KLF: Anatol Lieven

I’m anatol lieven. I’m a professor at king’s college London. I used to be a journalist for the Times here in Pakistan and I am author of the book Pakistan: A hard country.

What are you working on right now?

Right now we have a 4 month old baby at home so I haven’t been working on very much. After finishing the Pakistan book I produced an upgraded edition of a book of mine on American nationalism so I spent part of last year doing that. It’s coming out before the next U.S. elections and it looks in part at the radicalization of the Republican party in the U.S. What my next major project will be I have not decided yet.

Is this your first time at the Karachi Literature Festival?

Yes. First time at the literature festival but I have been to Karachi many times over the years.

Any interesting anecdote or observation from the festival so far?

No, I mean I have one or two but I think I won’t talk about them.

Anything about Karachi that you’ve observed on this particular visit?

Well, the striking thing about Karachi I find is how it goes through these episodes of violence and then finally it subsides and then comes back after a while. I was here in 2009 on a day when there was really very severe violence. Perhaps even ? was much much much better when I was here in the late 1980s when there was much larger and more indiscriminate violence. I have always been struck by the resilience of this city. The infrastructure has improved which is nice. The roads are much better when there isn’t a demonstration going on of course and I get a sense of Karachi which endure, which carries on, which overcomes difficulties and which also generates some great culture.

An interesting character that you perhaps came across while writing the book that you did not include in the book?

That I didn’t put in the book? There were lots of interesting characters who I didn’t put in the book by name sometimes because I was a bit satirical about and I didn’t want to hurt their feelings especially of course if they had been my hosts you know. Sometimes of course you’re unlikely to get a senior policeman to describe on the record how yet people get shot in the back of the head or a local politician to say on the record how he had his neighbors killed. So things like that of of course need to be anonymous. I think I got most of the really interesting character in and though of course you know during all my travels in Pakistan during what we call ? interviews on the street we also met many many many interesting people among ordinary pakistanis. Of course there wasn’t room to get many of them into the book.
Do you get writer’s block. Is there an equivalent ? for non-fiction writers?

Well yes. I mean there can be. ? I was a journalist for most of my career. If you have writer’s block as a journalist you won’t last very long. Editors do not take kindly to being told that you can’t deliver your copy on deadline because you have writer’s block so that blasted me out of whatever blockages you know I may have had and of course it would be different if I were writing fiction. But ? in some respects it was very difficult to organize the book on Pakistan. Not terribly difficult because the provincial chapters were ? in fact the thematic chapters so you obviously you had to have a chapter on religion, a chapter on the ? judicial systems, for military, electoral processes and so forth. The difficult part to write actually, ?problems was the historical section because I used to be a historian but also because to explain things here you do have to get into history and initially I found that I was writing so much history that it had turned into 3 chapters and it was beginning to take up you know more and more of the book and so you know the editor said that this has to be more about contemporary pakistan so not too much please about shah wali ullah and sir syed ahmed khan.

What do you drink while writing?

(chuckles) far too much coffee. Sometimes when I’m on sort of a roll too much wine and then repeated cold drinks.

Favorite Pakistani book or author?

I am very fond of the work of Mohsin Hamid among fiction writers. I also greatly admire somebody who’s not here. Daniyal Mueenuddin. I think that his book of short stories in other rooms: other wonders was one of the finest things that has ever been written about Pakistan. I talk a bit about in the book. Ive mentioned ? by mohsin. I think in many ways if you’re a non Pakistani it’s though the fiction you get the most accurate and insightful views of a society and then among the scholars present I have the highest possible respect for Ayesha jalal and her historical works and her works on the nature of the Pakistani and indian states . there are again some people who are not here ?sama haroon finest ? who I greatly admire and some authors of works of anthropology whom I adore a great deal like akbar ahmed and mohammad azam shatri so no this has been a great gathering and actually the interesting thing is that because pakistan has so much talent you know you can have somewhat different ? of people who weren’t here this year.

What are you taking back from Karachi? A souvenir?

An actual souvenir? Well I have heaps of textile bed covers, table cloths. My wife said if I brought yet another shawl from Pakistan she’d strangle me with it so there are no shawls but my mother-in-law is ? presents for here and for my sisters in law and I was ? to travel to Lahore and islamabad and so I have a large dagger for my son and I have some nice lamps and so forth because that’s the other thing about Pakistan it has a fantastic ? tradition of crafts, textiles you know wonderful tradition of design.

How old is your son?

My son is 8. I didn’t first let him take the ? to school to use it in the playground. I’ll hang it on the wall to give it to him when he’s a bit older.

Anatol Lieven