Pakistan: A Reader’s Guide

Just before Operation Geronimo raided Osama bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound, British journalist Anatol Lieven asked, “is it really possible for the United States and Pakistan to go on working together against terrorism?” His conclusion was, “The answer is complicated, but basically it is yes.” And it seems that, despite much hot air on the subject since, nothing much has changed.

Pakistan, the world’s fifth-largest nuclear power, is also one of its most troubled. It’s that combination of powder and keg that has the international community looking on anxiously. The proximity of the Bin Laden compound to a stronghold of Pakistan’s military establishment has prompted anger in Washington DC, confirming long-held suspicions that Pakistan’s political and military elites are playing a duplicitous game. But the takedown doesn’t seem to have changed the political equation, despite much bluster on both the US and Pakistan side. On the weekend, a New York Times op-ed by Talat Masood recommended the US be patient with Pakistan, for lack of better options: “America needs Pakistan’s cooperation to permit the smooth withdrawal of the majority of American troops from Afghanistan before 2012”, he wrote.

Musharraf Zaidi writes the Pakistani government’s anger at the Bin Laden operation is manufactured: “This may not have been an official joint operation, but it was almost certainly a collective effort.” His sentiment is echoed by Immanuel Wallerstein, who on the weekend wrote “former Pakistan President Musharraf made an agreement with President George W. Bush in 2001, in which Musharraf agreed in advance to a unilateral U.S. raid on Osama whenever it located him, with the provision that the Pakistanis would denounce it publicly afterwards.” Wallerstein’s conclusion is along the lines of ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same’: “The alliance remains mutually necessary.”

For more background on Pakistan, Lieven has just published a book of reportage on Pakistan aptly subtitled ‘A Hard Country’. Although it’s now almost three decades old, Salman Rushdie’s 1983 novel Shame is a vivid imagining of Pakistan’s early history. Its two main protagonists are based on Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq.

Fatima Bhutto is appearing in Melbourne as a guest of the Wheeler Centre tomorrow night in conversation with Anton Enus.

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