Raza Rumi’s voice is unique to Pakistani politics, both from an inside and outside perspective. With the former, he has quite the track record as a civil servant and a development expert. As per the latter viewpoint, his writings have spoken volumes as a commentator for numerous national, regional, and international publications.

After an eloquent travelogue of Delhi, Rumi’s second offering is a collection of 57 essays that were published earlier as series of columns in the Pakistani weekly The News on Sunday. This anthology covers a wide range of topics from certain post-Pervez Musharraf democratic advances to the subsequently created unchecked judiciary and uncouth media. His narrative elaborates on how these unelected Frankenstein’s monsters might just usher the arrival of the original military ones.

Via a holistic analysis and clairvoyance, Rumi chronicles a period that marked an awkward transition from an authoritarian military regime to a quasi-democratic order. In these 350 pages of succinct prose, readers will understand why and how the odds may still be stacked against Pakistan despite many strides.

That too, not just through the standard national security, foreign policy lenses but rather a domestic governance standpoint as well. The volume is divided into readable different segments, each containing previously written articles pertaining to each of the following vantage points: 1) Democratic Transition, 2) Security, Conflict, and Extremism, 3) Governance, Institutions, and Reform, 4) Foreign Policy, and 5) Media. 

The country’s internal pulse is encapsulated with fluid sentences like: 

“In reality, however the rule of law is nothing more than the survival of bourgeois dominance, which is guaranteed by an independent judiciary that ensures the sustenance of corporate interests, private property rights and the livelihoods of the corporate lawyers. Many of these legal eagles have shifted their political position and realized that the primacy of the democratic process is central to the emergence and safeguarding of constitutionalism in Pakistan.”

The corporate/political bourgeois have also turned news outlets into their personal fiefdoms. With an overbearing judiciary, the military constantly lurking behind the executive wing, and an unruly fourth estate, the legislature has fallen behind in this battle of the branches. Notwithstanding the legislative shortcomings, certain democratic gains such as the 18th Amendment that devolved power to the provinces and technological advances in governance do provide glimmers of hope. Both have given way to a resurgence of women (more than 70 parliamentarians in the National Assembly are women) and civil society movements in the politico-economic fabric. Innovations such as the use of cell phones to monitor citizen feedback in rural areas are also among such feats.

These are recurring themes throughout the anthology. And without perplexing the layman, Rumi does also throw in quantitative figures to justify his claims in this excellent collection of articles.

While newspaper columns may not hold longevity when published as books, The Fractious Path: Pakistan’s Democratic Transition is still a timely insight into how the past seven years have shaped the country’s present and future trajectory. Hence, policymakers, thought leaders, or anyone who studies South Asia will find Raza Rumi’s latest offering indispensable.