One might have preferred the title “Aboard the Democracy Train Wreck,” or even “The Little Engine That Might (as opposed to, “The Little Engine that Could”) after reading Nafisa Hoodbhoy’s harrowing account of democracy’s travails in her home country.
Nonetheless, it becomes clear, after reading this unique and marvelous little book, that some parts of the planet were not colonized long enough by the West (or escaped altogether) and so have been unable to form lasting democratic institutions and rule of law. In such places we continue to see civil society overwhelmed by sectarian violence, political corruption, and an almost absolute disregard for justice.
Yet set against all this misery is the very real desire and heroic efforts of the best of Pakistani civil society to bring about a workable and democratic country. The problem is: they’re just outnumbered.
As her subtitle suggests, Ms Hoodbhoy charts that struggle with intimate details from her long career as a journalist — details long hidden from view — of a particular time marked by the end of a military dictatorship and the beginning of an extraordinarily untidy civilian rule wracked by civil unrest.
Yet another case, if one were needed, where, in the less favored parts of the world, feudal lords, tribal chiefs, ethnic and language differences make for a toxic brew where central government is weak. And then there are people who simply want to run their own family mafias at the expense of everyone else.
Yet this is not just a ringside seat to Pakistan’s recent and violent history but the story of the first female journalist in a Muslim society dominated by resentful, gender-crazed, patriarchs determined to enforce archaic and medieval customs upon women. Ms Hoodbhoy reveals what it took to walk a journalistic tightrope while all about her women were raped and murdered without recourse to justice, narrowly escaping with her life on several occasions.
This is an extraordinary book by an extraordinarily brave journalist who also happens to be a proud Pakistani woman. A must-read for anyone wanting to know what drives Pakistani history today and the region that surrounds it.