Shehryar Fazli in The India Site:
Early in Pakistan: A Hard Country, Lieven intriguingly describes Pakistan as a “negotiated state”, where the law only goes so far and, in practice, people choose between official, customary and Islamic systems of justice according to their needs. A deep sense of tradition, and strong social bonds safeguarded by kinship and patronage, ensure that the country won’t sink or surrender to modern Islamist revolt. But while it may be a negotiated state, there is no healthier dialectic to produce fresh arguments and movements. Even the many migrants to the cities, for example, retain their rural links and habits, and therefore don’t induce the changes typically associated with urbanization. The old and eternal persist here, too.
Lieven’s book is an ambitious attempt to explain what makes Pakistan tick and what the limitations and prospects of its leadership – civilian and military – are. It has been widely praised as an almost indispensable account of how the country works, and indeed it has its share of insights and debunks a good many myths. His depiction for example of the moderate, syncretic strands of Islam prevalent in the Pakistani heartland, and the centrality of the shrines of saints to a vast majority of the faithful, but hated by religious radicals, is welcome. So, too, is the related discussion discrediting accounts that the military, which recruits from this heartland, is dangerously full of Islamists. The case that Pakistan is not the failed state that many outside observers believe is well argued. Lieven has clearly traveled widely and talked to a great many stakeholders across class, religions, sects, political parties and state institutions – even if it gets tiresome to see passages regularly punctuated by a line like, “And never was this brought home to me more than when I visited” such and such a place.
As an analysis of politics and governance, however, much of the project is undermined by the author’s political sympathies.