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Aboard the Democracy Train: A Journey through Pakistan's Last Decade of Democracy

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‘Aboard the Democracy Train’ is about politics and journalism in Pakistan. It is a gripping front-line account of the country’s decade of turbulent democracy (1988-1999), as told through the eyes of the only woman reporter working during the Zia era at ‘Dawn’, Pakistan’s leading English language newspaper. In this volume, the author reveals her unique experiences and coverage of ethnic violence, women’s rights and media freedoms. The narrative provides an insight into the politics of the Pak-Afghan region in the post 9-11 era, and exposes how the absence of rule of law claimed the life of its only woman prime minister.

268 pages, Paperback

First published November 1, 2010

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Nafisa Hoodbhoy

4 books2 followers

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Displaying 1 - 8 of 8 reviews
Profile Image for W.
1,185 reviews4 followers
January 24, 2021
It is once again open season for political protests and anti government agitation in Pakistan.The more things change,the more they stay the same.

This book is about Pakistan's politics,from the late 80s to the late 90s,but has many parallels to today's situation.

The author was a journalist for the Pakistani newspaper Dawn during the 1980s and 90s.It is a memoir of the time when General Zia ruled Pakistan,and it was later followed by Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif playing musical chairs and taking alternative turns,twice each,as prime ministers.

The title could just as easily have been,Aboard the Gravy Train (as that is what democracy amounted to for some of Pakistan's democratic leaders.It was a very quick way to get very rich during their respective terms in office).

As a female journalist and a Sindhi one,the author got close access to Benazir Bhutto as she campaigned for power,after the death of General Zia.She accompanied Benazir to the interior of Sind.

Her assessment of Benazir is refreshing,she thinks that Benazir would do just about anything,whatever was necessary, to return to power.She calls Asif Zardari,Benazir's husband and future president,Mr.10% because of corruption allegations.

Benazir's relative Mumtaz Bhutto is interviewed,who claims that Benazir was like "Alice in Wonderland" on her return to Pakistan after years of exile, and knew nobody.

She also writes how Zulfikar Ali Bhutto started land reforms,but still remained the largest landowner by transferring land to his own relatives,rather than giving them to the poor.

As for Nawaz Sharif,she recounts how the IJI was created in 1990 to counter Benazir.And also how Nawaz used to distribute envelopes of cash to journalists.

Then she writes about her journalistic career and how she started covering the ethnic violence in Karachi in which the MQM was so heavily involved,against other ethnic groups and law enforcement operations against the MQM.In Benazir's second term,extra judicial killings by police became the norm.

She was a frequent visitor to the scenes of the violence and it is an admirable and chilling account of a young woman facing all kinds of dangers to do her job.She frequently encountered social worker, Abdus Sattar Edhi,as he put the dead and wounded in his ambulance.

She was attacked by knife wielding would be assassins for her reporting and the incident made many headlines.

The author would eventually leave the very risky profession of journalism in Pakistan and move to the US.There 9/11 happened and she found herself in great demand as a guest speaker,talking about the terrorist networks in Pakistan.

This is a very interesting memoir,which I found hard to put down.The book highlights the pressures and frustrations of a journalist's life in Pakistan.

(Her brother Pervez Hoodhbhoy continues to write in Dawn and is also very outspoken in his political views).
Profile Image for Tariq Mahmood.
Author 2 books1,025 followers
August 17, 2016
The problem of writing about Pakistan is that you cannot come up with a better story line than the reality of events on offer. Dynastic families with political aspirations, a military with unaccountable power, spineless politicians with few values, a bureaucracy with no morals, and a journalistic core willing to sell their souls to the any bidder.

So disregarding the timelines of events, the book was rather disappointing. I was expecting a lot more insight into the lives of the main characters playing in the Pakistani pantomime because of Nafisa's unique role as a woman in a man's world of journalism, but was disappointed. The personal observations on offer are few and far between with pages upon pages of events which are common knowledge to anyone following Pakistan.

Journalists are the ambassadors and representatives of their cultures. Their observations and deductions are critical components which can alter known perceptions. Pakistani journalists writing in English tend to work for big news corporations which tends to choke their opinions about the state of affairs in Pakistan. Nafisa has observed the Western reporters biased towards their own but has failed to challenge this leading trend among her Western compatriots. How did the gallant Jihadis in Afghanistan become despicable terrorists after the defeat of Soviet Union? How could the much traveled and privileged Western journalistic core completely misread the situation? Nafisa could have used her book to challenge her enlightened colleagues.

The book could be interesting for someone wanting a quick tour of the Pakistani political scene I guess......
Profile Image for Vikas Datta.
2,178 reviews128 followers
May 25, 2015
Another perceptive look into an embattled country and where Ms.Hoodbhoy scores is starting much earlier in a more dangerous decade which has however not got its adequate share of attention due to the lesser outward manifestations of violence, save in benighted Karachi and Sindh.... One little disconcerting issue is that in the post-9/11 account, all the personal touches disappear and it is all bald fact, incisive no doubt, but doesn't tell much about the author's own experiences and thoughts. Overall, a key book which must be read by anyone interested in the topic and find where and how the problems came up...
Profile Image for Karen Mcfly.
17 reviews1 follower
October 4, 2013
Unputdownable! Required reading for anyone who is interested in how Pakistan came into being, developed into the country that it is today and what it was like in between being the only women journalist during dictator Zia ul Haq's military rule. Nafisa Hoodbhoy is a an extremely brave and defiant woman and a great writer whose storytelling qualities enable one to live through the different times as she has. Certainly worth reading a second time.
1 review
November 14, 2016
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this personal - impersonal blend of style and somewhat a biographical account of Nafisa Hoodbhoy. Besides information and insights about particular instances of struggle for democracy, the book brought intimate memories alive of my time as student and human rights activist. Readers might want to have a look on piece on the book. http://tribune.com.pk/story/1186034/a...
January 10, 2018
Anyone who wants to understand the complexity, diversity and resilience of Pakistani society, must read 'Aboard the Democracy Train' (2016 Edition). The briliance of Nafisa's writing takes the reader on a journey of magic realism on every page. Her journalistic skill mixed with unique insights into the life of Benazir Bhutto, makes this book a captivating read. Nafisa Hoodbhoy is the Isabel Alleande of Pakistan. Review by Sameena Nazir, Pakistan Program Advisor at Networks of Change.
Profile Image for Kaustubh Kirti.
99 reviews11 followers
January 1, 2018
A thrilling tale that follows the death of Zia on 1988 and folllows much of Pakistan's history till the shahadat of Benazir Bhutto. The book gives a close acccount of what goes behind the scene in the political landscape and how specific events change the functioning of democracy in Pakistan.

Fragility of the civil institutions have directly been related to the weakness of democracy in Pakistan however the tussle between civil military as the book shows continues when the civilian government was further topples in 1999.

Interesting read but for the better part of the second book the story becomes boring and the kind of connect and cohesion on the first part is missing. Much of the book is in memoir style which is good added with history. You can complement the author on the story of the rise of MQM, problems of rural Sindh, toppling of Benazir but towards the latter part you might be lost. Otherwise informative basis good read..
Profile Image for Steve Edwards.
5 reviews
November 26, 2017
Light on character development and providing few insights into the why? of deeply ingrained cultural traditions that superficially at least appear discriminatory, running contrary to values held dear by liberal "westernized" elites from democratic societies. Otherwise, for the outsider, an exposition of the defacto politics, current affairs and attitudes of a troubled region in the midst of fracticious change and shifting tribal and international allegiences, that resists the tendancy to sensationalise and benefits from the biographical viewpoint of the writer, who should be commended for her bravery, integrity and unwavering dedication to the journalistic profession as a cause for good.
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