Former diplomat and author of the bestselling India vs Pakistan: Why Can’t We Just Be Friends? Husain Haqqani on his favourite reads of 2016
Do Humankind’s Best Days Lie Ahead?
Stephen Pinker, Malcolm Gladwell, Matt Ridley and Alain de Bouton
This book (House of Anasi Press, 2016), based on the 17th semi-annual Munk Debates held in Toronto, is a debate between a psychologist, philosopher and two best-selling authors on whether or not our best days lie ahead or behind us. In many ways, this is an age-old debate. Every generation believes that the golden age is behind them and that the future will only bring out the worst in us. At a time when many people only believe things that correspond to their respective ideological perspective, this book is a refreshing read as it makes us look at two sides of the argument.
China’s Crony Capitalism: The Dynamics of Regime Decay
After three decades of consistent economic reforms, China is one of the top global economies. It has lifted a majority of its people out of poverty and is one of the top manufacturing hubs in the world. Pei’s book (Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 2016) takes us inside the path China took to demonstrate how it has ended up with crony capitalism with corruption, income inequality, social tensions and kleptocracy. Pei disagrees with conventional wisdom and argues that beneath the façade of prosperity and stability is a regime that is facing decay. In a day and age when the consensus is that China is going to keep growing and will soon become the next superpower, Pei’s book is a much needed reality check.
Incarnations: A History of India in 50 Lives
In 50 chapters (New York, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2016), Khilnani provides an overview of Indian history and culture. Chapters look at ancient philosophers and poets from Buddha and Kautilya to Rabindranath Tagore, Annie Besant and Muhammad Iqbal, emperors and conquerors like Akbar and Shivaji, innovators and businessmen like Jamsetji Tata and Dhirubhai Ambani, scientists like Srinivasa Ramanujan, artists like Satyatjit Ray, Raj Kapoor and MF Hussain, statesmen like Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Subhas Bose and BR Ambedkar. For young people who do not read much history, Khilnani’s book serves as a guide to the men and women who have shaped the idea of modern India.
Pakistan: Courting the Abyss
Devasher’s book (New Delhi, Harper Collins India, 2016) is an all-encompassing narrative of Pakistan’s foundations. It discusses Pakistan’s identity predicament, the role of its military in all aspects of its life, and rising Islamization. The book also discusses the challenges of demographics and education, economic issues including infrastructure and energy (especially water), as well as Pakistan’s external relations. Devasher’s book provides a detailed examination of the multiple crises that Pakistan is facing and which both Pakistanis and outside powers should be aware of.
Sleepwalking to Surrender: Dealing with Terrorism in Pakistan
Khaled Ahmed is one of Pakistan’s leading thinkers and analysts. His latest book (Penguin/Viking, 2016) looks at the interlinkage between terrorism, ideology and the Pakistani state. The book’s 32 chapters look at diverse topics ranging from rising Islamization within the country, local politics in Karachi’s Lyari neighborhood and the Lal Masjid siege in Islamabad to the role of Pakistanis in wars in Afghanistan and Yemen. It also assesses jihadi groups such as the Afghan Taliban, Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Taiba and evaluates Pakistan’s relations with India and the United States in the context of its tolerance for Jihadism. Ahmed’s book demonstrates that policies adopted over the years have led Pakistan down its current path of a weak state, lack of governance, collapsing economy and the emergence of strong non-state actors and terror groups that have ties to the country’s security establishment.