Central to the fight against al Qaeda and the stability of South and Central Asia, Pakistan is one of today's most important and complex countries. At the core of Pakistani politics lies a 600,000-strong, nuclear-armed military, an institution that has ruled this impoverished nation of 160 million directly or indirectly for more than half its existence. Much of the military's power derives from Pakistan's enduring rivalry with neighboring India over the disputed state of Kashmir, a struggle that has generated at least three wars since 1947. The soldiers have found it easy to intervene in politics on the pretext that corrupt civilian politicians undermine Pakistani stability and security, but they have been abject failures once in power themselves. In fact, military rule has typically stoked the country's ethnic and regional divisions, most violently expressed in the secession of East Pakistan to form the independent state of Bangladesh in 1971. The military's flirtation with Islamist militant groups today, meanwhile, threatens to destabilize Pakistan, its region, and the world at large.
This meticulously researched book refutes conventional theories that the demand for an independent state of Pakistan was driven by immutable differences between Hindus and Muslims or British divide-and-rule strategies. Ayesha Jalal focuses on the role of Pakistan's founding father, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, and his strategic bargaining with the British and the Indian National Congress during the endgame of British rule. She shows that in the 1940s the Muslim League under Jinnah put forward a demand for "Pakistan" mainly as a strategic ploy to safeguard the interests of India's Muslims within a broader consociation of India. But the secular Congress' intransigence to concede to the League's communal demands helped precipitate the partition of India. While the strategic use of religion allowed Jinnah to position himself as the sole spokesman for the Muslim community in India, the political geography of the subcontinent allowed the British use his own "two nation" theory as a razor to slice the two main Muslim majority provinces, the Punjab and Bengal, along communal lines in order to protect their Sikh and Hindu minorities. As a result, what Jinnah got was a "moth-eaten Pakistan" composed of a divided Punjab and a remote, noncontiguous East Bengal.
The Idea of Pakistan. By Stephen P. Cohen. Brookings Institution Press, 2004.
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In this book, Stephen P. Cohen, America's most seasoned expert on Pakistan, provides a necessary corrective to the popular, alarmist view that Pakistan is a state on the brink of collapse. Cohen's central argument is that the country's identity has always been contested, with visions ranging from Jinnah's relative secularism to radical Islamism. Impressive in its breadth and scope, the book spans such topics as the nature of the Pakistani state, its foreign policy, the army, domestic politics and parties, regional and ethnic conflict, the role of Islam, education, demographic trends, and the economy. Toward the end, Cohen sketches several possible futures for Pakistan: more of the same (military-dominated autocracy), genuine democracy, an Islamist state, a failed state, or a ruined post-bellum Pakistan (in the case of a war with India). He predicts that Pakistan is likely to remain suspended between weak democracy and "benevolent autocracy." The book concludes with thoughtful recommendations on U.S. policy options vis-à-vis Pakistan.
The Military and Politics in Pakistan: 1947-1997. By Hasan Askari Rizvi. Sang-e-Meel Publications, 2000.
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Originally published more than 30 years ago, Hasan Askari Rizvi's book was the first in-depth study of the military and politics in Pakistan. It skillfully traces the transformation of a professional "ex-colonial" army into a political one within the context of Pakistan's acute insecurity regarding India and its participation in U.S.-led Cold War alliances. Risvi sees political decay, not military failure, at the heart of Pakistan's praetorianism: weak political institutions, low levels of regime legitimacy, and civilian reliance on soldiers in civil administration, he argues, created an opening for the military to expand its role into civilian life. Over time, persistent military intervention and rule have aided and abetted the development and entrenchment of the army's expansive corporate interests in the state, society, and the economy.
Military Control in Pakistan: The Parallel State. By Mazhar Aziz. Routledge, 2009.
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