Nine Lives of Pakistan: Scrupulously layered portrait of complicated nation

Book review: A thorough job mapping racial and ethnic taxonomy of Pakistan

Many volatile issues have been exacerbated by ethnic and sectarian conflict, frequently turning Pakistan into a tinderbox. Photograph: Getty

Many volatile issues have been exacerbated by ethnic and sectarian conflict, frequently turning Pakistan into a tinderbox. Photograph: Getty

On the eve of the 2013 national election, Irish journalist Declan Walsh was unceremoniously expelled from Pakistan, after spending a decade there, on suspicion of “undesirable activities”. The New York Times’s Pakistan bureau chief logs his intimate account of that tumultuous period in this book.

I find “valiant” dispatches by foreign correspondents, who visit Pakistan while wearing bulletproof vests and staying at five-star hotels, unwittingly amusing. Pakistani author Mohammed Hanif made a pertinent point about writing on Pakistan from the standpoint of a foreigner. “If you spend enough time with Pakistan’s military and civilian elite, you catch some of their paranoia, and start seeing yourself drowning in rivers of blood.” Hence, while reading this account, I found myself surgically dissecting the text for any hint of confirmation bias or preconceived notions.

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