Recently, I happened to watch Tariq Ali on 'Book events', discussing his latest book called The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power and was driven to fetch this book come-what-may. Of course, coming from a leading commentator on Pakistan, the book was very informative, strewn with a lot of interesting anecdotes, and gets to the crux of how the United States has always used the territory as a platform to further its anti-communist, and more recently, other ends. For 34 of its 60 years of independence, Pakistan's 'pin-up' generals starved the economy and development of resources for boosting the defense budget. If today, the public opinion in Pakistan is anti- American, it's not without good reason, claims the author. He also warns that if the U.S. decides to take military action on Pakistan, it'll split the army into two with many publicly joining with the jihadi forces.
The book starts with the country's independence. The early leaders didn't have a clear vision of what Pakistan meant, and totally lost faith soon enough. Although the majority of the population followed Islamic faith, they identified more with their regional/cultural differences than their religious identities.
A lot of The Duel deals with the saga of the Bhutto family. The author's strong personal connections to the Pakistani elite has brought out a clear picture of the inner workings of the leadership. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto created the PPP as a personal vehicle to lead an uprising against the general Ayub Khan. When Bhutto rises to power, he fails to deliver on his promises of good education and water. Although the Ali admires Benazir's courage for leading an uprising against General Zia, under whose regime her father is hanged, he also criticizes her for the unprecedented level of corruption when she becomes the Prime Minister. Her brother Murtaza is killed in front of his house when she was the Prime Minister and her husband was widely believed to be the person behind the killing. The cover-up is described in great detail and it's blood-curdling to think that this man is the new face of America's war on terror.
The book throws up quite a few surprising revelations, one of which being that ISI was involved in President Zia's death. Ali also discusses Daniel Pearl's death and says that Musharaf's comments, like "he was too intrusive for his own good," suggests that the ISI was well behind the killing and that the Pakistani government was essentially helpless. Daniel Pearl, according to the author, was especially interested in investigating in any role played by the U.S. in training or backing the ISI.
In all, The Duel is an essential read to learn about the American factor in shaping the destiny of this Pakistan.