The Nine Lives of Pakistan; An Experience with a cost to be expelled?

Declan Walsh with his inquisitive nature tried to catch up with every aspect that he thought somehow shaped the contour of Pakistan, today it is.

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Just a few days ago I was whining about the repetition of ideas that I have been facing after reading so many books on one topic. For instance, recently every next book on Pakistan emitted the experience of deja vu. The only difference, however, was the reality. In Deja Vu, you experience something you haven’t attained (performed, done or whatever you call it) previously but in my case, I have already read them. So to deal with this issue, I thought to take a break from books relevant to Pakistan intending to make a room for the fresh input, yet; seeing “The Nine lives of Pakistan” in a bookstore, again broke my resolution and before I could know, I had it my hands.

Reading the first chapter with the title “Insha’Allah” rose my hopes for getting a masterpiece. The passage from the chapter that completely clutched my mind was “Insha’Allah translates as ‘If God wills it, and I heard it everywhere. The phrase was hardwired into the national psyche – a code, a philosophy, a comfort blanket to get through tough times. Sure, things were hard, people admitted. But Pakistan would stumble through, as it had always done – Insha’Allah” see? It was that enchanting.

Dumbfounded by the abrupt ouster Walsh did not lose his fascination with Pakistan, which could be gauged from his repeated requests to the Government of Pakistan to allow him back into Pakistan.

Declan Walsh, currently working as Chief Africa Correspondent of the New York Times, moved to Pakistan in 2004 to report for the Guardian. Meanwhile, he had started working as Bureau Chief from Pakistan for the New York Times; in a surprise move though, he was officially blacklisted and expelled in 2013 for some unknown reasons by the Pakistani government. Dumbfounded by the abrupt ouster Walsh did not lose his fascination with Pakistan, which could be gauged from his repeated requests to the Government of Pakistan to revoke orders of his expulsion and allow him back into Pakistan. Obviously, it never transpired. Nevertheless, Walsh has spent some nine years in Pakistan, 2004 – 2013. Of course, this was the most valuable time for a journalist like Walsh when the war on terror, Talibanization, and militancy peaked across the country.

If we talk about the book so Walsh with his inquisitive nature tried to catch up with every aspect that he thought somehow shaped the contour of Pakistan, today it is. From the Bangladesh debacle to blasphemy law to an identity crisis in Pakistan “secular or conservative” the prevalence of lawlessness accompanying some serious fault-lines in law enforcement forces to the imposition of national-nationalism “exacting just one identity” to Balochistan issue to the contradictions in the lives of Pakistanis, every delicate point was dealt rather prudently, in other words, the hairsplitting of every detail.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that the book was almost near to perfection; gripping storytelling, dragging unending curiosity till the last page.

Every personality with so many personas suiting the situations was intriguing. Akbar Bugti emerged being a seasoned politician yet condoning honour killing; a tough temperament, a defiant stand-off with the most powerful institution of Pakistan, for the honour of a woman (Dr Shazia? I don’t remember the name) and even in the face of receiving brazen threats yet not tolerating any compromise on his values, could not escape my attention but even erected reverence. If Salman Taseer was ready to take the bullet for Asia Masih, resentment with his own son had also impacted him. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the book was almost near to perfection; gripping storytelling, dragging unending curiosity till the last page, perfect portray of Pakistani-psyche, and seeing some of the important characters of Pakistan beyond the public lenses, actually was a kind of wholesome package.

Nevertheless, the best thing that I really loved about the book was a separate chapter on Asma Jehangir. The iron-roaring lady, a feminist, an iconoclast and a revolutionary, she remained the only character inspiring quintessence. It would take us centuries to find her ilk. Besides, it was a kind of read that would not let you bore.

Something that I didn’t like in “The Nine Lives of Pakistan“, however;

First, in some of the subjects, Declan followed typical journalism. In matters, where he could have added fact-based information, he plainly relied on the grapevine. For instance, the rumour that Zia’s plane crashed because of mangoes, or there must have been the collusion of Mushraf in Benazir’s death and so on so forth. I know these are things that have been lingering in obscurity for so long but that doesn’t tone down the significance of facts. Second, the book, being a feminist, I would say remained exclusive to men. Except for Asma Jhangir or other women with trivial details, we don’t see any woman leading the subject. For me, it was quite disappointing.

The rest I would highly recommend you to read it.

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