To Live or to Perish Forever Two Tumultuous Years in Pakistan

Nicholas Schmidle

St. Martin's Griffin

0805091491

9780805091496

Trade Paperback

272 Pages

$17.99

CAD19.99

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Nicholas Schmidle beat the Pakistani Army into Taliban country. In October 2007, just weeks before thousands of troops, backed by helicopters and artillery fire, marched into the Swat Valley to battle the gang of Talibs who had taken over the region, Schmidle rode into the town of Mingora on a public bus. He found girls' schools burned down and police stations long since abandoned. He drove through Taliban-manned checkpoints, took a zip line into a militant camp, and witnessed a public lashing. Schmidle had spent the previous two years living in Pakistan, a place dubbed "the most dangerous country in the world." Living off a small fellowship that required only that he stay in Pakistan, learn Urdu, and write about what he witnessed, Schmidle traveled to every corner of the country, ducking intelligence agents in Baluchistan, discussing American professional wrestling with mullahs in Karachi, running from tear gas-lobbing policemen in Islamabad, and avoiding the clutches of burly, jasmine-draped tribesmen in the North-West Frontier Province. Yet Schmidle's story is far more than just an adrenaline ride through a chaotic country. With the eye of an anthropologist and the mind of a historian, he explains the setting, the characters, and the background to many of the issues dominating headlines today—and those that promise to make news tomorrow. His unrivaled access and personal audacity, moreover, allow readers a thorough look inside Pakistan during a crucial phase in the nation's history—just as America's longtime ally Pervez Musharraf lost power, and the Taliban gained theirs. With a fresh blend of reportage and analysis, Schmidle weaves his own story into the wider narrative of a nation gripped by social upheaval and radicalization.

REVIEWS

Praise for To Live or to Perish Forever

"Richly reported . . . Brave enough to seek out some of the country's toughest jihadis despite the grave dangers facing american reporters in Pakistan, Schmidle has amassed a treasure trove of stories."—Joshua Kurlantzick, The New York Times Book Review

"If Schmidle has had the grandest of luck in the timing of his book's release, it's luck he earned. Still in his 20s and recently married, he took his young wife on a two-year 'honeymoon' to Pakistan, where he worked as a researcher and part-time journalist. Instead of clinging to the ex-pat community, Schmidle did all he could to insinuate himself into every sector of local life—including extended contacts with radical clerics and members of the Taliban. He went where others were afraid to go, and got the stories others couldn't get. The result is a crucial policy textbook disguised as a page-turner travel memoir. Ranging from Taliban rallies on the Afghan frontier, to the riot-torn slums of Karachi, then into the homes of Pakistan's top political leaders, Schmidle's experiences relied on a rare knack for gaining trust. Of course, it helped that he took pains to learn Urdu, Pakistan's dominant tongue—without the language, you don't get the deep story. At the book's center lies the oddly respectful relationship the author developed with radical mullah Abdul Rashid Ghazi, who opened doors sealed to other Westerners in the fundamentalist labyrinth. The son of a Marine Corps general, with a brother in the Marines, Schmidle encountered stunning openness about the extremists' goals as he wandered through the madrassahs and mosques that had lured Daniel Pearl to his death."—Ralph Peters, New York Post

“Nicholas Schmidle's portrait of Pakistan is worth more than a whole stack of intelligence reports. From remote Swat to teeming Karachi, he humanizes this labyrinthine country—where real danger has grown while the world focused elsewhere. Schmidle's blend of history and travelogue is by turns poignant and terrifying, but always relevant, always engaging, and more urgent now than ever.”—Nathaniel Fick, author of the New York Times bestseller One Bullet Away

To Live or to Perish Forever is foreign correspondence of the very best kind—the account of a natural traveler who has the language skills, temerity, and eyesight to arrive where outsiders rarely go and then to report revealingly on what he sees and hears. This is a personal, informative, empathetic, surprising, and entertaining book that illuminates Pakistan, a country of vital interest to the wider world.”—Steve Coll, author of Ghost Wars and The Bin Ladens

“Nicholas Schmidle's To Live or to Perish Forever is the perfect primer on post-9/11 Pakistan. Poetically and also sensibly written, the book captures from up close the seminal events of Pakistan's recent history, including the Red Mosque siege and the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. From depicting disenfranchised Baluchis to shady ISI officers, Schmidle humanizes what has become the world's most dangerous country—and epicenter of the new Great Game.”—Parag Khanna, Senior Fellow, New America Foundation, author of The Second World: Empires and Influence in the New Global Order

“A riveting read by an intrepid reporter in one of the world’s most dangerous countries. Nicholas Schmidle has written a must-read book to understand turbulent but pivotal Pakistan. He crosses paths with extremists, witnesses flashpoints that transformed regional politics and, most important, makes sense of the complex challenges in south Asia. A marvelous piece of work.”—Robin Wright, author of Dreams and Shadows: The Future of the Middle East

“Pakistan is the vital country we can't fix. As the new administration in Washington promises to hurl additional billions of dollars into this foreign-aid black hole, Schmidle's brave and supremely timely book explains why our grand intentions have little hope of success . . . If Schmidle has had the grandest of luck in the timing of his book's release, it's luck he earned. Still in his 20s and recently married, he took his young wife on a two-year 'honeymoon' to Pakistan, where he worked as a researcher and part-time journalist. Instead of clinging to the ex-pat community, Schmidle did all he could to insinuate himself into every sector of local life—including extended contacts with radical clerics and members of the Taliban. He went where others were afraid to go, and got the stories others couldn't get. The result is a crucial policy textbook disguised as a page-turner travel memoir. Ranging from Taliban rallies on the Afghan frontier, to the riot-torn slums of Karachi, then into the homes of Pakistan's top political leaders, Schmidle's experiences relied on a rare knack for gaining trust. Of course, it helped that he took pains to learn Urdu, Pakistan's dominant tongue—without the language, you don't get the deep story. At the book's center lies the oddly respectful relationship the author developed with radical mullah Abdul Rashid Ghazi, who opened doors sealed to other Westerners in the fundamentalist labyrinth. The son of a Marine Corps general, with a brother in the Marines, Schmidle encountered stunning openness about the extremists' goals as he wandered through the madrassahs and mosques that had lured Daniel Pearl to his death.”—Ralph Peters, New York Post

"An early June headline in The Washington Post: 'Pakistan says tide has turned in Swat; refugees not so sure.' Readers of Nicholas Schmidle’s compelling and informative book will agree with the refugees rather than the government. 'Stay in Pakistan long enough, and you automatically become paranoid,' Schmidle observes in To Live or to Perish Forever: Two Tumultuous Years in Pakistan. Paranoid for good reason. One Pakistani in the Baluchistan region tells the author, 'People in other countries don’t trust Pakistanis. We don’t either.' Stay with Schmidle’s book and you will be enlightened about a country where trust is ephemeral and violence is 'a self-perpetuating and endless cycle' . . . The reader is the winner. If you can hardly figure out what is going on in Pakistan, this book’s for you. In 12 chapters, Schmidle explores different regions of the 62-year-old nation and interviews officials, omniscient Taliban leaders and despondent regular folks such as a tobacco vendor making $3 on a good day: 'Why are you asking me about elections when I have no food?' Each chapter stands alone, much the way each region of Pakistan is independent. The penultimate chapter offers an in-country, dramatic report of the re-emergence and 2007 assassination of Benazir Bhutto."—J. Ford Huffman, Army Times

“Compelling and informative . . . If you can hardly figure out what is going on in Pakistan, this book's for you.”—Military Times

“Offers genuine insight into the travails of a nation ravaged by violence and political instability . . . [A] gripping and readable contribution to understanding the embattled landscape of Pakistan.”—The Globe and Mail (Toronto)

"A clear account of the dystopian politics of Pakistan. Journalist Schmidle arrived in February 2006, as the authoritarian rule of Pervez Musharraf was coming under attack. Along the northern border, Taliban forces were demonstrating increasing strength, controlling broad swaths of territory and ruling with merciless efficiency. Meanwhile, traditional religious parties battled each other, particularly the Sunni and Shia Muslims. There was also ethnic strife of all varieties, among such groups as the Baluchis, Punjabs, Sindhis, Pashtuns and Muhajirs, as well as the nationalist movement for a liberal, secular Pakistan. As a young reporter, Schmidle attempted to make sense of everything by traveling to where the story was and speaking to those making it. It was a dangerous game-reporter Daniel Pearl had been kidnapped and brutally murdered a few years earlier for attempting the same thing. Schmidle traveled to the north to interview emerging Taliban leaders and arranged clandestine meetings with radical Islamic clerics, one of whom was soon killed in an attack. He traveled with ethnic rebels and marched with student protesters, all the while avoiding the attention of the ubiquitous government intelligence agencies. The author lets his subjects speak, allowing the reader to understand the logic of their emotions and intentions-some evil are evil, some benign, but all are more than political caricatures of the Western imagination. Schmidle also follows the return from exile of popular former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, and her near-immediate assassination, as well as the August 2008 resignation of Musharraf. A fully realized portrait of a nation struggling to survive its internal divisions and hatreds."—Kirkus Reviews

“In 2006, wanting to become a journalist but lacking any journalistic experience, Schmidle decided he would go to Iran, but political upheaval there nixed that plan, so he chose Pakistan instead. After hurriedly gathering background, he spent two years in the country, exploring its past and present, living among its people, writing about them. The book is a fascinating account of his years in Pakistan, where on any given day he could be spending time in a Taliban training camp, interviewing a Shi’a preacher, or meeting a political leader. Schmidle explores the country’s short but turbulent history (Pakistan, both the word and the country, is less than a century old), showing it to us from the perspective of someone who came to the country ill-prepared for what he would find. He eventually learns to love the country and its people, but the memory of Daniel Pearl, an American journalist who was kidnapped and murdered in Pakistan, is never too far from Schmidle’s mind, or from the reader’s. This is really the story of the two Pakistans the author discovered: one beautiful and friendly, the other frightening and deadly.”—David Pitt, Booklist

“Schmidle offers a gripping, grim account of his two years as a journalism fellow in Pakistan, where his travels took him into the most isolated and unfriendly provinces, and into the thick of interests and beliefs that impede that nation’s peace and progress . . . Schmidle has, with this effort, established himself as a fresh, eloquent and informed contributor to the ongoing dialogue regarding Pakistan, terrorism and the strategic importance of engaging Central Asia in efforts toward peace and stability.”—Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads

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BOOK EXCERPTS

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INTRODUCTION

LAND OF THE PURE

The cops came for me on a cold, rainy night. Four of them, hoods pulled over their heads, stood in the driveway of my home in Islamabad.

"Are you Mr. Nicholas?" one asked.

I nodded.

The senior officer who did all the talking was tall, clean-shaven, and looked familiar; we had met a few weeks earlier at an antigovernment student protest.

"What’s the problem?" I asked, my tone sounding partly curious, and yet anxious. Why would the police come to my house three times in one afternoon? When they had stopped by the first

Read the full excerpt
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

  • Nicholas Schmidle

  • Nicholas Schmidle is a fellow at the New America Foundation. He writes for the New York Times Magazine, Slate, The New Republic, Smithsonian, and the Virginia Quarterly Review, among other publications, and received the 2008 Kurt Schork Award for freelance journalism. As a fellow of the Institute of Current World Affairs, he lived and reported in Pakistan for two years. Schmidle is a graduate of James Madison University and American University. He lives in Washington, D.C., with his wife.
  • Nicholas Schmidle Rikki Schmidle
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