New book explores America's often one-dimensional relationship with Pakistan

October 3, 2011

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(AP/Pervez Masih)
In Hyderabad last month, supporters of Pakistan's religious party Jamaat-i-Islami rally against the United States.

After September 11, 2001, Pakistani-American historian Manan Ahmed called on U.S. officials to more vividly imagine the people of Pakistan. In particular, he asked them to develop "the capacity to imagine this Other, to give them an interiority, a mindfulness, an agency, a history."

For the past seven years, this theme has run throughout Chapati Mystery, Manan’s blog on American-Pakistani relations. It's not just another news blog; Chapti Mystery is Manan's attempt to reveal the Pakistan he knows despite the clouded U.S. depiction of his home country. The former Chicagoan thinks Americans too often reduce the 715 million people of Pakistan to a singular identity, ignoring the tumultuous history and politics that have shaped the country internally.

Manan's new book, Where the Wild Frontiers Are: Pakistan and the American Imagination, is a collection of stories from his blog. In it, he looks at several key dynamics that have shaped modern Pakistan: the Lawyers' Movement, the presidency of Pervez Musharraf, the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, the political disenfranchisement of Ahmadi Muslims and the domestic disruptions caused by the American-led war on Al Qaeda. Manan specifically criticizes some of the key players in Washington’s “AfPak” establishment, including Rory Stewart, Robert Kaplan and Greg Mortenson.

We talk to Ahmed, who's touring the U.S. to promote his book, about the divide between America and Pakistan. A former professor at the University of Chicago, he now teaches at the Free University in Berlin.