Tinderbox: The Past and Future of Pakistan
By M J Akbar
New Book by M J Akbar is recently launched in Delhi by HarperCollins India - Find the Books Page and reviews of the Books on M J Akbar's Blog.
Here's a review from Economist Print Edition for quick read:
Was Partition always going to be violent?
Jan 20th 2011 from PRINT EDITION
Tinderbox: The Past and Future of Pakistan. By M.J. Akbar.
HarperCollins India; 343 pages; 499 rupees
WHEN India and Pakistan began, in 1947, they shared many of the same peoples and a legal and administrative history going back five centuries. What explains their subsequent divergence, with India now broadly stable and prosperous and Pakistan crisis-ridden? According to M.J. Akbar, an erudite Indian journalist who is a Muslim, “The idea of India is stronger than the Indian; the idea of Pakistan is weaker than the Pakistani.”
India was founded as a secular democracy. Given its great diversity, it is hard to think how it could have been otherwise. Pakistan was created to be a homeland for India’s Muslims, an idea that was weak on two counts. First, because it implied a threat to Muslims, or Islam, in Hindu- majority India that in retrospect appears bogus. India’s 160m Muslims are free and no worse off than Pakistan’s 180m. Second, the Islamic rationale for Pakistan contained an ambiguity about the role of Islam in the new state, which has given rise to extremism. As Mr Akbar writes, “the germ of theocracy lay in Pakistan’s genes.”
No one would have been more appalled by this than Pakistan’s founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah. A whisky-drinking anglophile, he envisaged Pakistan as an India-style democracy. Yet he also helped begin its descent by playing upon chauvinist Muslim fears for political gain. A stalwart of the independence movement, he had been a late convert to the cause of Pakistan, swayed to it only after the early collaboration between Hindu and Muslim freedom-fighters had broken down.
There were many reasons for this. Indian Muslims had a history of violent opposition to the British that was at odds with Gandhi’s non-violence. Their elite felt superior to Hindus—a hangover from the Mughal empire—and feared losing their residual privileges under Hindu rule. The leaders of the Congress party, including Jawaharlal Nehru, were insensitive to these fears. It also suited India’s British rulers to worsen the schism. Had any of these parties acted differently, the calamity of partition, in which perhaps a million perished, might perhaps have been avoided.
Among many recent books on Pakistan, Mr Akbar’s stands out. Above all, it is a fine and detailed history of Indian Muslim anger and insecurity, spawned by the 18th-century decline of the Mughals, and the way this played out in the freedom struggle. It is a lively read; Mr Akbar is a stylish writer with an excellent eye for a gag. Of the Mughal emperor Babur, he writes, he “was equally adept at writing poetry, art criticism, military strategy and piling rebel skulls in the shape of a pyramid.”
The book’s final chapters, on Pakistan’s recent struggle with militancy and extremism, are less good. That may have to do with Mr Akbar’s nationality. Denied much access to Pakistan, Indian analysts sometimes struggle to keep abreast of it. But that Mr Akbar is Indian, let it be said, is largely immaterial: his book is fair and balanced. So, too, were his opening remarks at its launch, attended by an array of Indian leaders. “If Salmaan Taseer had been an Indian Muslim, he would be alive today,” he said, referring to the Pakistani governor of Punjab, murdered by a fanatic this month. That was provocative; also true.