Dr. Ayesha Jalal is widely recognized, both nationally and internationally, as a pre-eminent historian for South Asia in general, and Pakistan in particular. In a brief, but helpful, preface to this book she mentions her previous work on Jinnah, the creation of Pakistan, martial law, and her personal scholarly perspective on the role Islam has played in shaping the nation.
Currently the holder of an endowed chair at Tufts University, given her status and background Jalal was the natural, if not the best, choice to take on the task of providing readers internationally with an overview of the political challenges faced by the nation from its creation to the present-day in her latest book, The Struggle for Pakistan.
As an overview the book cannot really be faulted. Overviews are by their very nature structured to provide cohesive narratives, not deep intricacies or narrow intrinsic debates. In a surprisingly impassioned prologue for a scholar whom one would expect to be bound by the strictures of academic convention, Jalal underscores the need to alternatively examine the restrictions and opportunities that, for better or for worse, affected the dynamic process of Pakistan’s development over the course of the past six decades.
She then proceeds to outline the blood-soaked birth of the country, the tragic (but inevitable) tensions between the eastern and western wings, the secession of Bangladesh shepherded by Mujib ‘Bangabandhu’ Rehman, Generals Ayub and Yahya Khan’s military strangleholds over their respective governments, Zulfiqar Bhutto’s canny political machinations, General Ziaul Haq’s capitalisation on global issues, and his Islamisation of the country. Also dwelt on at considerable length are Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto’s internecine political-party power struggles, General Musharraf’s ambiguous negotiations between the military and Islamic powers dominating the country, and Asif Zardari’s unlikely, but undeniable, rise to influence.
When it comes to delineating the workings of coalition governments or various parties whether it be the historically older Awami League, or the PPP, the PML-N, and the PTI (to name just some modern ones) Jalal’s skill is unparalleled. That Jalal is a thought-provoking and engaging writer is undeniable, that she is a painstaking historian and sincere inter disciplinarian is not in question, but whether, after publishing this book, she remains a hard-core academic is doubtful to say the least.
A Muslim Homeland and Global Politics (HISTORY), Belknap Press, Harvard University, US 435p.