[Reader-list] Dalrymple on Pakistan's "New Deal"

Aman Sethi aman.am at gmail.com
Wed Apr 30 13:37:35 IST 2008

Dear Naeem,

I have read all your postings with great interest - from the
controversy on the missing relics to the attack on the barrister at
Zia airport to your piece on the barricading of public spaces. Please
do continue to post; I, for one, appreciate your postings.

To be honest, I read this particular post with some hesitance - mainly
because of late I have found Dalrymple rather disappointing (compared
to his previous work).  In some ways he still writes like the gora who
has almost gone native and - by virtue of simply hanging around for so
long in the subcontinent - can lay bare, for the gora reader, the
complexities of this (choose your own set of adjectives) fascinating,
rich, colorful, diverse, modern, backward, historical, traditional,
loud, oppressed, yet fast empowering area.

I am not saying he is a "bad" writer - he is in fact a very good
writer - or that his analysis is flawed.  I'm merely saying that, as a
piece, - and like some of his recent pieces - it is a primarily a
compilation of local reporting in sub-continental newspapers
structured around his road trip.

>From his latest-

"As you travel around Pakistan today you can see the effects of the
boom everywhere: in vast new shopping malls and smart roadside filling
stations, in the cranes of the building sites and the smokestacks of
factories, in the expensive new cars jamming the roads and in the
ubiquitous cell-phone stores. In 2003 the country had fewer than three
million cell phones; today apparently there are 50 million, while car
ownership has been increasing at roughly 40 percent a year since 2001.
At the same time foreign direct investment has risen from $322 million
in 2002 to $3.5 billion in 2006.

Pakistan's cities, in particular, are fast changing beyond
recognition. As in India, there is a burgeoning Pakistani fashion
scene full of ambitious gay designers and amazingly beautiful models.
" (yawn)

further in the the piece we find more gems of information, such as
"February's elections dramatically confirmed this shift. The biggest
electoral surprise of all was the success of Nawaz Sharif's
conservative faction of the Muslim League, the PML-N. "

For Whom? Who was surprised by Nawaz's electoral success? In the run
up to the elections, most people who followed the election had the
feeling that the PPP would emerge as the largest party (particularly
after benazir's death) and that the PML (N) would come in a second.
Even before the elections there was talk of Nawaz and Zardari closing
ranks - so it clearly wasnt the biggest electoral surprise

"On my travels I found a surprisingly widespread consensus that the
mullahs should keep to their mosques, and the increasingly unpopular
military should return to its barracks."

Come on; everyone has been talking about this ever since we heard
there would be elections.  Everyone had talked about how the parties
allied with Musharaf (which includes the religious right and the
PML-Q) would get their comeuppance.  I am hard pressed to find anyone
else who would be surprised by the fact that "ordinary pakistanis"
(whoever they are) aren't generally in favour of a situation where no
particular supra-powerful institution has control over their daily

Of course, towards the closing we are offered a few options:

"What sort of country did Pakistanis want? Did they want a
Western-style liberal democracy, as envisaged by the poet Iqbal, who
first dreamed up the idea of Pakistan, and by the country's eventual
founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah? An Islamic republic like Mullah Omar's
Afghanistan? Or a military-ruled junta of the sort created by Generals
Ayyub Khan, Zia, and Musharraf, who, among them, have ruled Pakistan
for thirty-four of its sixty years of existence?"

Note that we are offered the choice between a "western style liberal
democracy" envisaged and dreamed up by a poet; an islamic republic
like Mullah Omar's afghanistan; and a military ruled junta.  I wonder
which choice the newly re-enfranchised pakistanis shall opt for.
Your time starts "Now!"
Tick tock
"Iqbal or Omar"?
Tick Tock
"Jinaah or Zia?"
Tick Tock
"liberal or Islamic?"
"and at the buzzer we find you have chosen to throw out the islamists
in favour of the secularists. Well done, you have won yourself a New
Deal, not to mention a longish article in the NYRB."

I shall go out on a limb here - Could we say that coalition politics
like we see in india and pakistan (though we are now seeing them in
countries like Italy) seems to be a far more sub-continental style of
politics than the western style liberal democracy dalrymple talks of?
It is true that coalition politics can strictly be understood to be
part of the larger whole that is the politics that darlymple and iqbal
envisage - but i think there are unique nuances and contours that are
flattened with far too much ease in this text.


On Tue, Apr 29, 2008 at 3:30 PM, Naeem Mohaiemen
<naeem.mohaiemen at gmail.com> wrote:
> I post below yet another article that will sink without a trace in
> Reader List, because:
> 1. It doesn't involve India...
> 2. It involves Pakistan, but isn't negative...
> For the 0.2% that are interested, here is Dalrymple's latest...
> A New Deal in Pakistan
> By William Dalrymple
> What happened in Khairpur was a small revolution—a middle-class
> victory over the forces of reactionary feudal landlordism. More
> astonishingly, it was a revolution that was reproduced across the
> country. To widespread surprise, the elections in Pakistan were free
> and fair; and Pakistanis voted heavily in favor of liberal centrist
> parties opposed to both the mullahs and the army. Here, in a country
> normally held up in the more Islamophobic right-wing press of Western
> countries as the epitome of "what went wrong" in the Islamic world, a
> popular election resulted in an unequivocal vote for moderate, secular
> democracy.
> http://www.nybooks.com/articles/21194
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