Capsule Review

Playing With Fire: Pakistan at War With Itself; Pakistan: Beyond the “Crisis State”

In This Review

Playing with Fire: Pakistan at War with Itself
Playing with Fire: Pakistan at War with Itself
By Pamela Constable
Random House, 2011, 352 pp. $28.00 Purchase
Pakistan: Beyond the "Crisis State" (Columbia/Hurst)
Pakistan: Beyond the "Crisis State" (Columbia/Hurst)
Columbia University Press, 2011, 320 pp. $24.95 Purchase


Constable, a veteran Washington Post reporter, tells a somber tale of honor killings, justice denied, Islamists and terrorists, and a feudal elite avoiding taxation. In this portrait of Pakistan, the country’s heavy-handed military and its elusive Inter-Services Intelligence agency loom large, as does a tendency throughout society to see the outside world in terms of crude conspiracy theories. The dysfunction is so debilitating that at one point, Constable suggests Pakistan should be seen not as a “failed state” but as a “fake state.” 

Pakistan: Beyond the “Crisis State” is a very different book. It is the work of 19 Pakistani experts, including three former career diplomats, three journalists, a former brigadier general, a historian, a novelist, and a number of social scientists and lawyers. Most of the contributions are substantive, but not easy reads: too much data and not enough interpretation. The glossary of the many acronyms and abbreviations used throughout the book extends to more than four pages. Still, the hard slog is rewarding. The many specialties assembled assure the kind of thorough coverage not possible for any single author. The Pakistani roots of the authors might be said to assure a more insider picture, although their otherness can be exaggerated: 11 received their graduate training in the United States, and six now work there. Taken together, their contributions are in no way an apologia for Pakistan’s flaws, and their clear-eyed analyses cover the same deficits deplored by Constable and many others. Still, this collected work is more upbeat about Pakistan and its prospects than is Constable’s book. Both will help readers more clearly see Pakistan in all its complexity.


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