/ Published May 09, 2018
The Pakistan Paradox: Instability and Resilience by Christophe Jaffrelot. Oxford University Press, 2015, 670 pp.
Christopher Jaffrelot has done an excellent job in explaining the “Pakistan paradox,” as he calls it. The author weaves a beautiful socio-historical account of the instability and the resilience in Pakistan. The Pakistan story is not only about instability but is also one of resilience, which is comfortably forgotten or ignored by intellectuals and the public alike. Jaffrelot rightly points out that to really understand Pakistan, we have to lay Pakistan bare and study it from all angles and perimeters. This is to say, we cannot have a clear picture of the Pakistan paradox if our approach is mired by a particular standpoint and hence the need for an independent and neutral research.
Jaffrelot explains the Pakistan paradox by analyzing three contradictions: the equation of Pakistan with Islam and Urdu, the concentration of power, and the role of Islam in the public sphere. The book is divided into three parts, with each part expounding on one of the contradictions mentioned above. Although these tensions/contradictions have created chronic instability, none have the power to destroy the idea of Pakistan. This resilience is living proof that Pakistan as an idea and an entity has always been caricatured. To grasp the paradox that Pakistan is, Jaffrelot argues that the three contradictions/tensions should be studied together and not separately. The three tensions, “the project for unitary-nation state and provinces with strong ethnic identity, the project of authoritarian political culture and democratic forces and between the competing concepts of Islam” (632), when studied together, present a paradox rather than contradictions. Toward the end, Jaffrelot also touches on external factors in the Pakistan paradox largely based on “Indian threat and American aid” (638–39). The book also shows another aspect of Pakistani policy that has not been dealt with in the detail and seriousness it deserves. Studies about Pakistani policy in relation to India often stop at the impact of the Indian threat on Pakistani foreign policy. However, this book shows that the “Indian threat” has been frequently used by the elite (civilian-military establishment) to garner support and ensure their own survival.
The book is written with much tenacity and presents a very interesting view of Pakistan and its instability problem rather than viewing the country and its issues in an oversimplified and rather incomplete context. The book is a rich socio-historical account of the events and debates on the idea of Pakistan. It is not only unbiased but also rich in insights about the Pakistan story and will be helpful to a student of international relations and Pakistan in particular. The book can also serve as a useful guide to students conducting interdisciplinary research with interest in military history, the political-military nexus, state building, and nation building. Above all, the book is a treat for anyone interested in understanding Pakistan on its own merit and not in conjunction with other factors.
Jawaharlal Nehru University
"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."