The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power


Simon & Schuster

Asif M Basit

Author: Tariq Ali

Publishers: Simon and Schuster (2008)

Pages: 315

Tariq Ali is undoubtedly a trendsetter in the field of political analysis. Those who have listened to him speak will find that his writing is very similar to his speech – fluent, analytical and deep. His book, The Duel, is a very good example of how he analyses complex political situations in a way that sounds more like a story than a hard-core, dry and uninteresting analysis. 

The genesis of Pakistan – at the hands of leaders that weren’t too clear of what they were sowing – to the infant state being sold to the USA for a price that only suited the so-called leaders and never the nation; call this the precis of the book. But the problem is not as easy as to be summarised in a dozen words. It is a brief history of the breaking down of a state that once boasted to have changed the map of the world after a thick line – or a scar if you like – was drawn to divide the Indian subcontinent. So it is, in fact, a story of sixty years (when the book was written) but spanning a mere few hundred A5 pages; not an easy job.

Tariq Ali holds to account the military rulers who held Pakistan hostage for more than three decades – more than half of the country’s life. When Pakistan emerged on the global scene, America had by then sank into its obsession of bringing the Soviet Union to its knees. So the emergence of a state – a very unstable one – in very close proximity of its battlefield was enough of a temptation for the USA. Thus began a story of an “anti-Communist Jihad” with Pakistan as an ally of the USA at the cost of national integrity, security, dignity and economic independence; the last being the primary factor that led Pakistan to never becoming independent – the transition was only from being a colony of an empire to  becoming a slave of a super-power. 

The generals of the Pakistan Army – boasting their defence budgets – were too obsessed with maintaining their political and military alliance with the USA and ever-forgetful of other heads that starved in terms of budget. Key areas like education, health and policing were left in tatters as the military preyed on the public purse. 

The civilian governments – for whatever short terms they could manage to pull  – are also held responsible by Tariq Ali for losing Pakistan to America. This was down to the economic pressures that civilian governments struggled with all through their term as an elected government; only if they were able to make it that far. Tariq Ali cites, as an example, the terms of Benazir Bhutto where both her terms only tried to satisfy her infamous husband’s appetite for wealth and to fuel his lust for power.

Tariq Ali’s is an all-encompassing analysis of all three major areas of governance; the executive, the legislative and the judiciary. This versatile analysis comes into full swing when Ali describes the anti-Ahmadiyya agitation, ignited by the Islamic clerics, in 1953, and how the government sets up a judicial bench to look into the matter, how the judicial commission deals with it and how the army is called to declare martial law and how Bhutto picks up this issue to stabilise his shaking control on political power. Ali devotes a good part of chapter two (titled “Rewinding Pakistan: The Birth of Tragedy”) to tell this pitiful tale that left Pakistan in a state of turmoil from which it was never to recover. 

As Ali “rewinds Pakistan”, we see the following interesting scenes:

“The Islamist group began a violent campaign against them [the Ahmadis], attacking their meetings, killing an Ahmediya army major, demanding the sacking of the foreign minister, and insisting that the sect be declared non-Muslim.”

“Daultana effectively prevented the police from providing protection to the besieged Ahmediyya community. In 1953, serious riots broke out, Ahmediyya shops were looted and mosques attacked, and some members of the community lost their lives.”

“An angry provincial governor called on the army to intervene. Martial law was declared in Lahore. General Azam gave orders to shoot rioters on sight. Within twenty-four hours the crisis was over. Maulana Maududi and others were tried for treason, and Maududi was sentenced to death, which was later commuted.”

“A court of inquiry was established to inquire into the cause of the disturbances. It was presided over by Justice Munir and Justice Kayani. The published report, I have often argued, is a classic of its type, a modern masterpiece of political literature. It should become part of the national curriculum if a serious state of education system is ever established. The two judges began to question Muslim clerics from rival schools, and different factions testified as to what they thought constituted a Muslim state and their definition of a Muslim. With each new reply the judges found it difficult to conceal their incredulity, some of which was reflected in their report. All the groups concurred in the view that a secular state was impermissible and that non-Muslims could not be treated as equal citizens.”

“Keeping in view the several definitions given by the ulama, need we make any comment except that no two learned divines are agreed on this fundamental… If we adopt the definition given by one of the ulama, we remain Muslim according to the view of that alim, but kafirs according to the definition of everyone else.”

The Duel is not only an in-depth analysis presented in a beautiful narrative, but it also carries solutions to the chronic problems of Pakistan; land-reforms, improving the infrastructure, investing in education, empowering women and freeing the thought process of the general public.

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