PAKISTAN: Pakistan: At the Crosscurrent of History

By LaPorte, Robert, Jr. | The Middle East Journal, Summer 2004 | Go to article overview

PAKISTAN: Pakistan: At the Crosscurrent of History


LaPorte, Robert, Jr., The Middle East Journal


PAKISTAN Pakistan: At the Crosscurrent of History, by Lawrence Ziring. Oxford, UK: Oneworld Publications, 2003. xi + 369 pages. Index to p. 383. $39.95.

Divided into 12 chapters, and according to the author:

The book is meant to edify the uninformed as well as to assist the scholar in charting the course of Pakistan's history. The book, like so many other brief histories, has required compression, and therefore much is left unsaid...This volume therefore is also an interpretive essay, intended to broaden understanding but also meant to explore consequences. So I have avoided using the usual format of including citations and footnotes. My objective was the production of a quick read, a book that could be read as one would read a story rather than a scholarly tract... Mindful, however, of my obligations to the academic community, I have included a list of sources used or consulted in every chapter. . .(p. xiii).

This work is a history - over two -thirds of the text cover events prior to the October 9 1999 coup that brought General Pervez Musharraf to power. It is an interpretive essay in that it is Professor Ziring's rendition of events. However, it does not read like a story, and the assistance it provides scholars ".. .charting the course of Pakistan's history.. ." is limited due to the absence of footnotes or citations in the text. Does it ".. .edify the uninformed. . .?" That, of course, depends on whom one considers to be "uninformed." Given mass media coverage of events along the Afghanistan -Pakistan border, anyone in the United States who does not know that Pakistan is again an ally of the United States, this time in waging war against terrorism, has been living in the proverbial cave.

As a history of Pakistan, the book does not shed any new light on the events of the pre- and post independence periods. Basically, Ziring's story line tells the reader that civilian institutions, such as political parties, are not established and do not develop mass bases of support. In Ziring's account, the Pakistan army emerges as the strongest and most viable central government institution (the civil service is a close second). General (later Field Marshal) Mohammad Ayub Khan leads the first coup (October 1958) and attempts to modernize the country albeit through his form of very indirect democracy. he is succeeded by General Mohammad Yahya Khan (in 1969), who plunges the country into civil war (1971) and loses the Bengali half. His replacement, Zulfikar AIi Bhutto, tries to restrain the power of the military and the civil service but despite his efforts, neither institution is held in check and ultimately Bhutto is removed by General Mohammad Zia ul-Haq (in 1977), the man Bhutto had promoted to chief of the army staff. …

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