Sunday, July 14, 2024

Pakistan Courting the Abyss by Tilak Devasher

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Review of the book Pakistan Courting the Abyss by Tilak Devasher

Tilak Devasher, former special secretary to the Cabinet secretariat is a career bureaucrat. He is also a member of the National Security Advisory Board (NSAB).

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He is the author of three books on the Af-Pak region and is considered to be one of the finest minds with a keen insight and sharp analysis on Pakistan.

Devasher in 2016 wrote the book Pakistan-Courting the AbyssPublished by Harper Collins the book is a gem for understanding the complex problems surrounding the country.

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It also explains why Pakistan wants to compete with India.

Origin of Pakistan

The author argues that the origin of Pakistan dates to the insecurity the Muslim elites of the country faced in the aftermath of the decline of the Mughal Empire.

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Devasher argues that the seeds of Pakistan were sown back in the separatist propaganda on the Islamic side by Syed Ahmed Khan.

The writer states that while the Lahore resolution of 1940 paved the way for the formation of Pakistan, it create an insecure mindset among the Pakistanis.

But what kind of insecurity?

The insecurity of having to prove themselves better than India at every point of time.

Issues Plaguing Pakistan

The author, unlike other works on Pakistan before, has dedicated several chapters on the problems plaguing Pakistan.

The first one he highlights is the concentration of disproportionately high amount of resources in the hands of the army.

He writes that the Fauji foundation of Pakistan is a behemoth economic entity who owns several industries, undertakes infrastructure projects etc.

The fact that Pakistani army corners the lion’s share of state’s resources is evident from the FY 2023-24 budget’s defence capital.

Another problem is the water issue.

Devasher asserted, backed by strong data that the Indus and its tributaries on the Pakistani side to be drying up fast.

To compound matters further, the Pakistani state doesn’t undertake any concerted programme on improving the agricultural output.

Also, the author estimated that by 2030 there is a strong possibility of the Indus drying up.

Another problem the author highlighted is the corruption. It is well known in global politics that the political class is corrupt to the core.

The indictment and subsequent incarceration of Imran Khan in the Toshankhana gifts scandal speaks volumes.

Devasher highlighted how the Panama papers leak of 2016 broke the camel’s back as far as Nawaz Sharif’s political fortunes were concerned.


A key highlight of the book was terrorism.

Devasher cited Christine Fair, Ayesha Jalal and many Pakistani and Indian officers and diplomats to explain the complex phenomenon of terrorism in that country.

He specifically blamed the madrasa education and Zia Ul Haq’s Islamization policy that contributed to the gradual radicalization of the Pakistani society.

He states that it was this policy that directly led to the involvement of Pakistan in the Afghan Jihad of the 1980s.

Its devastating spillover was seen in the Kashmir insurgency of the 1990s.


The rest of the book covers Pakistani-US, Af-Pak relations.

A key portion of the book is also dedicated to Pakistan’s elusive pursuit of strategic depth vis-a-vis India, it also went into Pakistan’s TTP problem.

Hence the book Pakistan Courting the Abyss by Tilak Devasher is an excellent choice.

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