- Hardcover: 272 pages
- Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.; First Edition edition (May 12, 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0805089381
- ISBN-13: 978-0805089387
- Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.1 x 9.6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 19 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,382,380 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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To Live or to Perish Forever: Two Tumultuous Years in Pakistan Hardcover – May 12, 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
Journalist Schmidle offers a gripping, grim account of his two years as a journalism fellow in Pakistan, where his travels took him into the most isolated and unfriendly provinces, and into the thick of interests and beliefs that impede that nation's peace and progress. The author reports on the murky relationship between the Pakistani intelligence agencies and the Taliban and how American bombings have actually helped the Taliban gain influence in the border regions. While Schmidle amplifies the danger an unstable Pakistan poses to its neighbors and the world, he also turns a constructively critical eye back to American support of mujahideen during the Afghan war against the Soviets and shows how American intervention was both a help and an exacerbation of problems between Pakistan and Afghanistan. As a witness to Musharraf's last days in power and the rage that followed Bhutto's assassination, Schmidle has, with this effort, established himself as a fresh, eloquent and informed contributor to the ongoing dialogue regarding Pakistan, terrorism and the strategic importance of engaging Central Asia in efforts toward peace and stability. (May)
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In 2006, wanting to become a journalist but lacking any journalistic experience, Schmidle decided he would go to Iran, but political upheaval there nixed that plan, so he chose Pakistan instead. After hurriedly gathering background, he spent two years in the country, exploring its past and present, living among its people, writing about them. The book is a fascinating account of his years in Pakistan, where on any given day he could be spending time in a Taliban training camp, interviewing a Shi’a preacher, or meeting a political leader. Schmidle explores the country’s short but turbulent history (Pakistan, both the word and the country, is less than a century old), showing it to us from the perspective of someone who came to the country ill-prepared for what he would find. He eventually learns to love the country and its people, but the memory of Daniel Pearl, an American journalist who was kidnapped and murdered in Pakistan, is never too far from Schmidle’s mind, or from the reader’s. This is really the story of the two Pakistans the author discovered: one beautiful and friendly, the other frightening and deadly. --David Pitt
Top customer reviews
However keep in mind that the author did not go to Pakistan as a historian, nor on in-debt political research assignment; for this reason the book presents a journalistic view of how the situation is on the ground, not the history behind it. If you are interested in why Pakistan is the way it is, or want a better analysis of where it might be heading, I would strongly recommend "The Duel: Pakistan on the flight path of American Power" by Tariq Ali.
The book is an easy read, in chronological order (for the most part), and even though it is non-fiction, it holds the feel of an interesting novel. Schmidle did start the book by describing how authorities showed up at his residence with a deportation order. Someone here, in the reviews, implied that the author did this to point out his own importance, but I don't think that is the case. I think he just wanted to start the book with a hook to get the reader's attention; Schmidle is actually very humble. If I was in a foreign country, I learned the language, wore local dress, followed local customs, interacted with some very dangerous individuals, and was bothered by authorities, I would do a lot more self-promoting in my book.
I don't think the author has "Gone Native" but he does hold some views that most people in the West, and a number of people in Pakistan, generally don't hold. For example, he gives the extremists responsible for the "Red Mosque" incident far more credit; that is my opinion anyway.
Overall the reader does get the feeling that Nicholas Schmidle genuinely cares about the people of Pakistan, and holds deep respect for the country. It seems like he did his best to gain a better understanding of the situation on the ground. It is unfortunate that he could not be able to do his work in Pakistan for longer period.
He used to make regular visits to Lal Masjid (the Red Mosque), just down the street from his house in Islamabad, to hang out with its leader. But then, in the summer of 2007, it became international news when then-dictator Musharraf decided he'd had enough opposition from Lal Masjid, where they were preaching against the government and stocking up arms.
Schmidle gained access to people in Pakistan that few foreign journalists have, and in To Live or to Perish Forever, he uses it to give a fascinating look into the stories behind the bombings and conflicts that get reported in the western press. One quibble about the reporting, however, is that he mainly seems to hang out with the leaders, and doesn't talk to average people as much. If he did talk to average people much, it's not clear it influenced his ideas.
Toward the end of the book, it might seem a bit disappointing when he writes: "I thought back to the question my grandfather had put to me more than a year earlier, when he asked, genuinely curious, 'What's wrong with that place?' I realized that I was no closer to offering a comprehensive answer now than I had been back then. That bothered me. The political, social, economic, and religious dynamics embedded in Pakistan seemed to become more and more complicated--and volatile--with time, and less and less solvable."
But I've lived in Pakistan nearly two years now, and although I haven't spent time with the kind of people that Schmidle has, I have the same feeling as he does. There's no clear answer about where things are headed, or what to do about it. When I've gone back to the U.S., people want to know what I think about Pakistan, what should be done. But it's really hard to say much.
Perhaps the best answer is simply to curb corruption, to help make development faster, and much more fair. That's not the kind of answer people are looking for, though, because it's a solution that would take decades, and no one can see the benefits on the horizon, it seems.
I also think Schmidle is on the right track when he writes: "I disagreed with those who said that ethnic tension, the Taliban, economic crises, years of military dictatorship, the lack of a cohesive identity and so on would eventually lead to Pakistan's breakup. That would almost be too linear and neat: creation, extended crisis, and then dissolution. It seemed more likely that Pakistan would continue to exist in a perpetual state of frenzied dysfunction; alive, but always appearing to be on the verge of perishing."
I wish he'd backed this up a bit more, since statements like this can seem like little more than personal bias. Some people see looming collapse everywhere--not just in Pakistan--whereas others see things stumbling along indefinitely. I do think he's right, though, to argue against Pakistan's collapse. People talk about that a lot--to the point where it made headlines when the President said the government is not going to collapse. What President would say that it would?
I don't think it will collapse because things are still developing. In the western press, all you hear about is things being blown up. But new buildings are going up. Pakistanis place a high value on education, and even the very poor still pay to send as many of their kids to school as they can.
It's true that not everyone in the country identifies as Pakistani first--they might have more allegiance to their sect of Islam, or to their tribe. But there's still a fair amount of people from the tribal areas who think of themselves as Pakistani first. No one seems to know what to do about the rampant corruption, but most do recognize it a big barrier blocking improvement here--and recognizing that is a crucial first step.
Average Pakistanis still have hope for the future, and that's the most basic reason I can see why the country isn't going to collapse any time soon.