Pakistan Under Siege: Extremism, Society, and the State
(Brookings, 2018) provides a unique insight into Pakistan’s complex and multi-layered relationship with militancy and the role of the state in Islamicizing society in a way that Pakistanis may in overwhelming majority reject violence, yet endorse attitudes that are not only militant but create an environment conducive to extremism. Based on rigorous analysis of survey data as well as multiple interviews and a keen understanding of the country’s history, Madiha Afzal
weaves a highly readable story that focuses not only on the colonial legacy that led to Pakistan’s creation and the often troubled relationship with the United States that left Pakistanis with a bitter taste of betrayal in their mouths but also on how successive Pakistani governments laid the foundations for en environment conducive to extremism through legislation as well as the education system. She highlights how intolerance and anti-pluralist attitudes were nurtured by amending the constitution to declare groups viewed as heretic by mainstream Islam as non-Islamic, enacting a draconic anti-blasphemy law that lends itself to abuse and by mandating throughout the education system a slanted and problematic study of Pakistan as well as of Islam. With her study, Madiha has made a significant contribution to understanding Pakistan at a time that it is approaching a crossroads at which its multiple problems and issues no longer can simply be managed but will have to be tackled.
James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.