continually undermines the development of a civic identity and urban culture’. The evidence: ‘My driver, a recent migrant to Faisalabad from a village (but a village only 10 miles away), could not find the tower in the dead centre of town, even when I showed him a postcard of it.’
In similar vein, Lieven visits a textile manufacturer whose ‘headquarters building could have been an unusually stylish office in Singapore or Frankfurt. None of this is the kind of thing one sees in a failed state.’ It would be interesting to know what he would make of the magnificent Burj-al-Fateh Hotel in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum.
Fact too often comes in second to a good tale. Writing of Quetta, Lieven says: ‘The kepis of the Foreign Legion would not feel out of place here, and as for the sola topees of the British Raj – well, they built the place.’ They didn’t – except in Lieven’s imagination. The city has been documented in history since the eleventh century. Elsewhere, nuance is lacking. It may be that A Q Khan, who ran the Pakistani nuclear proliferation ring that fed North Korea, Iran and Libya, is, as Lieven insists, ‘not an Islamist, but a secular Pakistani nationalist’. Benazir Bhutto, who was presumably privy, as Pakistan’s president, to some information on the issue, felt precisely the opposite – though there is no mention of her views.
Lieven records that he interviewed ‘hundreds of ordinary Pakistanis from every walk of life, most of whom had never been asked for their opinion before by any Pakistani or Western observer’. The ‘views of these voiceless masses form the heart of this book’, he says.
Pakistan’s voiceless masses have in fact shown a robust ability to speak for themselves – but Lieven shows a curious unwillingness to listen, perhaps as a consequence of his sometimes painfully obvious unfamiliarity with the languages of Pakistan and its mass culture.
There’s little sense in this book of Pakistan as a place with people, rather than a problem. If Lieven encountered the writing of Mustansar Tarar or Muhammad Mansha Yaad, of Kishwar Naheed or Syed Ali Mohsin, we are not told of it. We are not led into the vibrant worlds of popular music, film and television, into people’s lives and times.
There has been a flourishing of accessible, highly readable works on Pakistan written by people who know it intimately: the work of Husain Haqqani, Hassan Abbas and Farzana Shaikh stands out. Lieven’s work does nothing to knock them off the purchase lists of anyone who wants to understand Pakistan, for the same reasons that a prospective Pakistani scholar of the United Kingdom would be ill advised to rely on the insights of a colleague who knew no English.
Anatol Lieven’s book is ultimately interesting for what it tells us about a certain tendency in British intellectual life, rather than the object of its interest. To order this book for £24, see LR bookshop on page 16
LITERARY REVIEW June 2011