Making Sense of Pakistan

September 2018 9781787380325 312pp


Pakistan’s transformation from supposed model of Muslim enlightenment to a state now threatened by an Islamist takeover has been remarkable. Many account for the change by pointing to Pakistan’s controversial partnership with the United States since 9/11; others see it as a consequence of Pakistan’s long history of authoritarian rule, which has marginalised liberal opinion and allowed the rise of a religious right.

Farzana Shaikh argues the country’s decline is rooted primarily in uncertainty about the meaning of Pakistan and the significance of ‘being Pakistani’. This has pre-empted a consensus on the role of Islam in the public sphere and encouraged the spread of political Islam. It has also widened the gap between personal piety and public morality, corrupting the country’s economic foundations and tearing apart its social fabric. More ominously still, it has given rise to a new and dangerous symbiosis between the country’s powerful armed forces and Muslim extremists.

Shaikh demonstrates how the ideology that constrained Indo-Muslim politics in the years leading to Partition in 1947 has left its mark, skilfully deploying insights from history to better understand Pakistan’s troubled present.


‘Erudite and persuasive . .  . this is a book that should be read.’ — The New Indian Express

‘A work of genuine scholarship on one of the most complicated countries on earth. If you have ever wondered why Pakistan’s problems are so deep, then Farzana Shaikh has the answers.’ — Owen Bennett Jones, BBC World Service

‘Shaikh’s knowledge is encyclopedic, her methods of analysis simple but intense, her writing beautifully lucid – there is nobody better to explain what Barack Obama calls the most dangerous place in the world.’ — Ahmed Rashid, author of Descent into Chaos: How the War Against Islamic Extremism is Being Lost in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia

‘Intellectually acute, impressively researched, and strongly argued.’ — Anatol Lieven, The American Prospect

‘A scholarly and erudite study of the competition to define and establish a “national” identity for Pakistan.’ — Robert Nichols, H-Asia

‘Thought-provoking . . . Those interested in helping shape the country’s future will come away understanding why now is the time to move on with clarity.’ — Shabana Fayyaz, Middle East Journal

‘A well documented, provocative study…of considerable interest to scholars and foreign policy specialists. ‘ — Choice

‘Rich and multifaceted, this book’s focus on the uncertainties regarding Islam as a key feature of Pakistan’s national identity represents an important theoretical innovation-one that takes us well beyond the narrow view that the politics of Pakistan can be understood apart from engaging with the contested terms of Islam.’ — Matthew Nelson, author of In the Shadow of Shari’ah: Islam, Islamic Law, and Democracy in Pakistan

‘Pakistan is far too little understood for a country of such global strategic importance. Farzana Shaikh provocatively argues that as a homeland for Muslims, the inevitable quest for defining national identity in terms of “Islam” could only mean uncertainty and contestation over key questions of belonging and political culture that are at the heart of any nation state. This timely book is a welcome contribution to understanding Pakistan’s problems of failed governance, regionalism, sectarianism, and social polarization.’ — Barbara Metcalf, University of Michigan

‘Farzana’s work … is not a historical analysis of Pakistan’s tortuous political development. It is rather a scholarly analysis of the complex dynamics of state-society relationship.’ — The Muslim World Book Review


Farzana Shaikh is an Associate Fellow at the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London and the author of Community and Consensus in Islam: Muslim Representation in Colonial India, 1860-1947. A well known commentator on Pakistan, she has lectured and written widely on the country in the course of an academic career that has included positions in the UK, the US and Europe.

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