When he founded Pakistan in 1947, Muhammad Ali Jinnah-an impeccably dressed Westernized Muslim with Victorian manners and a secular outlook-promised the subcontinent's Muslims that they would finally be able to fulfill their cultural and civilizational destiny. Although the new nation arose from a bloodbath of ethnic cleansing and sectarian violence, and its fundamental premise was that Hindus and Muslims could never live together, its early years nevertheless held some promise of a liberal, relatively secular polity. But with time, Jinnah's Pakistan has grown weaker, more authoritarian, and increasingly theocratic. Now set to become the world's fourth most populous nation, it is all of several things: a client state of the United States yet deeply resentful of it; a breeding ground for jihad and al Qaeda as well as a key U.S. ally in the fight against international terrorism; an economy and society run for the benefit of Pakistan's warrior class, yet with a relatively free and feisty press; a country where education and science refuse to flourish but which is nevertheless a declared nuclear power; and an inward-looking society that is manifestly intolerant of minorities but that has never seen anything like the state-organized pogroms of India, Afghanistan, Iran, or China.
In The Idea of Pakistan, Stephen Philip Cohen sets out to understand this enigma of modern history. Cohen is the United States' leading analyst of South Asia, and this authoritative work of broad scope and meticulous research will surely become required reading on Pakistan. It also provides a view from the heart of the American empire, an analysis of how Washington can best advance its interests in South Asia. Cohen's facts are indisputable, his logic cold and clear, and his omissions deliberate and meaningful.
Ominous declarations of imminent chaos in Pakistan abound in the United States. Cohen aims both to raise warnings and to soothe fears. Although he acknowledges that profound problems plague both the idea and the reality of Pakistan, he distances himself from apocalyptic "failed state" scenarios. Catastrophic
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