islamabad - The book “Tightrope Walk” is a well-written memoir in the history of US-Pakistan relations through the prism of author Amanullah Khan, who worked at the US Embassy, Islamabad from 1973 till 2003. It tells a nicely interwoven story of his life from early childhood’s tough times up to where he is today and what he is doing. In particular, the book focuses on a span of his 30 years at the job. It talks in detail about his razor-sharp analytical skills and dispassionate account of a political saga with the shenanigans in Pakistani politics.

Although there were many, financial and mental, ups and downs, the details and fashion in which he tells his story can only be truly gleaned by reading it.

 The author’s childhood memories, the brutal murder of 16 closest family members, including his mother, sisters, brother-in-laws and young nephews and nieces, left a dark mark on his mind at the age of seven years, and his upbringing compiles an interesting read.

Tightrope Walk also gives an in-depth inside look at what goes behind the iron gates and red brick walls with barbed wires of the US embassy located in the Diplomatic Enclave, Islamabad. Khan leaves nothing to the imagination. It is all there in his words, and he tells it like you were present there with him.

Social, historical context

The beginning of the book is set in the Indian part of Kashmir and the year is 1947. It describes the turmoil of separation of Kashmir and the agonizing journey to Pakistan. The later part of the book talks about the author’s unsettled life and his quest for a harmonious life, and once settled, a detailed account of the experience at the workplace: the US embassy in Islamabad.

Khan was where the action was. Working for three decades under the watch of intelligence agencies, and convincing superiors to follow his advice and not their mind during the cold US-Pak relationship period, his job was not a bed of roses at all.

Apart from the events and incidents, the book talks about the US policies and mindset, and how the US diplomats are considered gods, irrespective of their position, by our bureaucrats and political elite, who try to brush shoulders with any US citizen carrying a diplomatic passport. It clearly underlines the US position on Pakistan as a state before and after the country’s nuclear blasts. The book also sheds light on Pakistan’s social construct, inequality, oppressive and inhuman life in the rural areas, and our system infested with hypocrisy, materialism, and nepotism. 

Writing style

The book is written in simple English with no pretensions towards literariness. It has an uncomplicated and lucid style, which makes the narrated events come alive. As the pages in the book turn, so do the events penned down by the author. His 30 years at the embassy gave him an opportunity to work with a number of ambassadors and diplomats who later got promoted to become US ambassadors in different parts of the world. Each one of them had a story to tell.

The book is well-sequenced, fast-paced, and offers a whole lot of virulent criticism of people the author does not like.

Author’s thoughts

From the first chapter, the book Tightrope Walk gets you hooked. Till the end, the interest of the reader is maintained waiting for the title’s justification. The book continues to twist and turn as it drums out key moments from Pakistan’s political history, but somehow the climax is missing.

The post-retirement part loses readers’ interest as it lacks any out of the ordinary event or incident which could keep the reader gripped as earlier. Also at times, it seems that the author is full of self-praise. Umpteen awards conferred on him by the US ambassadors in Pakistan, letters of appreciation, responsibilities bestowed upon him to represent the embassy at difficult times and his exceptional analytical skills are so cyclic that it forms an impression of a magnum opus. What the author forgot was that the memoirs itself speak for his magnanimous service to his master - the US Foreign Service. The reader does not need to be reminded again and again.

Similarly, a few events and quotes have also been repeated, which gives an opportunity to the reader to skip lines and even pages. Also on many pages, he has turned to give advice to both Pakistan and United States. This somehow leaves the reader wondering.