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- Published on Amazon.com
T.V Paul takes on one of the world's most intriguing and dangerous states: Pakistan. In so doing, he weaves a compelling narrative and brings together a range of theoretical approaches. In the first instance, Paul is curious why Pakistan has so obviously failed to become a stable, strong state despite decades of focus on security, often to the exclusion of everything else (eating grass to enable nuclear weapons development for example). Attending this focus on security is the fact that Pakistan is in one of the more volatile regions on the planet, with four wars being fought with India since Partition (three started by Pakistan and the fourth, the Bangladesh War, the result of mass West Pakistani killing in what was then East Pakistan). The failure to form a strong state in Pakistan is particularly curious given Tilly's argument that, at least in Europe, war made the state and the state made war. Paul argues that much of Pakistan's failure can be traced to what Paul calls its 'Geopolitical Curse'. Pakistan for most of its independent history has occupied a key geopolitical strategic space that has allowed it to become dependent on foreign aid, largely from the US but also Saudi Arabia, weakening its institutions and enabling the overwhelming dominance of the military in political affairs. Paul's nuanced argument is not purely structural, however. While Pakistan has a 'Geopolitical curse', it is not alone in its affliction and structure is not destiny, and therein lies the role of agency. Paul explores not only the structures that enabled the rise of the warrior state, but also the decisions and priorities of Pakistani governments that made Pakistan what it is today. Structure enables, agency creates, and Paul does a wonderful job of exploring the nexus.
In reference to my point about bringing together multiple theoretical concepts and approaches, Paul highlights the costs of security, something securitization theory has long warned. Pakistan's focus on security has come at the expense of development and corroded the relationship between state and society. While securitization theory has warned of such costs, Paul brings them to life through his careful engagement with Pakistani politics and history. In addressing this issue, Paul also joins a literature, embodied by Andrew Bacevich, concerned with the creeping militarization of governance. He also highlights the role of ideas and how ideas shape the ways governments and leaders understand their world, something constructivists have long argued. Speaking to scholars of strategy and the revolution of military affairs (RMA), Paul notes that war has not had the same state building effect in Pakistan as it had in European states, suggesting intriguing changes in the relationship between politics and war traced to changes in the nature of war and war-making technology.
The book isn't perfect. Undoubtedly, some generalizations and simplifications are made (one that struck me was Paul's claim that the Soviet Union dissolved primarily because of an excessive focus on national security--certainly this is an important part of the story, but I am not sure a greater focus on development would have resulted in a unified Soviet society). But no book is perfect, and these issues are minor and do not detract from Paul's argument or the convincing evidence he marshals to support his case. This is an extremely interesting and important book, and scholars as well as the interested layperson will greatly benefit from its reading.
If I may, a brief note on how to read the reviews of Paul's book. Without a doubt, the book will be at the mercy of the same polarized attitudes that manifest in South Asia. Thus, a Hindu nationalist might criticize Paul for not tracing the root of Pakistan's dysfunction to Pakistani religious culture, while a Pakistani might take issue with the very idea that Pakistan has a problem. Both would be wrong. The Hindu nationalist is wrong because, while religion certainly plays a role in national behavior, it is far from deterministic (as the multitude of badly behaving actors in all religions attests). For the Pakistani nationalist, Pakistan clearly has deep rooted problems, and ignoring them won't make them go away. Clearly, a grain of salt is needed.