.

Mary Anne Weaver is a very fine reporter. She writes what she has
seen and heard, and doesn't burden her readers with interpretations
or with her own agenda. If I were to nit-pick, I would wish that
she could have been a little more careful to always let us know
what year she's writing about; the imprecise "a few years earlier"
occurs too often. That's a minor point.

Though Weaver does not come right out and say so in PAKISTAN, one
conclusion is obvious from the material she presents: if it comes
to a battle between the forces of Islam and the forces of "the
West", the Muslims already have all the oil, therefore most of the
money, and Pakistan has had nuclear weapons for a long time ... and
that's before even thinking about which side God is on, as the
Muslims most certainly will.

Readers will have to draw their own conclusions. May you sleep
better than I did last night.

Reviewed by Dianne Day on January 22, 2011

Pakistan: In the Shadow of Jihad and Afghanistan
by Mary Anne Weaver

  • Publication Date: September 10, 2003
  • Genres: Nonfiction
  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • ISBN-10: 0374528861
  • ISBN-13: 9780374528867