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Pakistan: A Hard Country    by Anatol Lieven order for
by Anatol Lieven
Order:  USA  Can
PublicAffairs, 2011 (2011)
Hardcover, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Bob Walch

Journalist Anatol Lieven has spent years reporting on Pakistan. Of one of the most troubled nations in Asia, he writes, 'Pakistan is divided, disorganized, economically backward, corrupt, violent, unjust, often savagely oppressive towards the poor and women, and home to extremely dangerous forms of extremism and terrorism 'and yet it moves', and is in many ways surprisingly tough and resilient as a state and a society.'

In this informative and interesting book Lieven paints a compelling portrait of a nation that even with its myriad flaws - and goodness knows Pakistan has more than its fair share - has managed to survive. Because it has evolved a series of unique social, economic, religious and military structures that have given it a toughness and resilience, Pakistan continues to hang on.

Also, those who are tempted to take the struggling country lightly do so at their own risk. Given its size, population and location, Pakistan must be taken seriously. And, because of where it is situated, Pakistan, along with Bangladesh, is the most environmentally endangered of all the world's heavily populated states.

As he explains in the introduction, the author originally intended to title this book How Pakistan Works since 'it has actually worked according to its own imperfect but functional patterns'.

Over the sixty year history of the country there have a number of attempts, three military and one civilian, to change the country. In one way or another, they have all failed.

'A fundamental political fact about Pakistan is that the state, whoever claims to lead it, is weak and society in its various forms is immensely strong,' Lieven explains. 'The weakness of the state goes far beyond a dependence on patronage for the survival of governments ... The lack of state services means much of the time, the state as such as an agent with its own independent will does not necessarily affect many people's lives very much, either in terms of benefits or oppressions.'

After he looks at its history, Lieven explains the disparate but potent forces that hold this country together and the role Islamist extremism and the Taliban now play in how Pakistan is governed.

Referring to it as a 'Janus-faced' dilemma, the author states that 'many of the same features of Pakistan's state and government which are responsible for holding Islamist extremism in check are at one and the same time responsible for holding back Pakistan's social, economic and political development'.

A very readable and engaging book about a country that has been much in the headlines of late, this well researched volume is essential reading for anyone who wishes to get a better understanding of why Pakistan presents so many challenges to not only its neighbors but also the United States.

In so many ways, whatever happens in this nation of almost 200 million people has the potential of sending shock waves throughout not only southern Asia but also the rest of the world.

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