ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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How Not to Write History

The Struggle for Pakistan: A Muslim Homeland and Global Politics by Ayesha Jalal; Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2014; pp xii + 435, $35.

The endorsement on the back cover of this book by a highly respected scholar of South Asia states that the book is “written by the world’s most respected, prolific, and authoritative historian of Pakistan.” He is right on all counts. Ayesha Jalal, with this, her 11th book in three decades, is all that. Moreover, having been so prolific, Jalal in her Preface states that “this narrative history of Pakistan represents decades of research and thinking” about this country, and she felt that “the time had come [for her] to write a definitive, contemporary history of Pakistan in a challenging global context” (p x). The “world’s most respected, prolific, and authoritative historian of Pakistan,” writing Pakistan’s definitive history, disappoints hugely by repeating well-worn narratives about Pakistan’s history. Jalal really has nothing new to say.

Had this book been written by a young graduate writing his or her first book, perhaps they could have been forgiven, but not an accomplished historian who has written on numerous diverse themes related to South Asian history; surprisingly, she has not written a complete history of her own country. It is not just on the basis of high expectations one has from Jalal’s books that this book disappoints hugely, but for anyone having read any of the now numerous histories written on Pakistan in recent years, the book offers little in the way of new insight or evidence to make one rethink Pakistan’s history. One must emphasise that there is nothing really “wrong” with the manner Jalal has attempted to write her country’s history (although there are numerous problems and concerns with the way she does this), a task for which she is more than well qualified. This book, however, is clearly a missed opportunity by someone of her stature to say something particularly new or thought-provoking.

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