ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Contesting Notions of Pakistan

Pakistan: A Hard Country by Anatol Lieven (London: Allen Lane), 2011; pp xvi + 560 (paper); GBP 16.99. 

The Future of Pakistan by Stephen P Cohen and Others (New Delhi: Oxford University Press), 2011; pp xvi +311 (cloth), Rs 695.
Pakistan: Beyond the ‘Crisis State’ edited by Maleeha Lodhi (Karachi: Oxford University Press), 2011;
pp xxvi + 391 (cloth), PRs 895.
Secularising Islamists? Jama’at-e-Islami and Jama’at-ud-Da’wa in Urban Pakistan by Humeira
Iqtidar (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press), 2011; pp xiii + 216 (cloth), price not stated.
The State of Islam: Culture and Cold War Politics in Pakistan by Saadia Toor (London: Pluto Press), 2011; pp xii + 252 (paper), price not stated.
Muslim Becoming: Aspiration and Skepticism in Pakistan by Naveeda Khan (Durham: Duke University
Press), 2012; pp xii + 261 (paper), price not stated.

How Pakistan is imagined depends on numerous factors inc­luding location, ideology, intention, and academic discipline. American policy hawks in the United States (US) think tanks make predictions about a Pakistan they imagine differently from academics who ought to avoid the ­perils of prediction of a country immersed in multiple uncertainties. Pakistani dia­sporic academics at western universities have access to colleagues, literature and to theoretical frameworks, which many in Pakistan, given the state of the social sciences, do not. On the other hand, scho­lars based in Pakistan have the advantage of local knowledge of an everyday level, of subtle political and cultural ­nuances, of having lived the past as well as the present but may not have the tools, inclination or pressure to publish. Not surprisingly, such positioning – locational, ideological, disciplinary – leads to multiple, contested and contradictory notions and understandings of Pakistan.

Of the six books in this collection, two are clearly of the policy genre, three are academic, and one somewhere in bet­ween. What is interesting is that all three of the academic books are by women scholars – and this reflects output rather than selection – all of whom are based in the west at universities, and all are about Islam in Pakistan. Just these few symbols – women, academics, Islam, teaching at western universities – themselves signal key changes in Pakistan, in its ­society, in its intellectual and academic composition in just over a decade. In ­essays written previously, the state of ­social sciences in Pakistan has been called “dismal” (Zaidi 2002), and much of the “academic” work published by ­Pakistani writers was by the World Bank/United Nations (UN) policymakers (Zaidi 2000). Pakistani academics were conspicuous by their absences, most of whom were mere brokers or consultants for international financial institutions. Clearly, the state of social sciences is less dismal today – there are far more Pakistani academics, especially women, writing on Pakistan and making a name for themselves, engaging not just with Pakistani scholars or issues but with theory as well. Policymakers, on the other hand, are fixated with whether ­Pakistan is a failed state, a failing state, and with the consequences of Pakistan as a home for Islamic terrorism.

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