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The Pakistan Paradox: Instability and Resilience

The Pakistan Paradox: Instability and Resilience by Christophe Jaffrelot. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015, 670 pp.


In this book The Pakistan Paradox: Instability and Resilience, Christopher Jaffrelot has done an excellent work in explicating the “Pakistan paradox” as he calls it. The author weaves a beautiful socio-historical account of the instability and the resilience in Pakistan. The Pakistan story is not only about instability but is also one of resilience which is comfortably forgotten or ignored by intellectuals and public alike. Jaffrelot rightly points out in the book that, in order to really understand Pakistan, we have to lay Pakistan bare and study it from all angles and perimeters. This is to say, we cannot have a clear picture of the Pakistan paradox if our approach is mired by a particular standpoint and hence the need for an independent and neutral research.

Jaffrelot explained the Pakistan Paradox by analyzing three contradictions: equation of Pakistan with Islam and Urdu, the concentration of power, and the role of Islam in the public sphere. The book has been divided into three parts, with each part expounding on the each of the contradictions mentioned above. Although these tensions/contradictions have created chronic instability, none of the contradiction have the power to destroy the idea of Pakistan, and this resilience is a living proof that Pakistan as an idea and an entity has always been caricatured. In order to grasp the paradox that Pakistan is, Jaffrelot argues that the three contradictions/tensions should be studied together and not separately. The three tensions, “the project for unitary-nation state and provinces with strong ethnic identity, the project of authoritarian political culture and democratic forces and between the competing concepts of Islam” (632), when studied together, present a paradox rather than contradictions. Toward the end, Jaffrelot also touches upon external factor in the Pakistan paradox largely based on “Indian threat and American aid” (638–39). The book also shows another aspect of Pakistani policy which has not been dealt with in the detail and seriousness it deserves. Studies about Pakistan policy in relation to India often stop at the impact of the Indian threat on Pakistani foreign policy. However, this book shows that the “Indian threat” has been frequently used by the elite (civilian-military establishment) to garner support and ensure their own survival.

The book has been written with much tenacity and presents a very interesting view of Pakistan and its instability problem rather than viewing the country and its issues in oversimplified and rather incomplete view. The book is a rich socio-historical account of the events and debates on the idea of Pakistan. The book is not only not biased but also provides rich insights into the Pakistan story and will be very helpful to a student of international relations and Pakistan in particular. The book can also serve as a very good guide to students conducting interdisciplinary research with interest in military history, political-military nexus, state building, and nation building. Above all the book is a treat to anyone who is interested in understanding Pakistan on its own merit and not in conjunction with other factors.

Pfokrelo Kapesa

Jawaharlal Nehru University

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."

Strategic Studies Quarterly (SSQ) and the Air and Space Power Journal (ASPJ)publish book reviews to inform readers and enhance the content of articles in the journals.