Taking its title from a famous 1933 pamphlet that first suggested the name "Pakistan," the book illustrates much of the contrast in modern Pakistan today. In fact, even Schmidle being in Pakistan seems somewhat incongruous. While he was visiting northwestern Pakistan and other areas with a strong radical presence, his father was a Marine Corps general and his brother, a Marine lieutenant, was serving in Anbar Province in Iraq. But as To Live or to Perish Forever demonstrates, Pakistan itself is a world of contrasts.
One of the anomalies may just be the alliance between the U.S. and Pakistan. Schmidle notes that the Taliban operated freely in Pakistan because "everyone, everywhere in Pakistan, seemed to be offering [them] some help." As one Pakistani journalist told him, "Ninety-nine point ninety-nine percent of Pakistanis, from their heart of hearts, are happy to see the Taliban creating problems for the Americans in Afghanistan and for Musharraf" in northwest Pakistan. But it is "the idea of the Taliban," not the men with turbans and guns that infatuates them. "One hundred percent of the people don't want the Taliban in Islamabad, Rawalpindi of even Karachi," the country's capital, military center and largest city, respectively, said the same journalist.
Schmidle, in fact, often encounters this type of antithesis firsthand. Perhaps the prime example is when he asked the leader of one of the two major pro-Taliban factions seeking to implement sharia law in the Swat Valley if he wanted to accompany Schmidle to see the leader of the other faction. "No way," the faction leader said. "Those people are extremists."
Schmidle's efforts to visit and even attempt to understand the extremists as well as more unaligned and common Pakistanis helps make To Live or to Perish Forever useful for a Western reader. Yet there is an another aspect that makes it even more valuable. Despite being an American and offering articles to Western publications, Schmidle wanted to learn about all of Pakistan. That desire results in the reader also getting a broader and more accurate picture of the country and all its contrasts. To Live or to Perish Forever is not a Western-centric look but a reflection of actual immersion in Pakistani culture and politics. As a result, we see other fault lines in Pakistani society, as well as efforts to remedy those problems. We learn of different cultural and historical circumstances that have given rise to conflicts between regional and ethnic groups. These conflicts have not only led to struggles between the government and the regions for the exercise of authority but can also be reflected in how the country's economic resources and development funds are allocated and spent.