Declan Walsh’s book has a title that is off-putting for me as a Pakistani. “The Nine Lives of Pakistan: Dispatches from a precarious state” only retained my interest because I was listening to an audiobook. The narration sounded like a long-drawn and heartfelt opinion poured out by a journalist on an imperial assignment. The nine lives of individuals narrated in the book are very telling and educational if one reads between the lines. Nine lives is a title Copycatted from “Nine lives: The search for the sacred in modern India” by William Dalrymple. The book on India focuses on the religious aspect alone. Dalrymple writes with a remarkably local understanding of India while retaining the Western prism of incisiveness. His book is fascinating, enlightening, and evocative. Walsh’s writing is evocative to me as a Pakistani, but purely on defensive grounds. The first chapter titled “Inshallah Nation” opens by introducing the readers to a non-Muslim who runs Murree Brewery, a colonial era remnant. Walsh briefly describes the bootlegging culture of Islamabad. This opening is akin to writing a book on Israel and giving the first chapter the title, “The Aliyah” but devoting the first page to lone pork selling butcher in the country. Pakistan as a homeland for Muslims is our central identity. It is what shapes our opinions; what drives us forward; and what keeps us together despite our diversity, differences, and even mutual grievances. Failing to view Pakistan from a religious prism “albeit more from the perspective of religious sociology than theology” turns it into an enigma. Not exploring the theological, sociological, cultural-anthropological, political, and economic dimensions of Pakistani Islam makes for an unsatisfactory read. It is Walsh’s blind spot and it is the reason why he finds the country fascinating and although he is aware of the nuances, he is unable to explain them. Pakistan’s struggles since the last four decades have been about religious militancy and the precarious state “though not an existential threat” is due to militant political Islam. Hence not exploring the theological, sociological, cultural-anthropological, political, and economic dimensions of Pakistani Islam, makes for an unsatisfactory read. After describing the ease of access to liquor, Walsh describes Pakistan’s relationship with the US, as this element is the most relevant to western interests. What is the job of a journalist? It is to seek out the truth and to report it. Here the truth is not the moral truth but only the biased truth relevant to the empire in the spirit of “might makes right.” It is as though the “precarious state” title is not the thesis statement, derived from the study, but rather it is the official narrative, which needs suitable characters to lend it credibility. Six of the nine individuals in his narrative are now deceased. Dalrmpyle’s nine lives represent stereotypes but Walsh’s nine lives do not. They are individuals representing their unique influence, which died with them. Thus, parts of his book were dated even before being published. Walsh’s first villain is the Quaid e Azam “whose integrity and impeccable morals are acknowledged by even those who opposed his political philosophy” whom Walsh refers to as the “prodigal father,” an emotive reference to the prodigal son of the Bible. General Musharraf is also painted in a very negative light, but Benazir and Zardari are not. Asma Jehangir’s rallying for women’s right to run in a marathon is glorified “terming her a human rights heroine” but her avoidance of the real issues facing women such as dowry deaths, honor killings, and the denial of legal personhood, is an ignored inconvenient truth. Asma’s real relevance lies in her harsh criticism of the Pakistan army “the strong military, which is Pakistan’s saving grace. Walsh writes a very unflattering description of the late Nawab Akbar Bugti and his archaic and inhumane tribal practices. For a man of erudition and western learning, Akbar Bugti comes off as a time-warped tyrannical and power-hungry tribal chieftain from the European dark ages. Finding their power base in the tribal zones, the likes of him “created by the British who gave parcels of land and the Nawab title to those loyal to them” are the biggest beneficiaries of the underdevelopment and misery in their areas. It is the Pakistan military who fights them, thereby liberating the oppressed people. Walsh has tried hard to make against the Pakistani military. However, ours is the army that has the highest officer to soldier casualty ratio, because the former leads from the front. Displaying courage and valor beyond the ordinary, the Pakistani military won, where the Soviets, the British, and the American militaries lost and retreated. The martyred cop Chaudhry Aslam is perhaps the only antihero in the book, who rightfully finds honorable mention of his bravado. Being a seasoned journalist, Walsh’s naivete about the raison d’etre of his eviction from Pakistan is bizarre. It does, however, make a case for introducing his Pashtoon spy-turned-traitor informant who met him in Europe. The disclosures made by this former spy about espionage tactics used by the ISI are very mundane. This pashtoon’s parochial mindset resulting in his desertion is a crucial element though. This traitor’s frame of mind is pivoted on Pashtoonwali-where loyalty to the tribe trumps loyalty to the state and religion. This man in microcosm reflects what is ailing a major part of Pakistan still under tribal rule. Failure to produce a leader who could instill patriotism and nationalism, above tribal, parochial, sectarian, and linguistic bonds, is Pakistan’s true failing. This may very well be the conclusion one can derive from Walsh’s observations in his nine-year sojourn in a country we call home. Walsh quoted the deceased Christopher Hitchens: “If Pakistan was a person, he would be humorless, paranoid, insecure, eager to take offense, and suffering from self-righteousness, self-pity, and self-hatred.” He could not have been more wrong. If Pakistan were a person, he would be a sharp-witted, resourceful, generous, and resilient braveheart deriving his strength from faith in the Almighty. The writer is an independent researcher, author and columnist. She can be reached at email@example.com.