Book Review: Pakistan: Beyond the Crisis State

Book Review: Pakistan: Beyond the Crisis State

Edited by Maleeha Lodhi. 

Published by Columbia University Press, New York.  328 pages, 2011.

Reviewed by Commander Youssef Aboul-Enein


Maleeha Lodhi was Pakistan’s Ambassador from 1993 to 1996 and again from 1999 to 2002, she also served as Pakistan’s Ambassador to the Court of Saint James from 2003 to 2008.  She has combined a career of public service to Pakistan and education of not only Pakistanis but Americans studying Pakistan and the region.  Her latest book collects seventeen Pakistani intellectuals, economists, political thinkers, and military affairs experts to discuss the future of their country.  The book is opportune, as relations between the United States and Pakistan remains tense after the killing of Usama Bin Laden in Abottabad, Pakistan.  Ayeha Jalal, who teaches at Tufts University, opens with a chapter on how Pakistan’s past influences the present, she begins by quoting a Washington Times article that referred to Pakistan and Paranoidistan, she then unpackages the perceptions of distrust and merges them with history and context.  She argues that Pakistanis cannot develop a historical consciousness without a credible history.  Jalal also discusses the devaluing of history for ideological reasons. 

Dr. Akbar Ahmed who teaches at American University in Washington D.C. wrote a thoughtful piece entitled, “Why Jinnah Matters,” it is time for more Americans to appreciate that there were two visions of Pakistan upon its founding in 1947, that Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Pakistan’s founder, a secular nation that accommodates diverse Islamic and non-Islamic beliefs by not holding any religion above the state and those like Abu al-Al’a Al-Mawdudi who envision a Pakistan that lives up to Islamic values, and attempts to impose an interpretation of Islamic values on other Muslims and non-Muslims alike.  Ahmed distills Jinnah’s speeches and reminds readers of the course Pakistan may have taken if Jinnah had not died a year into Pakistan’s independence. 

Amb. Lodhi, who edited the book, has a chapter that is highly critical of Pakistan’s civil service and the need for reform as it is currently incapable of delivering governance.  She discusses how Pakistan’s different political parties represent dynastic families, such as the Pakistan’s People’s Party being the purview of the Bhutto dynasty, and Nawaz Sherief dominating the Muslim League.  You have politics of feudalism and clientelist politics in which tribes expect rewards for political support, and religious leaders expect to be compensated for their backing.  The book continues with chapters on the Pakistani Army by Shuja Nawaz and Saeed Shafqat, it is an army attempting to shift from conventional tactics to counter-insurgency, and the 2009 decision to confront the Talibinization of Pakistan as the country’s chief threat.  Chapters explore nuclear policy, economic reform to include the absolute need for balanced tax policies, and the challenge of education spending as a percentage of Gross National Product.  This is a thought provoking book for those interested in Pakistan specifically, and region generally.  It is the voice of experienced Pakistanis and those of Pakistani origin who have thought deeply of the national policies of Pakistan.  

Commander Aboul-Enein wishes to thank the Blackwell Library at Salisbury University for providing a quiet place to write this review.


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From the Raymond Moore article I have quoted in my comment below:

In the field of military welfare and rehabilitation, Pakistan has pioneered a number of projects which might well serve as models in other developing countries. Such programs as land resettlement and the PWSR industries program constitute nation-building of a high order.

Military Review, 1969

Also from the article:

Under this program, unsettled land in the country, particularly in the Sind along the Indian border of West Pakistan, is brought under settlement and cultivation by being offered to veterans of the armed forces or to those soldiers within five years of retirement. The land is allocated on the basis of service, rank, or gallantry in action.

From the Christian Science Monitor, May 2013:

Homemade bombs are the weapon of choice for insurgents in Afghanistan. The Pentagon says there were 14,500 improvised explosive device (IED) attacks in 2012, up 56 percent from 2009. The bombs killed 868 Afghan civilians and 312 coalition soldiers last year. And many – if not most – of those were made using a chemical found in fertilizers.

By cracking down on fertilizer smuggling, the theory goes, one can also cut down the number of improvised explosive devices.

And of course, there is a lot of smuggling and our system has a limited ability to deal with any of it, it's flailing to focus on land reform or smuggling versus looking at the larger picture.

Since our system is back in its traditional Gulfie "get Iran" and eastern NATO "get Russia" mode, where the needs of our nation is subordinate to the mental irritations of our interventionists and the so-called (some hawks, can't hunt for *&$%) hawkish class, there is talk of the US needing to understand counter-unconventional warfare.

I mean, various Eastern NATO and Ukrainian border forces were begging for help years ago, but offensive operations were preferred by their their military class, and our foreign policy class, because the desire to go at the Russians over-rode reasonable policies for counterunconventional warfare, including dealing intelligently with minorities.

The US is lousy at proxy warfare and at counter proxy or counterunconventional warfare because of the inability to speak honestly about the true nature of its problems and how it contributes to the disorder which allows proxies to flourish. Patrick Cockburn:

It is a persistent error by the United States, Britain and their allies in the West to underestimate the extent to which the Sunni-Shia confrontation determines what happens in the Middle East. This is particularly so in those countries in which the Shia, or sects demonised by Sunni governments as Shia, form a significant part of the population. The blindness of the western powers is to a degree self-serving and intentional: it makes it easier for them to ally themselves with the theocratic absolute monarchies of the Gulf without having to admit they have thereby plugged into a bigoted and sectarian agenda.

There is disagreement in intellectual circles over the degree that this is the case; at any rate, the US, because it has sided with one side due to the desire to leverage that one side against Russia or Iran, cannot be honest about anything that it does, and, so, cannot be the subtle force it wishes.

Special Forces stiffening up the Kurdish forces battling IS? Sure, this we can do, but the strange dance with Syrian opposition forces? Here we will play all sides of the fence, all because we still will not study the proxy conflicts that matter in the ways that matter, and I wonder too if this is a because of institutional embarrassment and dislike at being shown up. Or simply that there is no price to be paid for being terribly, terribly wrong within our system.

The trends are still good for our nation, when taking the long view, but I think many young people in the military will simply have to have good patience and focus on what is in front of them. I wish you all the best, but somewhere, I hope some of you have time for your own study, and at least a part of that study should be to look at what I called the "mental irritations" of the DC class which is stuck in the past. Hopelessly stuck in a dream of the late Cold War and the 90s.

Amb. Lodhi, who edited the book, has a chapter that is highly critical of Pakistan’s civil service and the need for reform as it is currently incapable of delivering governance. She discusses how Pakistan’s different political parties represent dynastic families, such as the Pakistan’s People’s Party being the purview of the Bhutto dynasty, and Nawaz Sherief dominating the Muslim League.

This language--of the military as a force for modernization of the society because civilian institutions are weak--is identical to the language of American military journals from the 50s and 60s, and contemporary language of many different armies today. No, really, think about it. Even within the American discourse.

I suspect members of the Bush administration and some so-called Coindinistas mirrored this thought process, and were as captured by it today as others were in the past, and, likely, unaware of its long term origins.

To be fair, neither American Right nor left is able to grasp this aspect of its attitudes toward the region.

The conception of the Army as the main modern force in society is an important motivator of action in addition to any regional fears.

As I wrote in another comments section:

"In the June 1969 volume of Military Review, there is an article that is fascinating to examine in both historical terms, and how it reflects on the steadiness of American attitudes toward the region.

The Pakistan Army and Nationbuilding, Raymond A. Moore, Jr. (page 35)

From the 1969 article from the American military journal, I find the following (the article views all of the Army programs as excellent, and the Pakistani Army as a model modernizing force):

Certainly, it is the largest and probably one of the three most important of the modernizing elite groups--the others are the civil service and the planning commission.


Aqil Shah makes the same point (and has the same referenced article in the footnotes) in the books The Pakistan Army and Democracy.

Where I disagree with the some points made in the book is that I see outside attempts to modernize the country through civilian institutions to be similarly problematic.

But again, this is my eternal naiveté playing out, most of what happens intellectually within institutions is not true scholarly work but simply attempts to cherry pick information to fit pre-existing desires and wants.

I wonder if the American Army found this particularly pleasing because it views itself as a modernizing force abroad, and, so, each fed off the other.

PS: Above, I mean that the American left thinks in terms of outside aid as modernizers and so civilian and military modernizers are really all of a piece.

PPS: Oops, Aqil Shah's book is a true scholarly work, I was just thinking about think tank world in my comments above.

Why do we not do this for everything? Go through one major American military journal region by region and create an institutional narrative of how you have thought about things, how you have changed, and what seems to be the same?

Time and money, of course, so much is diverted to the contractor class and others looking for a quick buck or to make their careers, ideologues, etc.

I wonder, however, what the "Boston" zeitgeist was that contributed to Obama administration policy toward the region, all of the pet ideas of academics were attempted in South Asia, but, of course, hit the rocks because the real world is not some talk for the public at the Brattle.

You know your world, I know mine....