The Struggle For Pakistan: A Muslim Homeland and Global Politics, by Ayesha Jalal

Farzana Shaikh on a retread of a historian’s former work on Pakistan

October 23, 2014

There comes a time in the career of even “the world’s most respected, prolific and authoritative historian of Pakistan” (in the breathless prose of a blurb accompanying this book) when work proffered as “new” and “definitive”, if not carefully judged, can end up with a faint odour of the proverbial plat rechauffé. The staleness is compounded if what is said has already been widely rehearsed by the author or if what the author hopes to pass off as fresh has been more innovatively treated by others.

Much of this applies to The Struggle for Pakistan by Ayesha Jalal. It displays the waning talents of a historian whose erstwhile skill in breaking new ground in our understanding of Pakistan now seems reduced to an ill-conceived move to cash in on a thriving cottage industry built on the “problem” of Pakistan. Almost two-thirds of Jalal’s new book replicates arguments that have already received her close attention in three earlier works on Pakistan: The Sole Spokesman: Jinnah, the Muslim League and the Demand for Pakistan (1985); The State of Martial Rule: The Origins of Pakistan’s Political Economy of Defence (1990) and Democracy and Authoritarianism in South Asia: A Comparative and Historical Perspective (1995). While there may be a case for condensing these books’ material into a single volume with a clear explanatory focus, this rambling “biography” of Pakistan falls conspicuously short of that objective.

Jalal resurrects three well-worn themes. First, that the creation of Pakistan in 1947 was a travesty of the “real” intentions of its founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah. He is claimed to have “inwardly” worked for the unity of India only to have his lofty goal defeated by a combination of narrow regional interests, the arrogance of the Indian National Congress and the machinations of perfidious Albion. Jalal also seeks to disabuse us of the notion that Pakistan had anything to do with Islam. Jinnah’s recourse to religion, she concludes, “was a product of political necessity”, although how this differed from the compulsions of Pakistan’s subsequent leaders is not spelled out.

Second, she reminds us of the damaging consequences of Pakistan’s Cold War alliances in tipping the balance in favour of Pakistan’s unelected institutions, notably the military. Fear of India she argues, rightly, was a key consideration driving this development. But the influence of other factors in these crucial early years, which have left a lasting imprint on Pakistan’s political system, such as the preference for a “vice-regal” style of politics much favoured by Jinnah, his legacy of intolerance towards all forms of political dissent and his palpable lack of interest in nurturing a tradition of popular politics, are given short shrift.

The struggle between the centralised Pakistani state and its headstrong provinces constitutes the third of Jalal’s major themes. The assertion of Bengali regionalism and the secession of East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) are revisited at length without shedding any new light on the crisis. The resentment of Pakistan’s smaller provinces at so-called “Punjabi domination” is restated and the failure of recently elected governments to address their grievances is reviewed in familiar and, at times, long-winded detail – a hazard that also afflicts Jalal’s attempt at geo-strategic analysis in the final section of the book.

Ultimately, however, Jalal fails to offer a convincing explanation for Pakistan’s chronic malaise. Mere paeans to its “spirit of democracy” and dedication to its “cosmopolitan humanism” are not enough to account for a country still at war over its identity.

The Struggle for Pakistan: A Muslim Homeland and Global Politics

By Ayesha Jalal
Harvard University Press, 448pp, £25.00
ISBN 9780674052895
Published 25 September 2014

Times Higher Education free 30-day trial

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 6 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Professor-Keith Cameron Chair of Australian History UNIVERSITY COLLEGE DUBLIN (UCD)
Senior Procurement Officer UNIVERSITY OF THE WEST OF SCOTLAND
Clinician, Small Animal Emergency Services UNIVERSITY COLLEGE DUBLIN (UCD)

Most Commented

question marks PhD study

Selecting the right doctorate is crucial for success. Robert MacIntosh and Kevin O'Gorman share top 10 tips on how to pick a PhD

India, UK, flag

Sir Keith Burnett reflects on what he learned about international students while in India with the UK prime minister

Pencil lying on open diary

Requesting a log of daily activity means that trust between the institution and the scholar has broken down, says Toby Miller

Construction workers erecting barriers

Directly linking non-EU recruitment to award levels in teaching assessment has also been under consideration, sources suggest

Application for graduate job
Universities producing the most employable graduates have been ranked by companies around the world in the Global University Employability Ranking 2016