Is Tariq Ali the most famous Brit-Pak of them all? Hanif Kureshi and Lord Nazir Ahmed might dispute the title, but Tariq has been there for five decades lecturing and hectoring with the smooth tones of a former Oxford Union president. As global policy-makers reduce the 180 million-strong nation of the whisky-drinking, bacon-and-egg scoffing Jinnah to one half of the ugly acronym Af-Pak, can Tariq Ali provide a guide to help Pakistan avoid descending into the category of failed, pariah state? As India relishes the global humiliation of its rival and Islamist ideologues mobilise, organise and kill in their ambition to reproduce the Khomeini revolution and impose a fully Islamist state in Pakistan, can the fluent words of Tariq Ali offer solutions?
Originating from an upper-class elite journalist family in Lahore, he has been an adornment of the British political scene since he first organised the great teach-ins at Oxford University in the 1960s. The then Labour government’s Foreign Secretary, Michael Stewart, went to try and argue the case that the Vietnamese Communist Party was not a south-east Asian version of liberal democracy but that if it took power would open concentration camps, shut down all free journalism, abolish trade unions and install a nasty dictatorship. Ali argued for Ho Chi Minh. What the Labour Foreign Secretary predicted came to pass. But then as now the future was unimportant. What counted was to be against the US. This remains Tariq’s cause. If it were not for America, Pakistan would be at peace with itself and the subcontinent’s four nations spewn or hewn out of the British Empire would be co-existing in harmony.
Everyone who has encountered Tariq or heard his marvelously humorous caustic invective from a platform comes away charmed and impressed by his wit, his reading and his culture. All are in evidence in The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power, the third of the three books he has written about Pakistan. Unlike the dry dogmatic tirades of his old comrades in the International Marxist Group, this account is a joy to read. Tariq Ali has met and talked to every important player in Pakistan in the last half-century and he has endless quotations from the great poets, women as much as men, of the region. read more