Indians and Pakistanis are the same people: why then have their nations followed such different trajectories since Pakistan’s independence from India was declared 1947? In Tinderbox: The Past and Future of Pakistan, M. J. Akbar embarks on a historical whodunit to trace the journey of the idea—and the events, people, circumstances, and mindset—that fractured a nation. The investigation spans a thousand years and an extraordinary cast of characters: visionaries, opportunists, statesmen, tyrants, plunderers, generals, and an unusual collection of theologians. Akbar brings an impressive array of research, perception, and analysis to solve this puzzle, writing the story in a fluent, engaging style that makes a difficult subject deceptively accessible.
Pakistan was not born across a breakfast table. It was the culmination of a search for what might be called “Muslim space” that began in the late middle ages, during the decline of the Muslim Mughal Empire, by a north Indian elite driven by fear of the future and pride in the past. In the 1930s and ‘40s, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, an English-speaking, Shakespeare-loving lawyer, and leader of the Muslim League, advocated for a secular nation with a Muslim majority, apart from India’s dominantly Hindu population. But, at the moment he engineered Pakistan’s independence, another claimant to the nation Jinnah had created waited in the wings—Maulana Maududi, founder of the Jamaat-e-Islami, Pakistan’s oldest political party, whose goal would be the establishment of a pure Islamic state.
Melding a deep knowledge of its history with an intimate appraisal of Pakistan’s future, Akbar exposes the cultural foundations of the country’s political, economic, and social complexities. Tinderbox: The Past and Future of Pakistan is a riveting and expansive biography that fills a crucial void in our understanding—even as the region’s conflicts grow to affect millions more lives every year.