Summary of Pakistan Under Siege

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For anyone reared in a secular society, Pakistan presents itself as a perplexing and deeply troubling place. Why do terror leaders get to live unpunished while blasphemy is punishable by death? Why are nonviolent Islamists – who nonetheless chant “Death to America” – targeted for suicide attacks by jihadists? In this detailed study of Pakistan’s past and present, scholar Madiha Afzal persuasively argues when and how Pakistan went off track, spelling out the many nuances of the country’s political sphere. She deftly charts the nation’s shift away from secularism and toward extremism in the 1970s and 1980s as religious liberty was quashed, free speech criminalized and school curricula dumbed down. Afzal then explains how Pakistan’s leadership might stop the bloodshed, while acknowledging that the political climate in Pakistan makes such commonsense reforms unlikely. An optimistic reader might agree with Afzal’s hopeful tone, but a pessimistic one will wonder what, really, can be done to fix a deeply flawed nation where Osama bin Laden hid out for years and opponents regularly attack government reformers. 

About the Author

Madiha Afzal is a nonresident fellow at the Brookings Institution and an adjunct assistant professor of global policy at Johns Hopkins.



Pakistan’s Bloody Decade

The West considers Pakistan a cradle of radical Islam and a nearly lawless place where terrorists thrive unchecked. The 9/11 Commission Report argued that the nation’s “endemic poverty, widespread corruption and often-ineffective government” directly enabled the growth of extremism – and these claims have an undeniable truth. According to one estimate, the Taliban and other terrorist organizations are responsible for the deaths of more than 25,000 Pakistanis over the past decade. In 2012, a terror group attacked Malala Yousafzai, then 15, for agitating for the right of girls to attend school. What’s more, Osama bin Laden was able to hide out in Pakistan for years. Bin Laden was killed in a home near Pakistan’s military academy, leading to the obvious conclusion that Pakistani officials knew bin Laden’s whereabouts but declined to reveal his location to the United States.

Yet any simplified characterization of Pakistan inevitably overlooks the nation’s complexity. It’s a country of 200 million people, and its citizens’ views of extremism are more nuanced than many imagine. While ordinary...

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