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Tariq Ali, 'The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power'

Simon & Schuster, 2008, ISBN 978-1-84737-355-7; 288pp: £17.99

One of Tariq Ali’s identities (activist, novelist, broadcaster and so on) is participant-observer of his native Pakistan.

The Duel is a highly timely, well-informed, readable, sometimes-not-very-chronological study of Pakistan’s political evolution. Peace activists will probably skip straight to chapters eight and nine, dealing with US influence on Pakistan (heavy), and recent Afghan-Pakistani interactions (mutually destabilising). There is a lot of interesting material here, but not as many references to follow up or verify as there could be. (Of the 81 footnotes, 69 are references to books and articles – 12 of them by Tariq Ali.)

The bulk of the book reviews Pakistani history, attempting to support Ali’s two big claims: firstly, that there is no risk of a jihadi takeover in Pakistan (because the military is so strong); and, secondly, that: “The predicament of Pakistan has never been that of an enlightened leadership marooned in a sea of primitive people”, but rather the reverse.

I was expecting more class analysis from a former Trotskyite; the history is rather personality-centred. Benazir Bhutto is subjected to a harsh but necessary critique, sanding off her saintly aura. There’s little nuclear history, but, as the US war spreads, this is a book everyone should read.

Topics: Pakistan