Doris Lessing, The Wind Blows Away Our Words (London: Picador and NY: Random House, 1987).
The travel book that touches on the political is a tricky genre. At its best it enables the author, freed from the constraints of formal narrative and factual analysis, to present a special insight into a society in turmoil and into his or her encounter with the protagonists. The anecdotal and the experiential can provide a unique access. The contrasting accounts of China in the 1930s by Edgar Snow and Peter Fleming are classics of this kind: more recent examples might be Graham Greene, Paul Theroux, Ryszard Kapuscinski, James Fenton at his more considered, the Naipauls at their less dyspeptic.
Nikki Keddie traveled to Pakistan in 1985 and 1986 to investigate groups that in various ways have worked against President Zia ul Haq’s attempts to “Islamize” Pakistan’s legal system. Many of these activists are from women’s organizations; the Shi‘i community and certain lawyers groups have also mobilized protests. This activity flies in the face of the popular wisdom that Islamist politics is becoming more and more popular everywhere in the Middle East. Keddie’s observations suggest that it may be much less popular in countries which are actually experiencing Islamization. Keddie is professor of history at the University of California-Los Angeles. Eric Hooglund and Joe Stork interviewed her in Washington in December 1986.
After the Iraqi attack on the USS Stark in mid-May 1987, senior State Department officials scurried around the Gulf to drum up political support. Pakistan received a more significant visit. In late June, Gen. George Crist, commander-in-chief of the US Central Command (CENTCOM) arrived in Islamabad with 15 military experts for a five-day visit. It was Crist’s second visit to Pakistan in eight months, and it underlined the growing importance of Pakistan in Washington’s military plans for the Gulf.
Earlier this year, stories citing US intelligence documents reported that Pakistan now had the capacity to enrich uranium to 93 percent. In other words, Pakistan could produce its own weapons-grade nuclear material. This is perhaps the single most difficult step in manufacturing nuclear bombs.
Few persons who had been following Pakistan’s efforts were surprised by this news, or doubted its accuracy. In February 1984, Pakistan’s general-president, Zia ul-Haq, confirmed that Pakistan had made its first enrichment breakthrough, to the 5 percent level needed for research and nuclear power purposes. From that point it was only a matter of time before the country’s nuclear technicians achieved weapons-grade enrichment capacity.
Congress this fall will begin reviewing a new six-year US aid package to Pakistan totaling more than $4 billion. Crucial to the outcome is Pakistan’s military role in the Gulf. Pakistan’s military missions in 22 countries in the Middle East and Africa make it the largest exporter of military manpower in the Third World. Its role in the Gulf has a direct bearing on Washington’s strategy in the region, on the future security role of the Gulf Cooperation Council and on Pakistan’s own internal political dynamic.
How would you characterize the situation in Pakistan today?
The most striking thing about the present regime is the extraordinary degree of its isolation. It is a regime which, from one end of the country to another, does not seem to have any popular support. It lacks even the support of vested interests. It is difficult to find people in any social class or among any nationalities, literally anyone, who is willing to defend or justify the existence of the military regime in Pakistan.