Pakistan is torn by many forces: feuding ethnolinguistic groups, warring political parties dominated by the rival Bhutto and Sharif families, competing military and civilian power centers, and sectarian rifts. Jaffrelot describes this bewildering tangle in historical depth and forensic detail but also uncovers a central dynamic beneath it: the effort of an aristocratic Urdu-speaking landed elite to preserve its quasi-feudal social privileges. Members of this elite have exploited security threats from Afghanistan and India and relied on a version of Islamic orthodoxy to bolster their legitimacy while conducting round after round of power struggles among themselves. Their too-clever-by-half cultivation of jihadists as proxy warriors in Afghanistan and Kashmir, however, has fostered destabilizing domestic extremism that feeds on social discontent. Yet Jaffrelot finds the country paradoxically resilient: the very fractiousness of the political system hinders any radical departure from the status quo.
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