The Covid-19 pandemic has only added to the myriad challenges Pakistan faces. While we are holed up in our homes trying to stay safe from the virus, it’s a good moment in time to look back at the history of our country and see how we got to where we are and what we need to do to have a better future going forward. Pakistan recently had its 70th birthday just a few years ago and ‘Pakistan At Seventy’ is a timely book in that regard.
Pakistan at Seventy: A book by Pakistani authors having diverse backgrounds
The book is a compendium of articles by various authors, subject experts and researchers who try to map the path we’ve followed as a country till now. This approach is called ‘Path Dependency’ and is explained right at the beginning of the book. There is a lot of diversity in the line-up of authors who have written various chapters in the book; from eminent economists to a former Army Chief.
The path dependency approach is what all chapters seem to abide by. While each chapter has a different subject to focus on along with the author’s unique writing style, this approach ensures a degree of coherence and uniformity as you read chapter to chapter.
While it is true that there’s a new book attempting to understand Pakistan hitting the market every few years by various Western authors, what I found refreshing about ‘Pakistan At Seventy’ was the authors were mostly Pakistani and if not from Pakistan, they were South Asian. Steve P. Cohen and Anatol Lieven are respected scholars in their own right but a book written by scholars from Pakistan about Pakistan is something we only need more of.
Pakistan at seventy- a book edited by Shahid Javed Burki with contributions from 23 authors and comprising 26 chapters pic.twitter.com/1WeUaqGMEz
— Ammar Ali Qureshi (@AmmarAliQureshi) February 3, 2020
Specialists provide in-depth analysis
As mentioned above, there are various authors and each one focuses on one topic. For instance, former Army Chief General Jahangir Keramat focuses on the role of Pakistan Army in the development of the country. There’s a separate chapter on the shadow of the Partition of 1947 on South Asia written by Subrata K. Mitra and economic governance by Ishrat Hussein and so on.
The book is divided into five parts focussing one broad area each e.g on foreign policy, social development and on energy and the environment etc. What this means is that there’s no area worth talking about left untouched by the book, with 23 chapters in all.
In the 1960s, Pakistan was the fastest developing country in Asia. What went wrong after that is a question dealt with in-depth in the chapters on economic development and importance of good governance, with eminent economists like Shahed Javed Burki and Ishrat Hussein weighing in on this issue.
One chapter by Asad Ejaz Butt, one of the editors of the book, focussed on the history of the development discourse in Pakistan. Where there are volumes of research papers and books talking about economic development in general, an analysis of the discourse around development in Pakistan is something I hadn’t come across before. What were the economic planners thinking and talking about in the 1950s and 1960s when they made the policies? This analysis again coupled with the path dependency approach helps understand why we are where we are.
Concise answers to historical questions
Could the decision-makers in Pakistan make different choices especially in the early years after 1947 or did the weight of history simply force the hand of political leaders? Could Pakistan have sustained the growth rate of the 1960s in the ensuing decades or were the policies so short-sighted that they were destined not to be sustainable?
The geostrategic location of Pakistan has been more of a liability than an asset. How to take advantage of it? The public sector in Pakistan has been ready to embrace reforms as far as social development is concerned but do they go far enough? These and many other important questions are what the book touches upon.
The only thing I found lacking in ‘Pakistan at Seventy’ was the chapter-length at times seemed to be rather short. Just when you get into the meat of the subject, the chapters tend to draw to a close. However, that’s entirely a subjective valuation. If long reads aren’t what you prefer, the chapter length might be just right for you. And with 23 chapters to munch through, each traversing the same 70-year history but from a different lens, this book is likely to keep you occupied and to leave you thinking.
What I admire most about the book is it seems to have been written in a way to make it accessible not just to the expert or student of Pakistan’s history but to the layman like yours truly, who just wants to understand how we got to where we are. Whether you are in an important position in the government who can have an impact on the direction Pakistan takes in the future, working in the media or a citizen seeking a better understanding of your country, this book is worth your money.
Saqib Manzoor is an Engineer and a CSP officer. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.