Purifying the Land of the Pure: A History of Pakistan's Religious Minorities

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Purifying the Land of the Pure: A History of Pakistan's Religious Minorities
By Farahnaz Ispahani
Oxford University Press, 2017
224 pp.
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Founded in 1947 as a Muslim homeland but a secular state, Pakistan quickly descended into internal violence as the search for Islamic purity set Muslims against non-Muslims, Sunnis against Shiites and Ahmadis, and various Sunni sects against one another. Ispahani is a journalist and former aide to the secularist leader Benazir Bhutto, who served as prime minister from 1988 to 1990 and again from 1993 to 1996 and who was assassinated in 2007. The author places much of the blame for Pakistan’s ever-worsening intolerance on a series of military men turned politicians who fostered sectarian oppression in pursuit of political gain. Her prime villain is Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, who took power in a coup in 1977 and ruled until 1988 and who instituted a vague law against “blasphemy” that is still widely used to persecute innocent people. The coalition he assembled included the intelligence and military agencies (who saw jihadists as useful tools to extend Pakistani influence into Afghanistan and Kashmir), the Punjabi landholding elite (who saw fundamentalism as a tool to mobilize voters), Saudi Arabia (which saw Sunni Pakistan as a bulwark against Shiite Iran), and the United States (which tolerated human rights violations because of Pakistan’s cooperation in fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan). Unfortunately, this coalition has mostly held.