top of page
  • Naman Vakharia


Name of the bookThe Pakistan Paradox: Instability and Resilience Author - Christophe Jaffrelot Publisher - Penguin Random House India, Gurgaon Year of Publishing - 2016 Book Page count - 676 Price - ₹650

The study of Pakistan is one dimensional, and its growth is measured with that of India, making the study restrictive and disingenuous. The Pakistan Paradox: Instability and Resilience written by Christophe Jaffrelot navigates Pakistani politics and society to simplify and complicate the complex nature of the country.

The book argues that Pakistan suffers from a syndrome of absurd contradictions which make the country and its people secure and insecure.

However, Jaffrelot does not explicitly define ‘instability’ or ‘resilience.’ Hence, the readers must comprehend the effects and affects of the contradictions contextually from Jaffrelot’s argument. The book also notes that domestic politics is also influenced by what the author calls “external dynamics” (p.638). Conditioning Pakistan “on such a scale that the international environment should be regarded as a full-fledged component of domestic policy” (p.638). Although, the author does not make any comparisons with another country and solely observes Pakistan. Moreover, the book uses a systems approach that synthesises various arguments from the lenses of sociology, history, political science, philosophy, and theology. Jaffrelot begins with the sociological and historical analysis of Pakistan and the origin of the ‘Land of Pure.’ The author also debates the multiple regime changes and the power of the Pakistani military post-democratisation in the 2000s. Further, the book addresses the role of the media, judiciary, and civil society as an opposition to the government. The last part of the book studies Islam and its injunction in every aspect of the country from taxation to terrorism.

Jaffrelot argues that Pakistan is an idea not formed to protect Islam but a strategy which a Muslim elite “developed to escape the Other’s domination” (p.49), and create a state to secure their political position. The above mentality landed Pakistan in a conundrum engulfed with linguistic nationalism. To solve the same, Muhammad Ali Jinnah established a vice-regal and unitary style regime. This approach of Jinnah seeps through the roots of the government, governance, and military of Pakistan. Furthermore, it has caused uncertainty for the people and blurred the idea of Pakistan.

The fear and vulnerability against India have caused tumultuous changes in Pakistan, starting from the rise and fall of the military. However, personal interest driven by the thirst for power and control has also turned crusaders of democracy like the Bhuttos into what the author calls a “zealous incarnation” (p.219), of autocrats. For instance, the first war of Kashmir against India left the Pakistani army and government startled. It made them question defence spending, foreign policy, and the role of politicians in the army. Along with this, the inefficiency of the government and eight Prime Ministers since independence up until 1957 led Ayub Khan to conduct a bloodless coup d’état and take up the role of the chief administrator of the existing martial law imposed by Pakistan’s first president Iskander Mirza.

Ayub Khan later ousted Mirza and assumed the powers and position of the president. Khan believed in what the author calls a “controlled democracy” (p.305), and the 1962 constitution refers to it as “democracy with discipline.” The constitutional changes increased the powers of the army and bureaucrats. During Khan, the army assumed civilian positions in the government, a trend which is continued by all his successors. The country was modelled in a way that the army would have full control of the defence budget, which was more than half of the country’s GDP, foreign policy and domestic affairs. Nevertheless, Ayub modernised the “dini madaris” education system and liberalised the economy.

The rule of Ayub Khan ended with the army’s failure in the 1965 war and in 1971 after the separation of East-Pakistan and the formation of Bangladesh. This fiasco ignited a spark of democracy and student activism. Key politicians like Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and his socialist political party, “Pakistan’s People’s Party”, emerged in this period. Additionally, Pakistan saw a moderate leader and a beacon of hope in Z.A. Bhutto and elected him as the Prime Minister of Pakistan.

Z.A. Bhutto is known for being the first and only democratically elected official to stand up against the army and restrict their involvement in the affairs of the state. The author says that the “Bhutto years were both a missed opportunity and a founding moment in the history of democracy.” (p.237). Even though he propagated socialist ideas, Bhutto favoured feudal landowners and appointed civil service positions to his supporters. Furthermore, the author argues that Bhutto and his party were neither socialist nor revolutionary but were populist and loud. Bhutto invoked martial law in five cities and had charges of corruption and rigging of elections. However, General Zia-ul-Haq in July 1977 decided to intervene just like Ayub Khan to protect the people of Pakistan from the shortcomings of the democratically elected civilian government, thus, leading to the fall of democracy and rise of military despotism.

Zia ‘protected’ the people by becoming what the author calls “a modern tyrant.” (p.323). During the Zia years, the people of Pakistan faced their worst fate. The dictator in the name of religion ruptured the independence of the judiciary, curbed press freedom, and Islamified government institutions. Zia also intensified the use of jihadi militancy in the Afghan war and Kashmir, which would later become the cause of terrorism in Pakistan and the rest of the world.

Later, in 1988 Zia dies in a plane crash, and another process of democratisation was initiated. Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Shariff were at the forefront of the process. Thus, the power of the military and democracy both have caused instability and resilience in Pakistan. The instability is seen in the case of Z. A. Bhutto - who tried to centralise power and deceived his ideas through populism in the garb of social change and rigging elections. Stability is recorded during the time of Ayub Khan and democratically elected leaders like Nawaz Shariff and Benazir Bhutto. However, both Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Shariff faced barriers from working efficiently by the army and faced charges of corruption and money laundering.

The Pakistan Paradox: Instability and Resilience highlights the critical reasons for a balanced constitution and division of power where checks and balances are in place. It also provides insights into comparative politics while studying the perpetual regime and constitutional change which can be detrimental for the security of any state and its people. Pakistan is a case in point to understand the failures of autocracy and military rule along with the lapse of democracy and public institutions. The study of Pakistan using Jaffrelot’s work in comparative politics deduces us to answers and raises new questions which challenge the status quo. ‘Pakistan Paradox’ is ubiquitous in Pakistan from the judiciary to street-level politics. The author notes that these paradoxes let Pakistan survive and hold it back from advancing and growing. The author concludes by recalling the imperativeness of democracy and the power of people and the duty of the government to serve its people unconditionally.

Jaffrelot writes the history and politics of Pakistan succinctly in 676 pages in a jargon-free manner. The book is scrupulously researched and involves its reader in a deep dive into Pakistan. The book is a must-read for any enthusiast of South Asian and Pakistani politics.

About the author: Naman Vakharia is a second-year student of Global Affairs at JGU. He has interests in politics and society along with discourses on gender.

Cover Image: Business Today

53 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page