Author: Ian Talbot
Publisher: Foundation Books
ISBN/UPC (if available): 1-85065-385-2
This book fills the need for a broad, historically sophisticated understanding of Pakistan, a country at fifty which is understood by many in the West only in terms of stereotypes--the fanatical, authoritarian and reactionary "other" which is unfavorably compared to a tolerant, democratic and progressive India.
There is a need at the time of Pakistan's golden jubilee for it to be taken seriously in its own right as a country of 130 million people. It is in reality a complex plural society which although greatly shaped by the colonial inheritance and circumstances of its birth is also experiencing rapid change. The author's approach breaks down stereotypes and assists in answering the vexed question of why democracy has succeeded in India, while Pakistan has been subject to long periods of authoritarianism during its five decades of existence.
Coventry University historian Talbot piles fact upon grim fact to show how Pakistan, born in suffering, has yet to heal the wounds of its past. The woes of this strategically located country seem overwhelming: rapid urbanization and population growth; high infant mortality and low literacy; unfavorable balance of payments; an economy skewed toward military spending; environmental pollution; refugee problems; and violence related to the trafficking of drugs and arms.
Islam, with its various flavors, has provided "insufficient cement" for building a nation out of warring ethnic, linguistic and regional factions. Added to all this is the country's perennial conflict with India, and the nuclear competition darkening the horizon. Talbot expresses faith in the courage and resilience of the Pakistani people, but his account of authoritarian regimes, chaotic elections and failed efforts at reform is at odds with his hopes for participatory democracy.
Bound to become a standard reference among the watchers of South Asia, this book analyzes the rise and fall of such leaders as Abdul Khan, Yahya Kahn, Zia-ul-Haq, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto, the first female leader of a Muslim state. Even informed readers may be daunted by the detail, and the glossary, table of abbreviations, capsule biographies and short histories of political parties are essential to keeping on top of the densely packed material.
A fundamental question in writing the history of a new nation carved out of a larger area is where, in time, to begin. British historian Talbot (Coventry Univ.) concentrates on the push for Pakistan in the 20th century and then discusses the modern state, omitting its initial eastern portion, now Bangladesh. Oriented toward political history, he fails to give the big picture, offering little treatment of the cultural, ethnic, religious, and social issues that have so challenged development in Pakistan over time. Although the author is English, his book does not exhibit the command of the language so often associated with British scholarship on Southeast Asia, and it could use a glossary for its excessive discussion of splinter political groups, each identified by an acronym. Talbot's audience is a specialized one. Others will have to wait for a subsequent history.
- ADonald Johnson, Univ. of Minnesota Lib., Minneapolis