The Nine Lives of Pakistan: Dispatches from a Divided Nation

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The Nine Lives of Pakistan: Dispatches from a Divided Nation

The Nine Lives of Pakistan: Dispatches from a Divided Nation

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Balochistan is the story nobody’s heard of outside Pakistan, and few inside the country are particularly aware of. Baloch protesters are demanding an end to the decades-old problem of forced disappearances and extrajudicial killings. Finance is provided by PayPal Credit (a trading name of PayPal UK Ltd, Whittaker House, Whittaker Avenue, Richmond-Upon-Thames, Surrey, United Kingdom, TW9 1EH). We learn from the book that there was a plot to kill veteran activist Asma Jahangir when she opened up against human rights abuses in Balochistan. You’re quoting Sadat Hasan Manto, a giant of 20th century Urdu literature, with regard to Pakistani history, culture, and politics.

His tenure coincided with some of the country’s most turbulent modern years: fraught elections, assassinations and military rule; a war next door and within; and a tenuous alliance with the United States fraying to the breaking point, particularly after American Special Forces found Osama bin Laden hiding inside Pakistan, and killed him. Accompanying him as he went from village to village campaigning, Walsh observes drily: “I didn’t see a single woman. He had worked with the spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), and painted a frank picture of how the agency worked from the inside. His travels across the country took him from the raucous port of Karachi to the gilded salons of Lahore to the lawless frontier of Waziristan, compiling a portrait of this land of contradictions through the people.

Most of the time he is not looking for trouble, and it is hard not to envy him all the parties and feasts to which he finds himself invited. Walsh is an international correspondent for the New York Times of long standing who was bureau chief in Pakistan for a decade, before his encounter with an intelligence agent and subsequent deportation. But Manto’s other writings, and many of his real-life experiences, foreshadowed the issues that still loom large.

The result is an ideal book for a reader with little or no exposure to Pakistan, who nevertheless wants to read one inclusive book that provides an accurate rendering of the fundamentals. Benazir Bhutto was the leader of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and twice became president of Pakistan in the late 20 th Century, making her the first female president in a Muslim majority country.Manto is the ultimate antidote to the saccharine portraits of what Pakistan is, or could be, that are favored by Pakistanis ideologues. Just as a cat is perceived to have “nine lives,” escaping from one situation after another, Pakistan continues to plug along, avoiding its oft-predicted demise. He repeats the oft-heard truism that Pakistan is a country living on borrowed time, “a country of sighs and regrets, the only one I had been in where some of its own citizens quietly regretted it had ever come into being. The foreign minister of Laos, this year’s ASEAN chair, expressed cautious optimism about the potential for progress in 2024. Despite being a complex read, The Nine Lives of Pakistan: Dispatches from a Divided Nation is compelling, and it is worth persevering since it provides a detailed personal discovery of an extremely interesting country.

Written in the aftermath of Walsh's abrupt deportation, The Nine Lives of Pakistan concludes with an astonishing encounter with that agent, and his revelations about Pakistan's powerful security state. He, in some ways, feels sorry for these diplomats, and their need to constantly carry out and defend unpopular and contradictory policies. In Pakistan, and perhaps South Asia more generally, many people enjoy greater freedoms and more permissive lives than outward appearances suggest.The demise of Pakistan - a country with a reputation for volatility, brutality and radical Islam - is regularly predicted. Walsh has a rapier wit, a talent for skilfully sketched pen portraits and a sharp eye for tragedy, paradox and absurdity.



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