Ms Abrish Nayyar is a student of BS Mass Communications at the National University of Sciences and Technology (NUST). Her subjects of interest are the history of the subcontinent, sociology, and mass media.
Written in 2010, and published the year after, “Pakistan: A Hard Country” is an apt depiction of Pakistan in the first decade post-9/11. In an ideal world, it would have been a way to highlight the mistakes of our leaders from a decade ago and the changes that have occurred since. Instead, it is more of an elaboration on our current issues, political parties, and even climate crisis.
To ensure the utmost accuracy in his work, Anatol Lieven traveled across the country, conversing with locals, their representatives, the government’s representatives, as well as media persons. Divided into four distinct parts, the book is easy to follow: it depicts Pakistan’s trials and tribulations as they unfolded, and then focuses on one specific topic to delve into.
Part One: Land, People, and History
As all books regarding the subcontinent do, we start off with an ode to the Indus Valley Civilization, the lands the river Indus feeds, and the people it is home to. Of course, then there is a brief recap of how this land and people were affected by the people that ruled over it during different eras, and how those influences prevail today.
Lieven then talks about the struggle for a Muslim revival in the 18th century, Sir Syed’s reconciliation attempts of the British and Muslims, and finally, the fight for freedom—the fight for an independent Muslim country. Alongside the narration of these events, the author has included various anecdotes: acquired either from books or other scriptures of the era or by people who witnessed the events.
There is some discussion regarding the lifestyle of the people of Pakistan, but with a nation so diverse, it is nearly impossible to allocate the same traits to all people.
Part Two: Structures
Here, the real deal begins. In this section, Lieven dives into the four most prominent and defining aspects of our society: justice, religion, military, and politics. Although they may seem like overdone choices, Lieven’s critical analysis, paired with the insights provided by those who function as a part of these institutions, truly provides great food for thought.
It is important to know that he does not simply describe the role of each structure, rather there is a significant explanation of how those structures came into being, how they acquired the role and status that they currently have, and their relationships with each other.
For instance, certain political parties like the JUI-F and JI have a religious basis for their ideology. So, they are discussed in both sections, from both angles. In the chapter on politics, the author has discussed the ideological and social background of each party be they feudals or mohajirs, military-backed individuals or middle-class workers.
Part Three: Provinces
The cultural diversity, financial disparity, and contrasting lifestyles of our provinces mean that they can not be described together coherently. So, Anatol Lieven tackles them by categorising: Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan, and the Pathans. In this particular section of Pakistan: A Hard Country, there is an emphasis on how each region has fared on its own – whether it be in terms of its history, or geography.
The most prominent cities of each province are discussed and compared with one another, as well as the rest of the province. The writer has carefully researched and compiled intricate facts and details to ensure that anyone, no matter how familiar they are with Pakistan and its cities, gets the whole picture. Also, this section also evaluates the performance of the dominating political party in each region/province: PML, PPP, and MQM in particular are discussed thoroughly.
Part Four: The Taleban
Since Anatol Lieven has done much work regarding the Taleban, it comes as no surprise that this specific section is what this book came to be known for. Although no commentary on the Pakistan of the 2000s is complete without a mention of the Taleban, it is interesting to read how Lieven portrays them.
As opposed to the barbaric, ruthless fearmongers we see portrayed in the Western media, they are humanised to a great extent here. The use of anecdotes and quotes is clever: it shows what the locals, the people who are affected by the presence of the Taleban, truly think.
All in all, Pakistan: A Hard Country is an excellent overview of the country – there are times you may have to take a break because of how close to home it hits. The sad part, though, is that these realisations are often negative.
For instance, on the very first page of the book, Lieven states, “It is possible that the terrible floods of the summer of 2010 have fundamentally changed and weakened the Pakistani system described in this book…What is certainly true is that if floods and other ecological disasters on this scale become regular events as a result of climate change, then Pakistan will be destroyed as a state and an organised society.”
This, on its own, is a plausible concept, but putting it into the context of the 2022 floods which displaced nearly 33 million people, killed more than a thousand individuals, and caused severe damage to crops and livestock, one can only hope that Lieven’s prophecy falls short.
Despite being a fantastic read, the book does end up leaving you a little hopeless. Perhaps it is time for our policymakers to take a step back and reevaluate their priorities. Pakistan may be a hard country, but everything has a breaking point, and it is important to take preventative measures while we still can.
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