Where the Wild Frontiers Are: Pakistan and the American Imagination

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9781935982067: Where the Wild Frontiers Are: Pakistan and the American Imagination

Over the past decade, Pakistan assumed increasing importance in American thinking as a perplexing part of the quagmire in which Washington's "AfPak" policy has became stuck. But Pakistan had its own history throughout these years, too: a history that was complex, enthralling, infuriating, and inspiring-- sometimes, all at once. And the country's 175 million people had their own view of the attempts that distant Washington was making to wield influence over their country's government and society... How lucky, then, that since 2004, a deeply informed Pakistani historian called Manan Ahmed has been casting his keen and always wry eye on the U.S.-Pakistani interaction on his blog, "Chapati Mystery."

Now, Ahmed has curated the most trenchant of these analyses into Where the Wild Frontiers Are: Pakistan and the American Imagination, a work that will forever change the way its American readers think about Pakistan.

In an Epilogue penned in May 2011, Ahmed offers some final reflections on the multiple meanings that the U.S. killing of Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan at the beginning of the month had for the interaction between Pakistan and the 'West'.

In September 2010, Ahmed was reflecting on the "failure of imagination" on behalf of U.S. officials, to which the authors of the American 9/11 Commission report ascribed the officials' failure to prevent the 9/11 attacks. To combat terrorism, he noted, the report's authors thought American officials needed to work harder on developing a more specifically novelistic (à la Tom Clancy) kind of imagination: "the capacity to imagine this Other, to give them an interiority, a mindfulness, an agency, a history."

But it did not work out that way. Where the Wild Frontiers Are vividly captures the failure of most members of the U.S. elite to successfully "imagine" the reality of people's lives and society in Pakistan in this important way. Ahmed unsparingly criticizes most of the so-called "experts" who prognosticate about Pakistan and its region in the U.S. mainstream media. About Robert Kaplan, he writes that ""The empire... will surely invite him to speak to groups with shinier brass and shinier domes. The historians reading [his] book will have less cause to be charitable". A similar charge, he lays at the feet of Rory Stewart and Greg Mortenson.

Where the Wild Frontiers Are looks clear-headedly at U.S. imaginings about Pakistan-- and also at the big historical and political trends within Pakistan itself. The Lawyers' Movement, the self-destructive last days of Pervez Musharraf's presidency, the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, the eruption of a vicious anti-Ahmadi pogrom, the disruptions and suffering caused by the 'Global War on Terror', the country's endless tangling with the complexities of its own past and meaning: All are the object of Ahmed's steady (and sometimes exasperated) gaze.

Between them, the book's ten chapters provide a compelling picture of the complexity of the U.S.-Pakistan entanglement in the first decade of this century.

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About the Author:

Manan Ahmed is a historian of Islam in South Asia. He received his PhD from the University of Chicago in 2008. Since 2009, he has taught at Freie Universität in Berlin. Currently, he is working on two monograph-length studies: "The Long Thirteenth Century of the Chachnama", and a cultural history of Pakistan. His essays and reviews on Pakistan, U.S. foreign policy, and empire have appeared in The Nation, The Guardian, The National (UAE), Express Tribune, Pakistan Today, The Caravan (New Delhi), and various online media around the world. He has also appeared numerous times on Radio and TV posing as an ‘expert’ on Pakistan or on Islam. He asks for your understanding. These are hard times we live in.

He started "Chapati Mystery" in 2004 as a space for culturally and historically situated political commentary on Pakistan. Chapati Mystery is a community of readers, critics, informed observers, people with a deep commitment to the political, the social and the humorous. Creating and sustaining that community is, Manan believes, his proudest achievement.

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