Declan Walsh, the former New York Times Pakistan bureau chief paints an arresting, up-close portrait of Pakistan. His electrifying portrait of the fractured country over a tumultuous decade captures the sweep of this strange country through the dramatic lives of nine individuals.
On assignment as the country careened between crises, Walsh traveled from the raucous port of Karachi to the salons of Lahore, and from Baluchistan to the mountains of Waziristan. He met a diverse cast of strange Pakistanis—a chieftain readying for war at his desert fort, a retired spy skulking through the borderlands, and a crusading lawyer risking death for her beliefs, among others. Through these “nine lives” he describes a country on the brink—a place of creeping extremism and political chaos.
Unbeknownst to Walsh, however, an intelligence agent was tracking him. Written in the aftermath of Walsh’s abrupt deportation, The Nine Lives of Pakistan concludes with an astonishing encounter with that agent, and his revelations about Pakistan’s powerful security state. Intimate and complex, attuned to the centrifugal forces of history, identity, and faith, The Nine Lives of Pakistan offers an unflinching account of life in a precarious, vital country.
Talking about the book, Walsh was recently asked by an interviewer for “The Diplomat” (https://thediplomat.com/2020/09/declan-walsh-on-the-nine-lives-of-pakistan/):
“We learn from the book that there was a plot to kill veteran activist Asma Jahangir when she opened up against human rights abuses in Balochistan. Journalist Hamid Mir survived a suicide attempt when he reported about the human rights violation and insurgency in the same province. You were expelled from Pakistan for reporting on Balochistan. What’s the reason behind Balochistan’s information blackhole and what can the media do when there is no access?”
Walsh replied, “Balochistan is the story nobody’s heard of outside Pakistan, and few inside the country are particularly aware of. It’s strange, just by dint of its size and location: This is a province that accounts for 43 percent of the landmass of a sizable country, wedged between Iran and Afghanistan. And it’s always been a reluctant part of Pakistan, with periodic uprisings against the central government since the 1940s. Part of the obscurity stems from the fact that its latest revolt, that started in the mid-2000s, is relatively small in size, and, from a Western perspective, of limited interest because the rebels leading it do not, for the most part, subscribe to an extremist Islamic ideology.But I came to realize that the conflict had an importance greater than its size. It was a product of a powerful fault line that runs deep across the length of Pakistan – the tension between the marginalized people of the peripheries and a powerful, army-dominated center. There’s been periodic uprising by disgruntled Sindhis, Pashtuns, and Balochs, always directed at Punjab and military-centric governments. And that, in turn, stems from the great unresolved question: what do they all share, as Pakistanis? The original idea – Islam – is clearly not enough.” The book has got rave reviews in international media and is an interesting read.
(The book is available at https://www.amazon.in/Nine-Lives-Pakistan-Dispatches-Precarious/dp/0393249913)