Author asks: What's the matter with Pakistan?

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At a recent book signing event for Haroon K. Ullah held at social activist Riffat Chughtai’s home in Murrysville, many in the local Pakistani community gathered to honor the author, a former member of the late Ambassador Richard Holbrooke’s policy team in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Mr. Ullah, who is a staff adviser to the U.S. State Department in Islamabad, released “Vying for Allah’s Vote: Understanding Islamic Parties, Political Violence and Extremism in Pakistan” (Georgetown University Press) late last year. Born to South Asian parents and raised in the U.S., he holds a master’s degree in public policy and international development from Harvard University and a doctorate in political science and public policy from the University of Michigan. 

His book provides a deep understanding of Islamic parties, political violence, extremism and the chances of democratization in Pakistan. The book is based on six years of the author’s on-the-ground research in the region.

Quoting the incidents of Salman Taseer, a governor of the Punjab province who was assassinated in 2011 by his own security guard over his stance against blasphemy laws, and the 2007 killing of Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister, Mr. Ullah believes that these murders underscore the fact that religion, politics and policy are inextricably linked in Pakistan.

During the talk, Mr. Ullah asserted that the interests of political parties were the root cause of extremism. He says he had interviewed a number of Taliban and madrassa (religious seminary) students, and he reached the conclusion that it was politics that had pushed them to take extreme steps including suicide attacks.

In “Vying for Allah’s Vote,” Mr. Ullah analyzes the origins, ideologies, the bases of support and electoral successes of the largest and most influential Islamic parties in Pakistan.

Based on his extensive field work in Pakistan, Mr. Ullah developed a new typology for understanding and comparing the discourses put forth by these parties in order to assess what separates the moderates from the extremists.

“A better understanding of the range of parties is critical for knowing how the U.S. and other Western nations can engage states where Islamic political parties hold both political and moral authority,” Mr. Ullah said.

The author believes Pakistan’s current democratic transition will hinge on how well Islamic parties contribute to civilian rule, shun violence and mobilize support for political reform. Mr. Ullah also urges Pakistani expats to promote a better image of their country by sharing more positive stories about Pakistan with American citizens.



Arshad Dogar, a reporter from Lahore, Pakistan, is an Alfred Friendly Press Partners fellow at the Post-Gazette (

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