Editor’s Note: In an interview with The Browser, Bruce Riedel discusses important five books which explore the critical situation in Pakistan.
THE BROWSER: How would you describe the situation in Pakistan at the moment?
BRUCE RIEDEL: Pakistan today is facing a severe crisis. The very future of Pakistan that was envisioned by its founders, especially Muhammad Ali Jinnah, was of a democratic state, moderate in its outlook, relatively secular, and this is under attack in a way it never has been in its history. And the fate of this battle for the soul of Pakistan has tremendous implications for the whole world. Pakistan has the world’s fastest growing nuclear arsenal today. It has more terrorists per square kilometre than any other country in the world. It is the second largest Muslim country in the world and in 15 years it will be the largest Muslim country in the world. On virtually every issue that matters to people in America, the UK and Europe, from nuclear war to terrorism, the future of democracy and Islamic extremism, Pakistan is the future of all those things. And it is a uniquely combustible mix of them that makes Pakistan so important today.
THE BROWSER: So we really should be taking note of what is going on and trying to understand the country better. I hope we will get more of an overview with your five books. Your first choice is Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy and the West by Benazir Bhutto, the transcript of which was finished just before her assassination.
RIEDEL: Yes, I think this is a really remarkable book. It is a mix of several things. It is her second autobiography. She wrote one when she was much younger, Daughter of the East, and this one kind of finishes the story of her life – unfortunately it literally finishes the story of her life. But in addition to being an autobiography, it is also a manifesto. And it is a manifesto of those who believe that Islam is a religion of moderation and of modernity. She tries in this book, and I think succeeds brilliantly, to demolish the argument of those Muslim extremists and fundamentalists who say women are inherently second class in the Islamic world and that jihad is the only answer to the struggle between Islam and the West.
And she points out that, in fact, the Koran and Islamic beliefs are very much consistent with the vision of a modern, moderate Islam. And it is precisely because she so brilliantly demolished the arguments of the extremists and stood as the symbol of a modern, moderate Islam, especially in Pakistan, that she was murdered three years ago.