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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating
Mr. M. J. Akbar, an experienced journalist, sets out to trace and analyse the process of partition of South Asia into two warring countries: India and Pakistan. For this he begins not with the arrival of the British, and their `divide and rule' policy, as is the convention. He goes back to Emperor Akbar's reign, who first actively sought to create a syncretic nation,...
Published on February 13, 2011 by Sanjay Agarwal

12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A historical account of the Indian Muslims' angst
This book is an investigation into the idea and creation of Pakistan as a separate state from India for Indian Muslims. The author looks into the historical roots of this idea and what it holds for Pakistan's future.
M.J.Akbar, the author, identifies a 'theory of distance' amongst the Muslim elite in India in the 18th century onwards. This theory holds that Hindus...
Published on March 11, 2011 by Raghu Nathan

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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A historical account of the Indian Muslims' angst, March 11, 2011
Raghu Nathan "Ragsraghu" (Santa Clara, CA United States) - See all my reviews
This book is an investigation into the idea and creation of Pakistan as a separate state from India for Indian Muslims. The author looks into the historical roots of this idea and what it holds for Pakistan's future.
M.J.Akbar, the author, identifies a 'theory of distance' amongst the Muslim elite in India in the 18th century onwards. This theory holds that Hindus and Muslims are different people and that Muslim interests and way of life in India can only be secured by Muslims living as a separate 'nation'. Interestingly, this idea was propounded not by the Deoband Dar-ul-Uloom, the primary clergy of south Asia but by the Muslim educated elite. The reasons for this primarily were the sharp decline of Mughal power in India under the British from the 18th century onwards and the consequent rise in British India of Hindus, who embraced the English language and modernity through education in western science and values. The Muslim elite conversely stayed mostly away from English and modern education as something 'foreign and despicable'. Additionally, the decline of the Ottoman empire in Europe also contributed to the feeling amongst the Muslim elite of the erosion of power and influence. The author says that this idea of a separate nationhood has always been there in Indian Muslims since the 18th century. Then it means that it is not something new or something that happened due to the differences between the Congress party and the Muslim League in the mid 20th century or due to the purported indifference towards Jinnah shown by Nehru or other Congress leaders. Further, the author says that the Muslim League never really believed or internalised the non-violent approach of Gandhi as they only paid lip-service to the Gandhian idea of Ahimsa as a need to co-operate with the Congress party. Also, the Muslim League leadership comprised mainly of big landlords, who had a vested interest in the partition of India to let them amass more land for themselves by the exchange of populations. The Muslim educated elite also had a vested interest in partition so that they can advance more easily in Pakistan without the competition from the Hindu elite. Seen in this light, it looks as though the 'divide and rule' and 'separate electorate' policies of the British were only sideshows in the partition of India.
The book also talks about the post-independence Pakistan and its jihadi culture and the nation becoming an Islamic an 'islamic state' rather than as a secular democracy as Jinnah might have wished. But this part of the book does not have any fresh insights and is short on the quality of writing that the earlier part of the book has in the history of the angst of the Indian Muslim. M.J.Akbar however says , "There might be little hope for peace with India, given the fundamental divergence on Kashmir, but a settlement with India will help excise the jihad culture ravaging Pakistan,". The author quotes at the end of the book some prescient observations by Maulana Azad, the Indian Muslim leader who stayed with the Congress. Akbar recalls how Maulana Azad made some significant predictions about Pakistan in interviews to Shorish Kashmiri, editor of a Lahore magazine, in 1946.

"The moment the creative warmth of Pakistan cools down, the contradictions will emerge and will acquire assertive overtones. These will be fuelled by the clash of interests of international powers and consequently both wings will separate...
"After the separation of East Pakistan, whenever it happens, West Pakistan will become the battleground of regional contradictions and disputes," Azad had said.
We can see this in the struggles of the Baloch, the Pashtun and the Sindhis in identity based militancy.

Azad also had warned that the "evil consequences of Partition" will not affect India alone.
"Pakistan will be equally haunted by them... We must remember that an entity conceived in hatred shall last only as long as that hatred lasts. This hatred shall overwhelm relations between India and Pakistan. In this situation it will not be possible for India and Pakistan to become friends and live amicably unless some catastrophic event takes place."
Akbar hopes that this catastrophe is not nuclear combat but one cannot be sure what could happen if the Jihadis in the Army and civilian side gain control of state power in Pakistan.

All in all, it is a good book to read. Akbar is a proud Indian Muslim but the book is balanced and looks at the question of a 'separate homeland for Indian Muslims' critically and historically.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, February 13, 2011
Mr. M. J. Akbar, an experienced journalist, sets out to trace and analyse the process of partition of South Asia into two warring countries: India and Pakistan. For this he begins not with the arrival of the British, and their `divide and rule' policy, as is the convention. He goes back to Emperor Akbar's reign, who first actively sought to create a syncretic nation, bringing Muslims and Hindus together. The clerical reactions to this, and the theory of distance that these reactions spawned, apparently bore fruit 500 years later in the bloody partition of the sub-continent.

Mr. Akbar's thesis is fascinating and despite containing a heavy dose of research and analysis, reads well, given Mr. Akbar's journalistic credentials. He completely demolishes the theory that the British were the cause of the partition - their role appears to be similar to that of Pontius Pilate who washed his hands off the crucifixion of Lord Jesus Christ. Refreshingly, he also examines Mahatma Gandhi's actions and thoughts with a sincere honesty, as an Indian, rather than as a Muslim or a Hindu. He also lends considerable weight to the new argument that Mr. Jinnah was a reluctant Pakistani, and not the primary cause of partition. It would be great if this book sparks a fresh debate into the causes of partition, and the lessons that we need to draw from it.

The book has been criticised for its failure to talk about the future of Pakistan. This is fair, if we assume that the book was expected to devote an equal amount of space to the past and the future. But if we agree that Pakistan started forming 550 years ago, then Mr. Akbar has given proportionate attention to both sides of the timeline. In any case, Mr. Akbar is a journalist, not a seer. And at this point of time, even a seer would have a hard time prophesying the future of Pakistan!

The hardbound Harper Collins edition has been printed and bound well, with an easy to read typeface. The paper tends to absorb ink, if you like making notes in the margins.

All in all, an excellent book. A must-read for all those interested in the future of the sub-continent.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rivetting stuff, February 12, 2011
Recommended reading for sure, the title belies the scope of the research. This is gripping stuff capturing a strain of history about the rise of Islam in the Indian subcontinent culminating in the recent past with a bleak outlook of the future of Pakistan. Whats remarkable is the length of the book is remarkably short for the scale of events captured.
The book begins by capturing the roots of Muslim discontent and oddly its traced back to the sack of Delhi by Nadir Shah ( a Shia). Shah Waliullah and his more notable disciples instilled the seeds of a jihadist movement which flickered on and off (and is currently a raging inferno). The British drove the last nail on the Mughal coffin and earned the wrath of the jihadist movement. Typically they responded by playing the Hindus (who were in a majority) against the Muslims right unto 1857 when the last Mughal emperor was forced into exile and hence feeding into a vicious cycle of suspicion between the two communities. The script changed when the British went along with a modernist thread of Muslim led by Syed Ahmed Khan and this thread carried to culmination the idea of a Pakistani nation. The narrative captures the Indian Freedom struggle from the viewpoint of the key Muslim players and there are moments when you are awestruck at how close the history of South Asia may have been radically different from the nuclear precipice whose edge we teeter on. Gandhi's letting go of the Khilafat movement , the Congress rejection of overtures from the Muslim league, Jinnah's outsized ego (though remarkably during the earlier part of the freedom struggle he outshone much of the Congress in his sagacity and vision of a united India) drove a permanent wedge between the two communities. Partition was inevitable by the late 1930s much to the dismay of Gandhi.
The only criticism that you can place on the book is that it allocates much less space to post independence Pakistan (though to the author's credit its the right proportion on a historical timescale). The statement that captures the fall of Pakistan aptly is that for the opponents of Partition Jinnah died too late and for the proponents of a secular Pakistan he died too early. With Jinnah's death it is the rise of Maulana Maududi and his radical islamist vision of Pakistan manifesting in the Jamaat-e-Islami party that takes over much of the historical narrative. Weak and opportunistic civilian rule gave way to arrogant military rulers who took the country into ill advised wars which led to their downfall. Bhutto instead of seizing the moment handed over in a platter indulged in petty deals with the Islamists and carrying out medieval policies (declaring the Ahmaddiya sect as non-Muslims). Zia's rise and the damage (seemingly permanent) to the fabric of Pakistani society is aptly captured.
The tale is narrated at a breathtaking pace and though the author switches at times between multiple narratives - its a class act of ensuring that this book is a page turner throughout. The present is sobering with Pakistan arming itself to the teeth with nuclear warheads. The book is as pacy as a novel in the Bourne series , but alas it isn't fiction and even worse, it's too close for comfort
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The story of Muslim pride and fear in India that created Pakistan....., March 13, 2011
Pakistan is an idea that was born out of pride in the past and fear of the future; it would neither stabilize nor disintegrate but remain in its current toxic state says M J Akbar, renown author and newsmagazine editor in his fascinating story of the birth and growth of Pakistan.

Akbar quotes Maulana Abul Kalam Azad from an interview given to a Lahore magazine in 1946: "After the initial euphoria dies down, divisive pressures would become assertive in Pakistan; the two wings will separate; and regional identities, fueled by outside interference, will result in balkanization. Incompetent political leadership will pave way for military rule; neo rich will loot national wealth and Pakistan will end up being controlled by international conspirators". Quiet a prescient man, Azad was.

What gave rise to Pakistan? Muslim pride and Muslim fear.

The pride of the Indian Muslim is justified. Muslims wielded power in India for 665 years from 1192 to 1857 AD. Though the rulers were Muslim, it was not an Islamic rule. Both the Delhi Sultans and the Moghuls (except an odd Aurangazeb) kept their faith away from statecraft and co-opted Hindu nobility and warriors to add depth and sustainability to their rule. The Muslim population in India too was significantly influenced by the tolerant and compassionate Sufi philosophy.

The fear set in with the gradual weakening and eventual decline of Moghul empire.

Muslim response to this fear of insecurity differed: the Deoband Madrassa, the Barelvis and the Jamat-i-Islami wanted the British out and were willing to live in peace with Hindus in a untied India; the Aligarh Muslim University set up by Sir Syed Ahmed Khan sought to co-operate with the British to carve out special treatment for Muslims including special electorates in provincial and central legislatures.

Muslim politics had five swivel moments eventually leading to the birth of Pakistan:

One, in 1916 Muslims under Jinnah leadership secured Congress agreement for separate electorates (and a united fight against the British)

Two, in 1919 Muslims were outraged by British taking away Islam's holy mosques from the Ottoman Caliph, trusted Gandhi to lead the jihad against the British (only to be disillusioned by Gandhi's abandonment of the Khilafat movement after a violent incident in Chauri Chaura).

Three, in 1927 Jinnah failed to bridge the gap with Congress when an opportunity arose to draft a Constitution for India. After this the British kept deepening the wedge between Hindus and Muslims.

Four, in 1937 Muslim fear of Hindu domination arose after a provincial election when the victorious Congress declined to form a coalition with the defeated Muslim League. Jinnah swore to convert the dispersed provincial identities and regional leaderships into a "national minority".

Five, in 1946 Muslims were disappointed at Congress, fearful of balkanization, reversing its decision to adopt a federal structure constitution for united India. This resulted in partition and the birth of Pakistan unavoidable and in the best interest of everyone.

Post partition, Pakistan lived up to Azad's predictions.

The ruling class co-opted faith into politics; sabotaged weak attempts at land reform; and left people in poverty. . Jinnah's dream of a secular state with muslim majority was ignored. Instead, as dreamt by Maulana Maudidi, theocratic urges were patched into legislative framework.

The emergence of Pakistan as an Islamic state was gradual. In 1949 the Constitutional Assembly subjected the young state to principles of Islamic faith. In 1956 the new Constitution made the country an Islamic republic. In 1962 General Ayub Khan added the Islamiyat curriculum that distorted history glorifying Arab invaders and identifying Pakistan with the invaders. In 1973/74 Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto introduced a new constitution that reaffirmed Pakistan as an Islamic republic; reserved President and PM positions to Muslims, reinforced teaching Islamiyat in schools, set up an initiative to ensure every law was in harmony with the faith; paid government salaries to imams of mosques; moved weekends to Fridays; banned night clubs, gambling and liquor; triggered movement to Sharia and declared Ahmadiyas as non-Muslims although none of this eventually won him popular support. In 1977-85 General Zia completed Islamisation process. He passed Hudood laws; imposed Zakat and made blasphemy a crime punishable with death. Finally a new constitution was adopted in 1985 that enshrined supremacy for Islam in the governance of Pakistan.

Pakistan went on to become a frontline warrior state for Islam. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto held the first Islamic summit in 1974 setting up the Organization of Islamic States; started a nuclear program that had tacit funding and support from Arab states; nurtured and funded Burhanuddin Rabani's mujahideen in Afghanistan as early as 1972. Zia funded/supported jihadi warriors against Soviet rule in Afghanistan and Indian rule in Kashmir. Musharraf's "running with the hare and hunting with the hound" policy turned the jihadists against Pakistan

The erosion of political framework was also gradual: In 1953 Governor General Ghulam Mohammed dismissed an elected government; installed a puppet government; and dismissed the puppet government too. An obliging Chief Justice Munir upheld Ghulam's actions by inventing the dubious "doctrine of necessity" that would eventually destroy Pakistan's democracy. In 1956 President Iskander Mirza (an erstwhile General) weakened civil government by dismissing elected governments four times in 30 months with power shifting slowly and firmly to the army. In 1958 General Ayub Khan set up the first military rule. In 1974 Bhutto turned to army to maintain law and order. General Zia-ul-Haq declined to help; set up the second military rule and moved Bhutto to prison/death. In 1999 Pervez Musharraf removed Nawaz Sharif and set up the third military coup and dictatorship. Pakistan alternated between military dictatorships and corrupt civil governments.

End result: Pakistan became a military dictatorship financed by US (and Saudi Arabia) administering a theology based law, pursuing terrorism as a state policy, in possession of a nuclear device, and an infrastructure that creates a large pool of terrorists with designs to take over the State.

Akbar thinks Pakistan will not disintegrate. However, the odds seem to favour Maulana Abul Kalam Azad.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars One good section, two okay parts, and several instances of selective interpretations., June 16, 2013
This review is from: Tinderbox: The Past and Future of Pakistan (Paperback)
Short review: MJ Akbar displays an impressive grasp of history, that blends into a fast-paced account of world events that intersect with the march of the Indian subcontinent to freedom, and partition. This is however marred, repeatedly so, by the jarring interjection of incongruous paragraphs that seem to exist for little reason other than to serve as the display of an elegant train of thought's ugly derailment. Curious omissions of facts and selective interpretations should cause one to examine both the narrative and the subtext with a magnifying lens of a fact-checker. There are also more like two distinct books crammed into one, with justice done more to the first than the second. Furthermore, perhaps the part most likely to appeal to most readers is the modern history of Pakistan, especially that going back to the 1970s, when the shift to radicalization started in earnest with General Zia's dictatorship. That is given less than its deserved share of space, but should be enough for people to want to read more. Perhaps The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power does a better job of describing Pakistan's post-independence history.

Long review:
Pakistan, as a nation, has been one of the most fascinating, tragic, and spectacularly disastrous examples of religion as the sole basis of nationhood in the twentieth century. Partly the result of British imperial divide-and-rule policy, partly the result of Muslim intellectual introspection into the reasons for their decline in the subcontinent, and partly the result of a muddled policy followed by the Congress party's leaders in their freedom struggle, it nonetheless was formed out of India on August 14, 1947, to the accompaniment of the displacement of an estimated ten million people and the deaths of more than a million. The raison-d'etre of Pakistan was to seek a dedicated space, a nation, for Muslims, who the leaders of the Muslim League thought would otherwise not get equality in an undivided India. Before that however, much before that, the roots of the partition of India seemed to have originated with the decline and eventual fall of the Mughal Empire itself.

Soul-searching over the loss of political and military power had been brewing for a long time. Anxiety over a weakening Mughal empire and a need to reassert the "purity" of Muslims led to the "theory of distance", articulated by the eighteenth century cleric Shah Waliullah. "He told Muslims to live at such a distance from Hindus that they would not be able to see the light of the fires in the Hindu homes." A philosophical distance from the Hindu was made understandable in physical terms.

The loss of power was brought to the fore in a stark manner by the loss of Lahore to Maharana Ranjit Singh, the Sikh ruler, who "in 1799, took Lahore from the Afghans and made it his capital. For the first time since the tenth century, when the Ghaznavids had established their rule up to Lahore, this region was being ruled by someone who was not a Muslim." Shah Aziz, son of theologian Shah Waliullah, "prayed to Allah to sweep away the Sikhs, whom he called Islam's greatest enemies and bands of demons." Shah Aziz would later declare India "Dar ul-Harb" since "Christians had become the true masters of the land between Delhi and Calcutta." Shah Aziz's disciple, Sayyid Ahmad Barelvi, would go on to launch a jihad against the British in 1825. The decline of the Mughal Empire culminated with its termination with Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last Mughal ruler and the eighty year old leader of sorts of the First Indian War of Independence in 1857, and who was described by Syed Amhad as "a mouldering skin stuffed with straw". Anger at the rise of the Sikh empire, the rise of the English empire, and frustration with the decline and end of the Mughal rule caused much anxiety and introspection from the Muslim intellectuals in India. Some of this anger directed itself towards "the pollution that had affected Indian Islam, not only from Hinduism but also from Sufis" for having "introduced their own imaginations and superstitions" into Islam.

Even language played at the growing insecurities of the Muslim aristocrats.

Whereas Urdu had been the lingua franca of the administrative machinery for long, Hindi began to find a place, and "tension increased after the Bengal government notified that Devanagri could be used in courts and government documents in Bihar and Central Provinces which came under its jurisdiction." Not only was there a direct economic consequence of this step on the Mulsims, but there was a more visceral impact on the psyche of the Muslim aristocrat, who first found themselves slowly deprived of power in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, but now faced with the prospect of economic subjugation at the hands of those people that he had ruled over for "seven hundred years."

There were two common arguments used by theologians and fundamentalists alike to rouse the people. The first was the fear that "Islam was in danger" and that it was the duty of every Muslim to rise as one against that threat. The second was that Muslims constituted a distinct and superior group that deserved to rule if in a minority or carve a different nation for itself otherwise.

A strong votary of this line was Sir Syed, who believed that Hindus and Muslims were two nations living in one land.
"Oh my brother Musullmans, I again remind you that you have ruled nations, and have for centuries held different countries in your grasp. For seven hundred years in India you have had imperial sway. You know what it is to rule."

"you must remember that although the number of Mohameddans is less than the number of the Hindus, and although they contain far fewer people who have received a high English education, yet they must not be thought insignificant or weak ... our Mussalman brothers, the Pathans [could] come out as a swarm of locusts from their mountain valleys and make rivers of blood flow"

This line would find an echo in Ayub Khan who wrote that "As a general rule the Hindu morale would not stand more than a couple of hard blows at the right time and place."

These introductory chapters in the book add a context to the book that is useful to understand the ideological and historical underpinnings of nation of Pakistan. The middle chapters cover the freedom struggle, and can be divided into roughly three parts. The first part covers the rise of Mahatma Gandhi, and the brief period between 1919 and 1922 when Hindus and Muslims united, perhaps for the first time, and under a Hindu, to fight the British rule. This was the period of the Khilafat Movement. After the failure of this movement, there was disillusionment in the Muslim community with both Mahatma Gandhi's efficacy and the potency of non-violence as a tool of struggle. The failure of this movement also gave an impetus to the fundamentalists on the Muslim side, who had anyway seen the Congress as a tool of the Hindu middle-class, and in its rise saw a conspiracy by the Hindu bania to enslave the Muslim. From there to partition was a short distance, covered in the short space of twenty-five years.

Pakistan would emerge as an independent country, with its founder, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, professing a desire to keep it a place where people of all faiths could live peacefully - "you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this State of Pakistan." This vision would die soon after the death of Jinnah in September 1948. The first communal riots of Pakistan would take place in 1953, not against Hindus, but against the Ahmadiyas. Pakistan would launch upon a gradual path of fundamentalism and radicalization, and while it is commonly known and acknowledged that it was General Mohammad Zia ul-Haq who set Pakistan upon its steepest descent into fundamentalism and Talibanization, even his predecessor, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, was not above pandering to the fundamentalists by banning "night clubs, gambling and liquor (the interesting fact, surely, is that such pleasures were legal in the Islamic Republic till then). Bhutto changed the weekly holiday from Sunday to Friday and invited opposition Ulema to join his advisory council for the implementation of Sharia."

The future of Pakistan, or at least a prescient prognosis, can be found on the last page of this book, made in 1946 by Maulana Azad. While Maulana Azad favoured a united India more on the grounds that the sizable Muslim population in the united India would have more leverage than a divided nation, his predictions about Pakistan were spot on.
"... After the separation of East Pakistan, whenever it happens, West Pakistan will become the battleground of regional contradictions and disputes. The assertion of sub-national identities of Punjab, Sind, Frontier and Baluchistan will open doors for outside interference. ... We must remember that an entity conceived in hatred shall last only as long as that hatred lasts. ... In this situation it will not be possible for India and Pakistan to become friends and live amicably unless some catastrophic event takes place."
He also had a caustic word or two for Muslims, getting to a fundamental issue that has not received much analysis in modern times.
"They [Muslim business leaders] advocate a two-nation theory to conceal their fears and want to have a Muslim state where they have the monopoly to control the economy without any competition from competent rivals. It will be interesting to see how long they can keep this deception alive."
This book is mostly a well-written and engaging account of Pakistan, even though, and obviously so, the roots of Pakistan and its history can be found in India, of which it was a part till 1947. However, while there is no denying the author's formidable grasp of history, what is also on display is a remarkable trait to pick up and abandon topics without and before following them through to any sort of reasonable and logical conclusion. This can get quite exasperating at times, but can be overlooked.

Of much more serious import is the rather selective and injudicious omission of facts pertinent to a discussion. Where the reader is sure of his history he will be able to spot these incongruities. Where he is not, these inconsistencies will slip through the cracks.

Let me take a couple of illustrative incidents.

The story of the early conquests of Muslim invaders is undoubtedly bloody and gory. What happened almost a thousand years ago should and must be studied without fear and fully. The author seems quite unlike the disinterested and dispassionate observer when writing about cooperation between Hindu and Muslims in this period. There is no denying that Hindus continued to cooperate with, and Muslim rulers continued to employ Hindus in their armies as well as in administration, and that conversions of Hindus to Islam took place not only under fear of death, but also willingly, though these were obviously far and few in-between (spontaneous conversions would have meant that all of India converted to Islam, which it didn't). So, when the author writes, "The most famous convert of his time was Alauddin's brilliant general, Malik Kafur Hazardinari, a handsome Rajput Hindu eunuch captured during the conquest of Gujarat."
So what's wrong here? Firstly, the author omits the fact that (Wikipedia, ) a Hindu, who, after his capture by Alauddin's army Khilji, was "castrated and made a eunuch". "His beauty ... captivated Alaud-din" (India: A History. Revised and Updated) - for what purposes does not nor should it require imagination, given the wide-ranging sexual predilections of the sultans. The same Malik Kafur then "sacked and plundered many Hindu temples including the famous Hoyasaleshwara temple in Halebidu." [[...]]

The second instance has to do with respect to a mosque built on the ruins of a temple destroyed by Babur, at Ayodhya. The author writes, "His candid and comprehensive memoir, Baburnama, makes no mention of it." "It" being the presence of a temple or its demolition. Here again, Mr Akbar is, in true Humphrey Appleby, being economical with the truth. While it is technically correct to say that Babur's memoir makes no mention of the temple or its destruction, what is left unsaid is that the pages pertaining to Babur's visit to Ayodhya are missing from his memoirs. Also, what the author leaves unsaid is that Mir Baqi, the governor of Awadh, had the Babri Mosque built in Ayodhya at the command of Babur, the Mughal Emperor. Did a temple exist at the place? Yes, archaeological excavations have established that. Was the mosque built at the command of Babur? Yes. Was it worshipped as a mosque? Yes. Do English and older records mention it as a mosque? Yes.

The third instance is in some ways the funniest, because for no apparent reason the author ventures, with utmost sincerity, to portray the third Mughal emperor, Akbar (and his namesake), as the greatest warrior of the Mughal empire. He was certainly the most moderate, but that is only relatively speaking, for after the siege of the fort Chittorgarh, he ordered the murder of thirty thousand unarmed people. If that is not enough, the author also wants to bathe Akbar in the heroic patina of bravery on the battlefield. Akbar's deciding battle was with Hemu, in 1556, also known as the Second Battle of Panipat, and which cemented the Mughal Empire in India for the next two hundred years. So how does the author, MJ Akbar, describe Akbar the Mughal, in this battle - "the teenage ruler held his ground, won the day...", and how does he describe Hemu - "an unorthodox maerick rather than a traditional ruling clan. Hemu, a Hindu peddler of saltpeter...".
What are the facts?
Let us ignore the belittling adjectives, "maverick" and "peddler". Why this venomous animosity against Hemu is not quite clear, but words have spoken. The second concerns Akbar. Akbar did not fight, much less lead, from the front, in this pivotal battle. He stayed behind the battleground, eight miles away. Certainly a far cry from holding ground, unless one takes it in the most literal of ways, in which case it does the great Mughal's reputation or bravery little good. Hemu was on the cusp of victory, when a stray arrow pierced his eye, which led to confusion among his soldiers, and defeat was snatched from the jaws of victory. The reaction of the noble Akbar and his regent, Bairam Khan, is notable. The wounded, unconscious, and near-dead Hemu was brought to the Mughal camp, where Akbar struck the near-dead Hemu, and then his regent Bairam Khan beheaded Hemu. Truly the acts of a noble and brave king who held his ground. This was however not the end of it. Hemu's head was hanged outside the Delhi Darwaza in Kabul, Afghanistan, while his body placed in a gibbet outside Purana Qila. That was that, as far as the peddler of salt peter was concerned - "a massacre of Hemu's community and followers was ordered by Bairam Khan. Thousands were beheaded and towers of skulls built with their heads, to instill terror among the Hindus." [much of this paragraph has been reproduced from the Wikipedia article on Hemu.]

Based on these three episodes, spread less than ten pages apart, what is one to make of the rest of the book then? If a person like me, who has no more than a passing interest in Indian history could spot three sins of omission and commission, it should certainly cast aspersions on the rest of the book. I, the reader, am no longer sure whether a statement of judgment is based on an even-handed and logical assessment of facts or whether it has been weighed on a fixed scale so that no matter how heavy evidence to the contrary, the assessment is a foregone conclusion?
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1.0 out of 5 stars MJ Akbar is the last person to write an unbiased book about Pakistan. If you like books against Pakistan, you would love it., December 23, 2014
This review is from: Tinderbox: The Past and Future of Pakistan (Paperback)
If you want to read a completely biased book about and against Pakistan, then spend your money and read it.
MJ Akbar is a nationalist Indian who has always opposed creation of Pakistan. He has called Jinnah (the creator of Pakistan) a British collaborator in his major biography of Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India. A person who has always been against the creation and existence of Pakistan, how can he ever give an unbiased opinion about Pakistan.
He is also too intellectually dishonest to acknowledge that if Gandhi and Nehru had not sabotaged Cabinet Mission Plan, there may not have been partition of India, and instead there may have been a United States of India. I am sure he has read Abual Kalam Azad's India Wins Freedom.
Mr Akbar, as per your comments (in response to Jaswant Singh's book about Jinnah): 'So he tried to save India by partitioning it?', No, Jinnah tried to save the political rights of Muslims by creating Pakistan when he could not get it through creating autonomous zones as per Cabinet Mission Plan.
If you like to read stuff against Pakistan, then you would love this book.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Must Read!!, August 14, 2014
A wonderful narrative of Muslims history in India and Pakistan. The facts are presented in unbiased manner and supported by reliable references. However, at one point, I believe, the author was not fair where he hails the secularism of Akbar's regime in three pages but points out the communalism of Aurangzeb's regime in just a single page. In fact, state sponsored communalism of the regime of Aurangzeb was primarily responsible for the downfall of Mughals and India as it alienated Hindus from Muslims.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Unbiased Story., February 4, 2014
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It tells the story in an unbiased way.It tells the detailed politics of the period. It helps to understand the psychology of Fundamentalists in both the communities.
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4.0 out of 5 stars nice and easy read, June 13, 2013
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the book is a bit high on hyperbole and generalisations but the conclusions/summaries drawn are borne by facts and history. this a is a book only an indian muslim could have written. it was engaging enough for me to read it in 4 days flat.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing!!!, September 11, 2012
This review is from: Tinderbox: The Past and Future of Pakistan (Paperback)
I purchased Tinderbox by MJ Akbar hoping to get a better idea of how the idea of Pakistan, that is, a Muslim state carved out of India, came to be and why this country is such a dangerous place. I was in no way disappointed and came away much more enlightened. The book is essentially separated into three eras: Pre-British India in which Muslims ruled over much of the subcontinent, British India in which the Muslim League competed against the largely Hindu Congress Party for power in the Raj, and independent Pakistan where secular Muslims soon became over powered by a wave of fundamentalism creating a power struggle up to the present day. Each time period is loaded with detail and exquisite writing.

MJ Akbar spins a narrative that never loses momentum despite being packed with numerous political players and complex events spanning the vast subcontinent. Akbar brings a scrutinizing objectivity towards many revered figures in this drama such as Gandhi, Jinnah, and both Bhuttos, while carefully dissecting the crucial mistakes General Zia made in destabilizing an already disintegrating polity. This book is highly recommended for anyone trying to understand the history of Pakistan within the context of today's troubling headlines.
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Tinderbox: The Past and Future of Pakistan
Tinderbox: The Past and Future of Pakistan by M. J. Akbar (Paperback - June 26, 2012)
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