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The locale for Fatima Bhutto’s emotionally charged novel is Mir Ali in North Waziristan in the Federally Administered Territories (“FATA”) of Pakistan. FATA and the North-West Frontier Province (“NWFP”) are called the tribal regions that lie between Pakistan and Afghanistan. I would recommend that you get a copy of Jamil Ahmad’s superb short story anthology “The Wandering Falcon” which is an oral history of Pashtun tribes in the NWFP. It is a misnomer that there are two sides to every problem. There are many sides, but for simplicity we unfortunately reduce problem-solving to zero-sum games.

Ms. Bhutto’s novel is not simplistic. It traces the lives of three brothers. Aman Erum the eldest and the one who is determined to leave the history of Mir Ali’s revolt against the Pakistan government and military behind and become successful in the United States. Sikandar, the middle son, who is a doctor, tries to get by, because he and his wife Mina have already suffered. Hayat is the youngest and most radicalized. The family lives in Mir Ali, which is the second largest city in FATA. Their father fought unsuccessfully against the Pakistan government. Relative to the impoverished on the outskirts of town and in the NWFP they are middle class. As Pashtuns they have been discriminated against by the predominantly Punjabi population, but this too is misleading, as Pashtuns have a presence in Pakistan’s intelligence service. They do not support the Taliban and the more radicalized Sunni’s, as they are moderate Shi’a. The latter likely reflects the author as well.

Vacuums are opportunities for radicalization. Understanding both the history between FATA and in particular North Waziristan and Pakistan; economic disparities in the country; and religious and tribal rivalries; provides a better understanding of conflict. Foreign countries have fared no better in NWFP and FATA than they have in Pashtun Afghanistan. Boundaries drawn by the British are as much as source of conflict as they are in the Middle East. Aman Erum understands these statistics and Hayat knows he has no hope.

FATA Table

Like lines projecting upwards the boys lives bend by their weight and intertwine. The storyline is engaging and unforgiving. Ms. Bhutto does not offer easy answers in the end; there are none.
The author is no stranger to tragedy and political intrigue. Her aunt was Benazir Bhutto, who she accused of murdering her father Murtaza when she was a young girl. Her and her family’s history is conveyed in her book “Songs of Blood & Sword”.
The author clearly writes from what she knows. She is part of Pakistani “royalty”. She remains outspoken about Pakistan.
“The Shadow of the Crescent Moon” shows another side of that moon. It is well worth reading.