- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 6, 2011


By Anatol Lieven
Public Affairs, $35, 558 pages

”Moth-eaten” is not the way you would expect the founding father of a new nation to describe his creation. But that is how founder Mohammed Ali Jinnah charac-

terized his newborn state of Pakistan in 1947. He was right. The immense British Raj - a larger, more peaceful and better administered incarnation of India than any of the Hindu or Muslim empires preceding it - was hastily partitioned into two separate but far from equal new countries.

Smaller, weaker Pakistan was adamantly Muslim. Much larger, economically and militarily stronger India, while officially nonsectarian, was overwhelmingly Hindu in both population and leadership and occupied most of the prime real estate of the former Raj. By contrast, Pakistan hovered on the fringes with a massive, undivided India separating its populations in the west (Punjabi, Sindhi, Kashmiri, Pathan and other tribal Northwest Frontier types) and east (Muslim Bengalis, now cut off from the Bengali economic and intellectual nerve center of Calcutta).

Originally, Muslim Indians - a minority consisting of aristocratic offshoots of the old Mughal Empire, a small, upper-middle class of educated professionals, and millions of poor peasants and city dwellers mostly descended from downtrodden lower-caste Hindus who had converted to Islam during the centuries of Muslim conquest - had hoped for protected status in a new, post-independence Indian confederation embracing both Muslim and Hindu subdivisions.

Instead, thanks to intransigence on both sides and a war-weary British Labor government’s eagerness to cut and run, all hell broke loose. As scholar and foreign correspondent Anatol Lieven explains, a combination of religious fervor with Jinnah’s original intention of balancing Muslim population centers against the overall Hindu majority in a confederation was responsible for the most disastrous aspect of the new Pakistan, namely “the uniting of West Pakistan (the present Pakistan) with Muslim East Bengal. This union made absolutely no sense, and was bound to collapse sooner or later,” which it finally did in 1971 after bloody civil strife and Indian military intervention leading to yet another partition, creating the poverty-stricken new nation of Bangladesh.

To make matters even worse, most of the Muslim League leadership that shaped and ruled Pakistan at the outset were strangers in their own new homeland - members of a Muslim elite that had thrived in New Delhi, Lucknow, Bombay, Calcutta and other sophisticated urban centers.

Suddenly, in 1947, they found themselves in alien territory governing unfamiliar people - many of them primitive frontiersmen with intense tribal loyalties and enmities and almost no sense of national identity. Then, as now, the only thing many Pakistanis shared in common was their Muslim identity, which, while it united them at one level, was itself riven by Sunni, Shia, Sufi and Ismaili rivalries and tensions.

So, from the start, Pakistan was an improbable nation in an impossible situation - one further aggravated by the incredibly bitter events of the partition, during which more than 12 million Hindu and Muslim refugees fled their homes and 200,000 people were killed in communal violence.

One of the few things Pakistan had going for it in its early years was a relatively cordial relationship with America. Unlike in India, where a particularly sanctimonious clique of upper-caste Hindu Congress Party magnates held a political monopoly and followed a nominally neutralist foreign policy that tilted toward the Soviet Union, Pakistani leadership, both military and civilian, tended to be less preachy and more pragmatic.

President Ayub Khan, an intelligent military man who ran Pakistan from 1958 to 1969, was considered a staunch SEATO (South East Asian Treaty Organization) ally in contrast to India’s long-ruling Jawaharlal Nehru, an arrogant patrician with Fabian Socialist leanings and much given to lecturing America and other advanced nations on the moral superiority of his own caste-ridden, corruption-riddled country. Even Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, who visited the subcontinent while first lady, once told this reviewer that she felt more comfortable with the gentlemanly, no-nonsense Ayub Khan than with the oleaginous Mr. Nehru.

Fast-forward to the present: Pakistani-American relations are at an all-time low. Instead of stabilizing Afghanistan, our well-intentioned but clumsy nation-building efforts and massive military presence have seriously destabilized Pakistan. This is bad news because, as Mr. Lieven points out, Pakistan is “quite simply of far more importance to the region, the West and the world than Afghanistan - a statement that is a matter not of sentiment but of mathematics.”

To wit, with more than 180 million people, Pakistan has “nearly six times the population of Afghanistan (or Iraq), twice the population of Iran, and almost two-thirds the population of the entire Arab world put together.” Of course, Pakistan also has nuclear weapons and one of the most powerful armies in Asia.

So Pakistan matters. And thanks to Mr. Lieven’s sound scholarship and perceptive insights in “Pakistan: A Hard Country,” readers will come away with a clearer understanding of why it is such a complex, conflicted country and why it will continue to be of vital interest to the United States long after the last American soldier has come home from Afghanistan.

Aram Bakshian Jr. served as an aide to Presidents Nixon, Ford and Reagan.

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