16 June, 2021

View From An Eyrie

A first novel’s portrayal of tribal life in Balochistan and NWFP, one of casual bloodshed and deprivation, rings true

Fauzia Minallah
View From An Eyrie

This first work of fiction comes with considerable advance praise and has both a promising start and an unusual back story. Set in the inhospitable terrain of Balochistan and North-West Frontier provinces of Pakistan that border Afghanistan and Iran, its author is a 78-year-old Pakistani civil servant who spent much of his career administering them; he was political agent in many of the tribal districts and later served as minister in Pakistan’s embassy in Kabul before the rise of the Taliban, during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.

Officials filtering their remembered experiences of remote regions into chronicles of fiction or non-fiction are by no means uncommon, but Jamil Ahmad will not go down among the infamous bores who tend to dominate the genre. He has the natural storyteller’s gifts of restraint and brevity, and a fine sensibility for evoking landscape and character in the battleground occupied by feuding trans-frontier tribes, nomadic or settled.

Typically, here is how a chapter opens: “A...

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