A His­tor­i­cal Ap­pe­tizer

Ti­tle: The Ox­ford Com­pan­ion to Pak­istani His­tory. Edited by: Aye­sha Jalal Pub­lisher: Ox­ford Univer­sity Press, Pak­istan (Fe­bru­ary 2012) Pages: 558, Hard­back Price: PKR 1500 ISBN: 9780195475784

Southasia - - Book Review -

The Ox­ford Com­pan­ion to Pak­istani His­tory is a timely and wel­come ad­di­tion to the so­cial sciences lit­er­a­ture on Pak­istan. As a ref­er­ence work, it deals with peo­ple, places, events, move­ments, trends and ideas, bring­ing to­gether the ex­per­tise of aca­demics and prac­ti­tion­ers. The ef­fort that has clearly gone into the edit­ing and com­pil­ing is com­mend­able and the ed­i­tor has per­formed a great ser­vice to the study of Pak­istan’s past. The fin­ished prod­uct is a fine in­tro­duc­tion to Pak­istan and a wor­thy jump­ing off point for both re­searchers and gen­eral read­ers.

Ar­guably, the great­est strength of The Ox­ford Com­pan­ion to Pak­istani His­tory is that it em­braces a di­ver­sity of view­points rather than try­ing to ham­mer dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives into con­form­ity or sim­ply ig­nor­ing what­ever is con­trary to the de­sired world­view. This is not, there­fore, a friendly com­pan­ion for any ide­o­log­i­cal per­spec­tive on Pak­istan’s past nor does it seek to ra­tio­nal­ize the be­hav­ior of regimes, lead­ers and move­ments. The con­trib­u­tors have clearly had the free­dom to ex­press them­selves as they see fit al­beit with­out the polem­i­cal em­pha­sis of pop­u­lar de­bates. The tone, is thus, sober, while no at­tempt is made to fix a time­frame on Pak­istani his­tory or limit it spa­tially or in­tel­lec­tu­ally to the ter­ri­to­rial fron­tiers of con­tem­po­rary Pak­istan.

Although there is no cen­tral- iz­ing theme, read­ing The Ox­ford Com­pan­ion to Pak­istani His­tory gives one a sense of the di­ver­sity, tragedy, and up­heavals that have forged the present. The Ghaz­navids, Ghorids, Delhi Sul­tans, Mughals, Bri­tish, and many oth­ers are cov­ered in mul­ti­ple en­tries. For the post-1947 sec­tion, sub-na­tional move­ments are pro­vided space, their achieve­ments, pro­grams and strug­gles, placed along­side en­tries that cover Pak­istan’s mil­i­tary, civil ser­vice, and for­eign pol­icy. Ref­er­ence the Free­dom Move­ment, the Pak­istan Move­ment and postin­de­pen­dence pol­i­tics, po­lit­i­cal lead­ers get a sub­stan­tial num­ber of en­tries. While there isn’t as much on Pak­istani sports­men, schol­ars, artists, aca­demi­cians, and em­i­nent ci­ti­zens as per­haps there ought to be, there are, how­ever, won­der­fully in­for­ma­tive en­tries on cities, such as La­hore, and sports, such as squash.

The best way to read The Ox­ford Com­pan­ion to Pak­istani His­tory is slowly and de­lib­er­ately. As it is or­ga­nized al­pha­bet­i­cally, try­ing to read too much in one go can ex­haust the reader’s pa­tience. The reader is ad­vised to read a few en­tries at a time, or skip to topics us­ing the Sub­ject In­dex, that they find most in­ter­est­ing. The read-

ing ex­pe­ri­ence, how­ever, is quite re­ward­ing for the qual­ity of the en­tries ranges from su­perb to com­pe­tent. As can be ex­pected, en­tries on topics that are fa­mil­iar might not be as im­pres­sive or de­tailed as one wants, while those on topics where the fa­mil­iar­ity level is lower might ap­pear to be bet­ter.

It is vi­tal that po­ten­tial read­ers un­der­stand that The Ox­ford Com­pan­ion to Pak­istani His­tory is not a de­tailed his­tory of ev­ery­thing. The en­tries should be taken as ap­pe­tiz­ers that stim­u­late the cu­rios­ity of the reader. In the event that some- thing or some­one has been missed in the present edi­tion, the best thing to do is to in­form the ed­i­tor and the pub­lisher so that the gap can be ad­dressed in later edi­tions. One hopes that th­ese edi­tions do keep coming at reg­u­lar in­ter­vals af­ter re­vi­sion and up­dat­ing.

Over­all, The Ox­ford Com­pan­ion to Pak­istani His­tory is an es- sen­tial ref­er­ence work that pro­vides use­ful in­for­ma­tion about Pak­istan’s past from mul­ti­ple per­spec­tives. The edit­ing is solid and the con­trib­u­tors have done well to con­vey com­plex topics, is­sues and per­son­al­i­ties, in a con­cise and read­able man­ner. While the Pak­istan re­lease can be ex­pected to find its way to li­braries around the world it may be ad­vis­able for an on­line ver­sion of The Ox­ford Com­pan­ion to Pak­istani His­tory to be pre­pared as well – it would be a con­sid­er­able im­prove­ment to ex­ist­ing on­line re­sources about Pak­istan and will have far greater cred­itabil­ity. Il­han Niaz is the au­thor of ‘The Cul­ture of Power and Gov­er­nance of Pak­istan, 1947-2008’ and ‘An In­quiry into the Cul­ture of Power of the Sub­con­ti­nent.’ He teaches his­tory at the Quaid-i-Azam Univer­sity, Is­lam­abad.

Re­viewed by Il­han Niaz

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