Book review: The nine lives of Pakistan by Declan Walsh

I had been reading some pretty heavy but interesting stuff (one which demands note making if you really want to retain stuff that you have read) these days, “Mohajir and the Nation”, “Defending Muhammad in Modernity”, “Fateful Triangle” and “Muslims and the Media Images”. Meanwhile purchased this book…

I have been a regular reader of Declan Walsh’s articles from Pakistan and was also intrigued when he was declared a persona non grata and asked to leave Pakistan in 2013 by the Government Of Pakistan (read agencies). The logic failed me, for his stories were mostly sympathetic to Pakistan. In this book he provides the answer as to why he was asked to leave Pakistan; for reporting on Baluchistan. An old ISI hand who was tasked with trailing him during his visit to Quetta on his reporting assignment but who subsequently left the organisation, and was now seeking an asylum in Europe, finally sought him out and told him the reason of his expulsion in 2019. Personally, apart from this chapter, if you are a Pakistan watcher, there is hardly anything new that this book tells you. Walsh tries to explain the contradictions that is Pakistan (but if you ask me objectively, which country on earth is not?), where opposites like westernization and philistinism exists with traditionalism and medievalism, votaries of liberal and secular values challenge state narratives and fissiparous tendencies coexist with Pakistani nationalism.

The biographies of personalities like Jinnah, Anwar Kamal Marwat Khan, Asma Jahangir, Salman Taseer, Col Imam, Chaudhary Aslam Khan, Nawab Akbar Bughti provides the palimpsest on which are written the stories of Pakistani contradictions (and for me it’s resilience). Now if you are a Pakistan watcher, these are pretty well known figures and so are their stories. Declan’s journalistic take on these personalities and their stories had nothing new to add for me personally. So this made it a pretty easy read for me…a break from the heavy stuff I was reading which demanded making notes…(सो बिस्तर पे लेट के नहीं पढ़ सकते आप)…The book finished in a day…! But let me add, if you are not an avid Pakistani follower, then this book should be on your ‘to read’ list. It will help you understand the country better.

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