This was a hard book for me to read, let alone review. Of The Nine Lives of Pakistan, Declan Walsh’s portrait of the country he describes as a “multi-ringed circus of violence,” one of them is my father’s.
My father was governor of Punjab, Pakistan’s largest province, when he was assassinated, in 2011, by his own bodyguard. His crime was seeking a mercy petition for a Christian woman accused of blasphemy, which, as Walsh writes, had “become a deadly weapon of the strong against the weak,” namely a Muslim majority of 97 percent pitted against a tiny Christian population. My father, as Walsh indicates, was no model of rectitude. He was a crook, a philanderer, a bad father, a bad husband. His great love of democracy did not prevent him from cozying up to dictators. He was a holocaust denier and vehemently bigoted against Hindus, Jews, and homosexuals. So his defense of this poor Christian mother of five, despite the grave danger to himself, was not merely uncharacteristic; it may well have been the only good thing he ever did in his life. And for that he died a dog’s death in Pakistan.