Readings on Pakistan

Posted by sepoy on December 11, 2007 · 8 mins read

I am often asked to write up a single post on the broad overview of the history of Pakistan - and I usually say: I am a medievalist. Part of the frustration is, of course, that there isn't anything notable out there which covers the politics, history and culture in around 200 pages for the general audience. No, Ian Talbot and Stephen Cohen are not up to the task - neither are any books that have any of the following words in their title: Military, Extremism, Mosque. Such books may or may not be good reading on those specific topics, but they fail miserably at everything else. Until the time that a money-hungry Press asks me for the manuscript that will land them on the best seller's list (Sepoy's Pakistan: Mad Mutterings of the Melancholic Sort), the best "book" on Pakistan is a series of readings. I am providing a partial listing from a class I taught. The list is by no means meant to be taken as exhaustive, comprehensive or even exemplary. The main selection criteria was the availability of materials in pdf format. There are also other pedagogical quirks buried here. I pay as much attention to historiography as to history in my selection of readings and I also like to assign readings that will provoke my students, rather than simply inform them. In that, I often tend to assign materials that do not share my own outlook or with which I have substantial issues. That said, if you read these 30 odd articles, book reviews, etc., I promise you will be totally prepared for anything a Fareed Zakaria or a Tom Friedman can conjure.

a bit of political history:

Spate, O.H.K. "The Partition of the Punjab and of Bengal". The Geographical Journal, Vol. 110, No. 4/6. (Oct. - Dec., 1947), pp. 201-218.

Brown, W. Norman. "India's Pakistan Issue". Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, Vol. 91, No. 2. (Apr. 5, 1947), pp. 162-180.

Franck, Dorothea Seelye. "Pakhtunistan - Disputed Disposition of a Tribal Land". Middle East Journal, 6 (1952) p.49.

Sayeed, Khalid B., "The "Jama'at-i-Islami" Movement in Pakistan". Pacific Affairs, 30:1 (1957) p.59.

Ikramullah, Shaista Suhrawardy. "The Role of Women in the Life and Literature of Pakistan". Journal of the Royal Society of Arts, 106:5025 (Aug., 1958), p. 713.

Abbott, Freeland. "The Historical Background of Islamic India and Pakistan". Contributions to Asian Studies 2, (July, 1971), p.6.

Nations, Richard. "The Economic Structure of Pakistan: Class and Colony". New Left Review I/68, July-August 1971.

Maxwell, Neville. "A Passage to Pakistan". The New York Review of Books. Vol. 18, No. 5 · March 23, 1972.

Choudhury, G. W. "'New' Pakistan's Constitution, 1973". Middle East Journal, 28:1 (1974) p.10.

Qureshi, Sameel Ahmed. "An Analysis of Contemporary Pakistani Politics: Bhutto versus the Military". Asian Survey, Vol. 19, No. 9. (Sep., 1979), pp. 910-921.

Richter, William L. "Pakistan under Benazir Bhutto". Current History, 88:542 (1989) p.433.

Diamond, Larry. "Is Pakistan the (Reverse) Wave of the Future?". Journal of Democracy. Vol. 11, No. 3. (July, 2000), pp. 91-106.

Waseem, Muhammad. "Constitutionalism in Pakistan: The Changing Patterns of Dyarchy". Diogenes, 53:102 (2006).


Nasr, Vali. "International Politics, Domestic Imperatives, and Identity Mobilization: Sectarianism in Pakistan, 1979-1998". Comparative Politics, Vol. 32, No. 2. (Jan., 2000), pp. 171-190.

Wright, Theodore P. "Center-Periphery Relations and Ethnic Conflict in Pakistan: Sindhis, Muhajirs, and Punjabis". Comparative Politics, Vol. 23, No. 3. (Apr., 1991), pp. 299-312.

Chaudhry, Kiren Aziz. "State, Society, and Sin: The Political Beliefs of University Students in Pakistan". Economic Development and Cultural Change, 32:1 (1983) p.11.

Haq, Farhat. "Rise of the MQM in Pakistan: Politics of Ethnic Mobilization". Asian Survey, Vol. 35, No. 11. (Nov., 1995), pp. 990-1004.

Nicolini, Beatrice. "The Baluch Role in the Persian Gulf during the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries". Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, Vol. 27, No. 2, 2007, pp. 384-396.


Stern, Jessica. "Pakistan's Jihad Culture". Foreign Affairs, November/December 2000.

Tremblay, Reeta Chowdhari. "Kashmir Conflict: Secessionist Movement, Mobilization and Political Institutions". Pacific Affairs, Vol. 74, No. 4. (Winter, 2001-2002), pp. 569-577.

Laber, Jeri. "Afghanistan's Other War". New York Review of Books. Vol. 33, No. 20. December 18, 1986.

Mishra, Pankaj. "Kashmir: The Unending War". New York Review of Books. Vol. 47, No. 16. October 19, 2000.

de Bellaigue, Christopher. "The Perils of Pakistan". New York Review of Books. Vol. 48, No. 18. November 15, 2001

the nuclear gods:

Ali, Tariq. The Colour Khaki. New Left Review 19, January-February 2003.

Shaikh, Farzana. "Pakistan between Allah and Army". International Affairs, Vol. 76, No. 2, (Apr., 2000), pp. 325-332.

Slijper, Frank. Project Butter Factory: Henk Slebos and the A.Q. Khan nuclear network. TNI / Campagne tegen Wapenhandel. September 2007.

Langewiesche, William. The Wrath of Khan. Atlantic Monthly. November 2005.

Langewiesche, William. How to Get a Nuclear Bomb. Atlantic Monthly. December 2006.

(nation) imagined:

Gilmartin, David. "Partition, Pakistan, and South Asian History: In Search of a Narrative". The Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 57, No. 4. (Nov., 1998), pp. 1068-1095.

Jalal, Ayesha. "Conjuring Pakistan: History as Official Imagining". International Journal of Middle East Studies, Vol. 27, No. 1. (Feb., 1995), pp. 73-89.

Oldenburg, Philip. "A Place Insufficiently Imagined": Language, Belief, and the Pakistan Crisis of 1971". Journal of Asian Studies, 44:4 (Aug., 1985), p. 711.

Khan, Naveeda. "Flaws in the Flow: Roads and their Modernity in Pakistan". Social Text, Issue 89, Vol. 24, No. 4, Winter 2006, pp. 87-113.

Ali, Kamran Asdar. "'Pulp Fictions': Reading Pakistani Domesticity". Social Text, Issue 78, Vol. 22, No. 1, Spring 2004, pp. 123-145.

Mufti, Aamir. "Towards a Lyric History of India". boundary 2, Vol. 31, No. 2, Summer 2004, pp. 245-274.

Ewing, Katherine. "The Politics of Sufism: Redefining the Saints of Pakistan". Journal of Asian Studies, 42:2 (Feb, 1983) p.251.

That is all I can manage at the moment (If you want to grab these readings, join the CM group on facebook). Please add your suggestions in the comments.

Also fictions: Salman Rushdie's criminally under-appreciated Shame, Shaukat Siddiqi's God's Own Land, Abdullah Hussain's The Weary Generations, Intizar Husain's Basti and Agha Shahid Ali's translation of Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Rebel's Silhouette. Hmm. Maybe, you don't need to read all the non-fiction, if you just manage to read the above.

update: Since 2007, some new titles worth adding: Ayesha Siddiqa's Military, Inc, Iftikhar Dadi's Modernism and the Art of Muslim South Asia, Naveeda Khan and Veena Das' Beyond Crisis: Re-evaluating Pakistan and the forthcoming volumes by Saadia Toor, Kamran Asdar Ali and, um, me.


amber | December 11, 2007

thanks so much... time to hit the library!

Zack | December 11, 2007

Thank you so much, Manan! BTW since Dec 16 is so close, how about a reading list for the events in East Pakistan in 1970-71?

Rohit | December 11, 2007

Thanks, this is amazing. Also its interesting to see that Pakistan gets space in Middle East journals as well.

Aliskandar | December 12, 2007

So incredibly useful. Dauntingly useful. I may never read again.

Aasem Bakhshi | December 12, 2007

That is truly a treat. Thanks a lot for that. The last comment is quite valid as there is gem of fiction literature on the partition. One may include a selection of short stories by Manto and the progressive writer's tribe on subjects related to partition.

Jonathan Dresner | December 12, 2007

I'm definitely tempted to start at the bottom of the list....

Dave Stone | December 13, 2007

I'd be interested in hearing more. What do you see as the specific virtues and faults of the books that are out there? The ones I'm familiar with are Ian Talbot's _Pakistan: A Modern History_, Stephen Cohen's _The Idea of Pakistan_, Lawrence Ziring's _Pakistan in the Twentieth Century_, and Shahid Javed Burki's _Pakistan: Fifty Years of Nationhood_. Would you be willing to give your opinion?

sepoy | December 13, 2007

Dave: Taken as a whole, the books on Pakistan are generally political histories, at best, with scarcely any social or cultural or regional history; they rarely incorporate any vernacular sources (even Urdu sources, for that matter); and typically adhere to the conventional "failed state" model. One cannot find any monographs say on the history of the Left or gender or city. It is slim pickings out there.

durjan | December 13, 2007

I see, every now and then, some references to Fareed Zakaria, sometimes not very complimentary. Is there perhaps some critique in CM of his work on or attitudes towards Pakistan? Thanks

sepoy | December 13, 2007

I don't know what would give you that impression. I love Fareed "Carefully Start Shooting" Zakaria as much as I love Tom "Suck on This" Friedman.

Astarte | December 14, 2007

Thanks for the list, especially the on-line links. I too am tempted to start at the bottom of the list.

bol | December 18, 2007

A great list and there is a lot that I haven't read myself. Here are a few suggestions to the list gender and citizenship Shanaz Rouse. The Outsider (s) Within: Sovereignty and Citizenship in Pakistan. In Shifting Body Politics (Kali Press: 2004). class and labor history Kamran Ali. The Strength of the Street Meets the Strength of the State. International Journal of Middle East Studies 37 (2005) 83-107 Pakistan and East Bengladesh Independence Yasmin Saikia. Beyond the Archive of Silence. History Workshop Journal. 58(1) (2004): 275-287

Aun Ali | December 18, 2007

I think a list of books about Pakistan is incomplete without something about language. I have a penchant for Urdu and so I will recommend S R Faruqi's Early Urdu Literary Culture and History, which delves into the politics of Urdu as well as its history.

Abir | December 19, 2007

What is a sub-nationalism? A nationalism opposed to a nationalism? A nationalism less than a nationalism?

Desi Italiana | December 20, 2007

Abir: "What is a sub-nationalism? A nationalism opposed to a nationalism? A nationalism less than a nationalism?" That's an excellent question, when you think about it. My first impulse was to say that it is more regional and ethnic based, but then you could say the same about nationalism. I suppose in this context, "sub-nationalism" might be that which is within the overriding nationalism of the nation state (Pakistan), and one that could or could not be in defiance of this larger nationalism. Or maybe Sepoy wants to elaborate...

sepoy | December 20, 2007

Abir: subnationalism is a polisci term to capture cultural (linguistic, regional, ethnical) nationalisms working against the hegemonic nation-state nationalism. See, Mitra, The Rational Politics of Cultural Nationalism: Subnational Movements of South Asia in Comparative Perspective, British Journal of Political Science, Vol. 25, No. 1. (Jan., 1995), pp. 57-77.

Desi Italiana | December 20, 2007

"subnationalism is a polisci term to capture cultural (linguistic, regional, ethnical) nationalisms working against the hegemonic nation-state nationalism." But nation-state nationalisms are composed of linguistic, regional, and ethnic threads as well, no? And even with nation-state nationalism, it's not like there is one hegemonic and monolithic nationalism (ie "the hegemonic nation-state nationalism"). There are various nation-state nationalismS, which I think compete one another and jostle with one another. Like with India, there are different kinds and conceptualizations of nationalism...

Abir | December 21, 2007

Thanks, Desi Italiana and Sepoy for your thoughts. In Delhi, I had often heard this political science term come up in boring Conferences on Kashmir, Assam and Nagaland in the early 1990s. But it has been given up (even by political scientists…things changed so rapidly in the 1990s)… so I hardly expected to come across it on CM. The adherents of different subnationalisms might feel provoked into saying, Uski kameez meri kameez se safed kaise. I don't know if there is a more recent citation for the concept. My feeling is that it has long been given up even by political scientists. Why not call ethnic, regional, linguistic nationalisms by their names…Balochi, Assamese, Sindhi, Kashmiri? The “sub-” is unnecessary because sometimes these nationalisms might be working with what you call “the hegemonic nation-state nationalism.” Something is lost with the "sub-"...more so when all these movements have their own histories.

sepoy | December 21, 2007

There are many outdated and discarded terms that clutter CM. We shall hold on to this one for now.

Desi Italiana | December 21, 2007

Abir: "Why not call ethnic, regional, linguistic nationalisms by their names…Balochi, Assamese, Sindhi, Kashmiri? The “sub-” is unnecessary because sometimes these nationalisms might be working with what you call “the hegemonic nation-state nationalism.” I'd venture as far as saying that even nation-state nationalisms can be regarded as "sub-nationalisms" as well, particularly with countries are break off pieces of a larger entity.

Desi Italiana | December 21, 2007

Or vice versa. It can be a big mess :)

Usman | December 31, 2007

Dear Sepoy, I am a student at University for Peace Costa Rica from Pakistan.I have planned to work on Religious Extremism & Madrassa Education in Pakistan.... I am finding it difficult to collect liturature related to my topic. Ater reading your post here n events in Pakistan I think I'll have to take into account issues of identity and its political implications... I am looking for a favor of sending me your email address... due to some technical error i'm finding it hard to send you an e-mail through this page. In Peace, Malik Usman Khan University for Peace Costa Rica

Pour une vision plus moderne du Pakistan « Enjeux actuels | January 25, 2009

[...] Le texte intégral de l’auteur est disponible au :   [...]

Nikolai | February 09, 2010

Darn it, I had hoped with the word 'idea' in it's title that Stephen Cohen's book would be more than just political. Anyway, those interested in Pakistani affais (is anyone here not?) should also check out the latest issue of Columbia's Journal of International Affairs. Its focus is on 'domestic pressures and regional threats', and one or two articles focus on Afghanistan, but it's still worth checking out. Contents: Ishrat Husain - The Role of Politics in Pakistan's Economy Andrew Wilder - The Politics of Civil Service Reform in Pakistan C. Christine Fair - Pakistan's Own War on Terror: What the Pakistani Public Thinks Ayesha Siddiqa - Jihadism in Pakistan: The Expanding Frontier Marvin G. Weinbaum - Countering Insurgency and Terrorism in Pakistan Saeed Shafqat - Pakistan: Militancy, Transition to Democracy and Future U.S Relations Bruce Riedel - The Mumbai Massacre and its Implications for America and South Asia Sumit Ganguly & Nicholas Howenstein - India-Pakistan Rivalry in Afghanistan Syed Hasnat - Pakistan's Strategic Interests, Afghanistan and the Fluctuating U.S. Strategy Kimberly Marten - The Danger of Tribal Militias in Afghanistan Interview with Dov Zakheim Cordier Essay by Justin Mankin - How Afghan Opium Underpins Local Power Review Essays: Tabinda Khan, Austin Long and Francesco Mancini Check it out.

Beyond Crisis: Re-evaluating Pakistan | February 26, 2010

[...] Very Promising new collection of essays on Pakistan. It will make a fine addition to this. [...]