There is more to Pakistan than the cricket and Kalahnikovs
John Freeman (ed)
4/5 Granta Apart from dubious cricket results, the Kalashnikov and the Koran dominate our understanding of Pakistan, and many people will know much of the grim contents of this book before they open it. The unending struggle in Kashmir, the 1979 hanging of ex-Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the assassination of Bhutto’s daughter Benazir in 2007, Pakistan’s intelligence service’s support for the Afghan Taliban and then, inevitably, that bleak and savage movement’s spread through Pakistan itself. It’s all here but, like a Pakistani test match, there are plenty of surprises.
Pakistan was created in 1947 as a homeland for the Muslims of northern India. Perhaps a million people died in the two countries’ murderous partition, but Pakistan was essentially the creation of one man: Muhammad Ali Jinnah. In ‘Portrait of Jinnah’ by Jane Perlez, an absorbing picture emerges of a chain-smoking ascetic in Savile Row suits, who liked pork and alcohol and would, Perlez suggests, have settled for less than full independence.
Declan Walsh’s ‘Arithmetic on the Frontier’ features an amusing and occasionally disturbing drive through Pakistan’s near-lawless north-west with Anwar Kamal, a parliamentarian cum anti-Taliban militia leader. ‘You see,’ Kamal says to a startled Walsh, ‘this murder and fighting business is very tricky.’
How tricky becomes clear in ‘A Beheading’ by Mohsin Hamid. Three pages of visceral writing following the thoughts of man about to have his throat cut by militants. A man about to bleed to death, just – Hamid seems to imply – as Pakistan is. This is an excellent issue and a reminder of why Granta really matters.