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Pakistan: In the Shadow of Jihad and Afghanistan By Mary Anne Weaver, Viking, Rs 395

Mary Anne Weaver, a long-time staffer for The New Yorker, details her eyewitness account of life and politics in Pakistan in this book. A veteran journalist with a practically unlimited access to key politicians, her observations on Pakistan politics are telling. On the other hand, in the section on Baluchistan, she gives readers a wonderful view of a land, its culture and brutal traditions.

Some of the matter in this book has appeared in The New Yorker over the past few years. That however should not bother the average Indian reader with little access to the magazine. What should prove to be an interesting read are the rare picture one gets of General Musharraf.

The author’s skills as a senior journalist become evident when she concentrates on the consequences of Pakistan’s Afghan policy. She goes back to the Eighties when the CIA aid to the Afghan mujahedin fighting the Soviet forces was funnelled through the Zia-ul-Haq regime. Later, the taliban, which owed its rise to this covert help from America, became a hydra-headed monster. Like a journalist true to her profession, Weaver does not mince words when she comments that the US is as guilty as anyone else for the rise of the taliban.

The consequences of the US’s Afghan policy, however, has been discussed threadbare post-September 11. Most of these conclusions coincide with Mary Weaver’s observations. To her credit, she juxtaposes the events rooted in the Eighties with the recent events. In this way, she brings out the effect the taliban have had on Pakistan, especially the tribal society.

Given the indepth coverage, it is but natural that Benazir Bhutto would picture in a major way. Weaver gives a moving account of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s end. Bhutto was hanged three hours ahead of schedule and according to the author, Zia-ul-Haq is said to have reacted with, “The bastard’s dead!”

Weaver believes that the fact Bhutto’s daughter, Benazir, became prime minister of Pakistan twice proved her guts. However, it is not clear if she prefers her second reign or the first.

Weaver’s account is revealing. Apart from her insights into Pakistan’s politics, she throws some light on the other interesting sides — for example, hunting with falcons which is an Arab sport.

The narrative ends in the summer of 2002 when Pakistan started actively aiding America in its fight against the taliban. That left General Musharraf balancing a tightrope. He still hasn’t fallen off it though.

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