Lawrence Ziring: Pakistan in the twentieth century: a political history. Karachi, Oxford, New York, Delhi: Oxford University Press. 1997. 648 pp. ISBN 0-19-577815-2. PKR 795.00.

Book review by Wolfgang-Peter Zingel.
Published in:  In: Orient. Zeitschrift des Deutschen Orient-Instituts. Opladen: Leske + Budrich. 42(2001)2. pp. 347-349.[in English]. ISSN 0030-5227.

Lawrence Ziring, an authority on Pakistan's political development, arrived in the country first in the 1950s and was able, as he writes in his preface, “to observe the last segment of the initial parliamentary period.” He is the author of “The Ayub Khan era” (1971), “Pakistan: the long view” (1977, co-author), “Pakistan: enigma of political development” (1980), and now of the opus magnum (1997). He presents not only a re-tale of the country's short, complicated and disturbing history, but also deep insights and explanations.

This is badly required, since not long after the book was out, first India and then Pakistan tested their nuclear devices. International economic trade sanctions were imposed on both countries, but hit Pakistan harder than India; Kashmir, the flashpoint between India and Pakistan, became what President Clinton called “the most dangerous place in the world.” However, proving their nuclear capabilities did not work as a deterrence, as it had done during the cold war. Only a few months later the Pakistan leadership decided to test India’s decisiveness to retaliate. What initially was claimed by Pakistan as being a heroic attempt of Kashmiri freedom fighters to regain territory which the Indians had grabbed during previous years, turned out to have been heavily supported if not instigated by Pakistan’s top brass. Innocent (?) of this development, the Indian prime minister came to Lahore in February 1999 to start his “bus diplomacy” just before the conflict turned nastier with heavy artillery shelling in the Kargil sector of the “line of control” and evacuation of civilians starting near Lahore in expectation of war, until China und the USA made it clear, that they were not to tolerate such adventures; by summer of 1999 troops were withdrawn from across the line of control. The Pakistan government put the blame for the failure on the military leadership and finally tried to replace the army chief. The crisis ended, like so many before in Pakistan, with the army taking over and declaring martial law, although the constitution this time only was “put into abeyance” and the president remained in office. The whole adventure turned out to cost Pakistan heavily: in 2000 Pakistan had to watch the US president celebrating Holi in India and coming to Pakistan only for a few hours to dress down the “Chief Executive”. Ziring's book, therefore, comes just in time to help to explain, why Pakistan still has such difficulties with their neighbours and with democracy.

The chapters are arranged in chronological sequence of power holders. Although the title leaves room for more (“in the twentieth century”), the first chapters (“Before the Beginning”, “The Formation of Pakistan” and “The Agony of Partition”) are kept shorter than in most other books on Pakistan's history. Dealings with the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir's accession to India and the outbreak of the war in Kashmir support more the Pakistani reading of events rather than the Indian one: “Indian forces had entered Kashmir prior to receipt of the Instrument of Accession, and it is doubtful that there even was such a document.” (p. 95) He does not discuss the fact, that both, India and Pakistan, are arguing legalistically in this case, while in others “accession” was a matter of realpolitik, as in Pakistan is the case for Kalat, which, interestingly, is not even mentioned in the book (later events in Kalat are, however, mentioned, p. 218).

The years of civilian rule (“The Pitfalls of Constitution-making”, the “Failure of Conventional Politics”, and “The Coming of Martial Law”) are dealt with extensively; that they ended in martial law seems to be logical, following Ziring: “Only Pakistan's viceregal tradition had survived the political bloodletting of the nation's first decade [...]. Suhrawardy was the only one of national stature whose powers lay neither in feudal connections nor ideological expression. [...]. His [...] was a calling little appreciated in a land of angry people, of suspicious and self-servicing officials, a land in which the many were so dependent on the few, and where the few seldom honoured their public trust. Pakistan began its political life in chaos, and it was chaos that tracked its destiny.” (pp. 198-199).

The years of martial law and “basic democracies” (“The Ayub Khan Era”) had their initial successes, but ended in the secession of what is now Bangladesh (“The Dismemberment of Pakistan”). That there was no constitution in place in 1970 when Pakistan's first general national elections were held became a major reason for the following events. Otherwise, as Ziring writes, “the results would have been manageable. [...] Ironically, the absence of a constitutional structure, and the attempt to create one from the election results, merely provided both Mujib and Bhutto with opportunities to press their separate, highly ambitious, political programmes. The first-ever national election, tragically, was neither conducted under established legal guidelines, nor with the prior understanding of the competing political organizations. It needs to be remembered that the election was held during martial law, that it had been decreed by a military junta in the void created by the abrogation of the 1962 Constitution, and that it was aimed more at confirming than dismantling of the Ayubian political order than in creating a new one.” (pp. 335-336).

Yahya Khan, Pakistan's second general in power, was succeeded by a politician (“The Bhutto Legacy”), who, once president, “also became Chief Martial Law Administrator, the first civilian to hold such a position among the new nations” (p. 375), and before he was ousted six years later, he had established martial law in Karachi, Hyderabad, and Lahore, a decision declared “unconstitutional” by the Lahore High Court. Ziring has little sympathy for Bhutto, a man of “questionable behaviour”, “arrogance”, and “lust for power”. (p. 419).

Another general followed (“The Ziaul Haq Decade”), who “was not the strategist in the overthrow of Bhutto, but he was made its instrument” (p. 420). “Zia's choice lay in preserving the integrity of the army or saving Bhutto. In the end, he chose the army.” (p. 422). Ziring has sub-chapters on the external dimension and Islamisation and shortly refers to the revolution in Iran of 1979, but surprisingly, does not refer to the suspension of US aid in April 1979 under section 669 of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 because of Pakistan's building a secret uranium enrichment facility, the storming of the Ka'aba in Mecca, and the consequent burning of the US embassy, in walking distance from the president's palace in Islamabad. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan a few weeks later made Pakistan an indispensable ally of the West and a front line state. Only after Ronald Reagan had followed Jimmy Carter as US president Pakistan got a waiver of these sanctions (1981). Writing the “newcomers also caused gun-running to spread, and the trafficking in drugs to expand” (p. 449) puts all the blame on the Afghan refugees: Weapons were organized (and sold) by the USA and (co-)funded by the Saudis, and the drug trade was encouraged by US advisers as a source of war funding as long as the sanctions were in force, as has been documented elsewhere (e.g. Diego Cordovez, Selig S. Harrison: Out of Afghanistan: the inside story of the Soviet withdrawal. New York, NY: Oxford UP. 1995). The Afghan war did not end with the retreat of the super powers from Afghanistan and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Ziring does not enter any speculation about Zia’s death in 1988 (“the plane exploded and crashed. All aboard perished [...].” p. 502), but repeats Zia’s claims that previous devastating explosions in Ojhri, Lahore and Karachi were the work of foreign, i.e. Afghan, intelligence services (p. 499).

Two chapters deal with the power struggle between Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif (“Democracy Revisited”, “The End and the Beginning”); the book ends with his conclusions on “The Meaning of History”. One can only agree that “Pakistanis deserve better.” (p. 613) and that “Viceregalism can preserve Pakistan, but will not sustain it.” (p. 614). He concludes: “Pakistan will survive only if the people who inhabit the region believe they are a community, that, in spite of their peculiar diversity, they are after all, one people.” (Ibid.)

The book is and will remain a standard reference book on Pakistan, fluently written and well documented and indexed. It certainly is not a historiography and having a good chronology of events will be useful while reading it. There is little emphasis on foreign policy and national security. Kashmir is mentioned at several occasions, but writing that “Pakistan was forced to contest India in a show of arms over the future dispensation of Kashmir” (p. 64) may be misleading for the uninitiated: As is well known, the Pakistan army was initially under British command and could, thus, not be deployed in Kashmir or anywhere else against India. And that the USA could set up air bases in Pakistan in the 1950s, from where their spy planes started until Gary Power’s U2, which had started from Peshawar, was shot down over the Soviet Unions, is not mentioned, although it had a wide ranging effects on Pak-US relations. There is also no emphasis on regional developments within the country, except the “dismemberment of East Pakistan”. The Baloch would certainly object, that Ayub’s “regime was generally benign and largely forgiving.” (p. 271). Ziring does, however, report Bhutto’s mishandling of Balochistan (pp. 390-393). A minor correction is to be made with regard to geography: Islamabad is situated in front of the Margalla Hills, which belong to the Himalayas rather than being “remote foothills of the Hindu Kush”. (p. 244).

With Pakistan, hopefully, returning to democracy in 2002 (the local elections of 2000/2001 are being held on a non-party basis), one misses a more systematic approach to elections in Pakistan; practically in all books on the political history of Pakistan they are only mentioned in passim. Ziring writes at the beginning of his book: “Compressing the political history into a single volume has been a daunting task.” (p. 1). This is especially true in a country almost obsessed with their history. With his book Ziring has presented a sound basis for information and in depth analysis. The volume is a must for any collection on Pakistan und strongly recommended for any one on South Asia. It is recommended to read as an introduction into Pakistan and also for those already familiar with Pakistan’s political history.

Wolfgang-Peter Zingel
Südasien-Institut der Universität Heidelberg [South Asia Institutze].
Abteilung Internationale Wirtschafts- und Entwicklungspolitik [Department of International Economics]

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