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Novelists See Pakistan as Land of Contradictions

Aug 15, 2007 (Morning Edition)

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Pakistan, celebrating its 60th anniversary this week, is a country of contradictions, two Pakistani-born novelists say. On the one hand, there are signs of optimism about the emergence of democracy. On the other, Pakistan is seen as the focus of the war on terrorism.

Last month, Pakistan's Supreme Court reinstated the country's top judge, ruling that his suspension by Gen. Pervez Musharraf, the nation's president and military ruler, was illegal.

"Everyone is actually quite excited about this and what this means, and see this as a rather hopeful and promising time," Kamila Shamsie, author of Broken Verses, tells Renee Montagne.

"So, although I know this isn't the vision people are getting outside Pakistan, there is kind of tentative optimism going on at the moment, which I haven't felt there for quite a long time."

Shamsie and Mohsin Hamid, the author of The Reluctant Fundamentalist, say that news accounts oversimplify the situation in Pakistan.

"Pakistan's purpose in world news today is to frighten, mainly," Hamid says. "Pakistan hasn't been cast in the role of ... interesting cultural place or, you know, land of great comedians. And so therefore nobody covers the many other aspects of Pakistan which are the majority of Pakistan."

When Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama said during a recent debate that he was prepared to order U.S. military forces into Pakistan if the terrorist threat warranted, it was "viewed with complete horror" in Pakistan, Hamid says.

"Suddenly people are asking you, 'Is America about to invade Pakistan?'" he says. "It's just a way of showing you how one sentence at one point can suddenly become in a country a view that the other country is full of people who want to attack them. It's a fine balance between, as Kamila says, really exciting times and also really frightening times."

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