Tracing the course of the political evolution of Pakistan up to the fall of General Pervez Musharraf. By A.G. NOORANI

THIS solid work of high scholarship is appropriately dedicated to the memory of Professor Yuri V. Gankovsky, the foremost scholar on Pakistan. The authors are worthy successors to a fine tradition of Russian scholarship on South Asia, which we have sadly neglected. Both authors are acknowledged scholars in the field, holding doctorates from the Russian Academy of Sciences. Vyacheslav Y. Belokrenitsky is deputy director of the Academy’s Institute of Oriental Studies in Moscow where Vladimir N. Moskalenko is chief research associate. Their work is part of the academy’s series of works on the political history of the countries of Asia. One looks forward to the volume on India.

The book is free from polemics and relies on primary source material as befits a work of scholarship. Beginning with the historical background to the establishment of Pakistan, it traces the course of its political evolution, ending with the travails of General Pervez Musharraf’s government in 2007, shortly before his fall from power in 2008.

An excellent chronology and bibliography serve to enhance its value as a work of reference.

The authors establish that successive military dictators could not extinguish popular aspirations for democratic governance. No sooner was the dictator gone, they surged. “Since the 1970s, due to various internal and external reasons, the pro-Islamic ideology started to rise steadily. Parliamentarian-type “political Islam” had existed alongside with militancy and terrorism. The danger of political extremism and intolerance among people had since long become a great challenge.

“Leftist forces, rather influential in the beginning of Pakistan’s history, were sidelined by the governing blocs and receded. When pro-Islamic forces were on the ascent in the 1970s and 1980s, the left-wing opposition lost its importance, and for the most part dissipated among the mainstream opposition forces, which used Islam-based rhetoric more or less intensively. The major socio-economic and political demands and slogan of the Left forces started to fall in the same category as the Islamic welfare ideas. As a result, Pakistan’s political spectrum, appreciably deformed and turned into a bipolar structure, consisting of the centre (moderate forces) and the right-wing radicalism and extremism. The situation made the ruling groups launch, at the turn of the twenty-first century, a consistent struggle with the danger from the Right in order to prevent extremists from seizing power and avoid the potential collapse of the state.”

The elections held on May 11 yielded a Right-Centrist government headed by Nawaz Sharif. This book helps much in understanding the structure of politics in Pakistan. It is a pity that the Left was decimated in the wake of the Rawalpindi Conspiracy trial, so well documented by Hasan Zaheer.