Asia-Pacific

Pakistani Newspaper Pans Mary Anne Weaver's New Book

A Failed State with Nuclear Weapons

It was June 1989. Until then Benazir Bhutto had enjoyed enormous popularity in Washington. Then, according to a senior State Department official, attitudes began to change. When she stood on the floor of the U.S. Congress, promising, to thunderous applause, that Pakistan neither possessed nor intended to assemble a nuclear bomb—the very day after she had received a detailed briefing on Pakistan’s weapons program from the director of the CIA—Bhutto’s worth was diminished in the eyes of the United States. In less than a year she ceased to be prime minister.

Mary Anne Weaver’s book Pakistan: In the Shadow of Jihad and Afghanistan (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) is full of such anecdotes, which vividly portray personalities and pivotal moments of Pakistan’s recent turbulent history. Although several sections of her book have already appeared in The New Yorker, where Weaver is a correspondent, most of her material has an engaging quality to it. The exception is later chapters, which tend to be repetitive and confuse events in the 1980s with the present. Instead of abstract political analysis this book actually brings to life the various regions and landscapes of Pakistan, the interplay of Pakistani politics and society, and above all, its surreal leaders of the last two decades, namely Zia-ul-Haq, Benazir Bhutto, Nawaz Sharif, and Pervez Musharraf.

“A bearer wearing a golden turban with green cockscombs entered the drawing room with coffee and tea,” she writes, “as I asked Gen. Musharraf how he would compare himself to Gen. Zia-ul-Haq. He smiled. ‘The biggest difference is that Zia wanted to be there forever. He was also much more religious than I am. He used religion to ensure his own power, and I strongly believe that religion should not be manipulated for political gains. Also, the people of Pakistan, perhaps, were not really with Zia, but they certainly are supportive of my government and me.’ ”

In a devastating comparison, Weaver shows Musharraf and Zia as chips off the same block. Both products of British India, both military rulers who suspended the constitution and banned political activity, and whose armies remained their primary constituencies, both holding fraudulent referendums to legitimize their usurpation of power, both shunned by the West and then, as the phoenix rose from the ashes, both reborn: now, Musharraf; then, Zia, thanks to Washington’s Afghan wars.

Repeatedly in the book, Weaver asks the question: Who was Zia and who is Musharraf? Zia, she says, was wily and adroit, a master manipulator of power who could be disarmingly candid at times. “I’ve discovered,” he told her in 1982, “that gaining power is much easier than giving it up.” On the other hand, Musharraf is often described as a “soldier’s soldier” and he likes to be seen as a genuine patriot in the mold of Ataturk. But is he? According to Weaver, Musharraf is a difficult man to describe, for each time she saw him he looked astonishingly different, depending upon whom he was seeing, where he was, and the mood in which he had dressed that day. A former commanding officer remarked, “He’s a cipher who can be anything.”

At the end of the book, Weaver describes an elegant dinner party in which a female guest asked Musharraf what he was doing about lawlessness in Karachi. With a flourish Musharraf reached into his breast pocket, pulled a silver-plated pistol and remarked: “This is how I protect myself.”

Continuing her portrait of Pakistan as a failed state with nuclear weapons, Weaver exposes the bald ambitions of both Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto. The former for engineering the bizarre incident of PK-805, in which he tried to kill Musharraf, and the latter for being a slave of her feudal heritage, which catered to her illusion that it was her birthright to rule.

In this book she candidly criticizes U.S. policy, which abandoned Pakistan and Afghanistan to the ravages of a drug and arms culture after the Soviet withdrawal in 1989. In addition, two decades later President Ronald Reagan’s Afghan freedom fighters turned into Frankenstein’s monsters determined to attack America and launch a worldwide jihad.

Although Weaver portrays a frightening picture of Pakistan, she fails to dig deeper. Instead she merely entertains, like the American ambassador who remarked that “Islamabad is like a New York cemetery: half the size, but twice as dead.” Ostensibly this book is also about jihad. The motivations of militant Islam and its raison d’être are simply glossed over.

Unlike two other recent books on Pakistan—The United States and Pakistan by the diplomat Dennis Kux and Pakistan: Eye of the Storm by the British journalist Owen Bennett Jones—Weaver’s work lacks analytical probing. In her worldview, for example, jihad would appear only to be about beards and burqahs. Nowhere does she explain in a meaningful way that it is also a reaction to poverty, imperialism, and indignity.

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