Aboard the Democracy Train

Aboard the Democracy Train

A Journey through Pakistan's Last Decade of Democracy

By Nafisa Hoodbhoy

Anthem South Asian Studies

'Aboard the Democracy Train' is a gripping front-line account of Pakistan's decade of turbulent democracy (1988-1999), as told through the eyes of the only woman reporter working during the Zia era for the nation's leading English language newspaper.

Paperback, 268 Pages


April 2011

£14.99, $24.95

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About This Book

‘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.

The book is set during Pakistan's decade of turbulent democracy, which began when President Gen. Zia ul Haq's military rule abruptly ended with his plane crash. Then, as the only woman reporter at the nation's leading newspaper 'Dawn', the author was closely associated with late Benazir Bhutto's bid to become and remain the nation's first woman Prime Minister.

The book comes full circle from the Cold War era, when the events of September 11 forced Pakistan's military leaders to re-enter the U.S. orbit of influence. It is an account of why Benazir Bhutto fell victim to terrorism while her widower Asif Zardari is described as having taken on of the world's most daunting tasks of negotiating between a superpower and the military, amid a ferocious resurgence by the Taliban.


‘…A remarkably readable and anecdotal account of events in Pakistan. […]Hoodbhoy provides an excellent perspective to a foreign reader of life in Pakistan when, in spite of many dichotomies and contradictions, people co-existed in relative harmony. […] The forte of ‘Aboard the Democracy Train’ is its rich repertoire of anecdotes and quotable quotes. […] Told in Hoodbhoy’s racy style, politics assumes an exciting dimension.’ —‘Dawn’

‘Hoodbhoy’s lively, and at times daring, eye-witness account provides many insights into Pakistan during her sixteen years at Dawn [and] reveals complex political machinations as well as the many shortcomings of the Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif governments, including flagrant corruption… Her harrowing and riveting tale [draws its value from] the events that she reported and witnessed and which provide the key to the discordant forces battling for control in Pakistan today.’ — Muneeza Shamsie, ‘Journal of Postcolonial Writing’

'A powerful and courageous voice that represents the best of Pakistan’s emerging journalism… The first insider view of developments in Pakistan on the road to democracy.' —Shuja Nawaz, Director, South Asia Center, The Atlantic Council of the United States, and author of ‘Crossed Swords: Pakistan, its Army, and the Wars Within’

'Nafisa Hoodbhoy’s detailed reporting helped me look at the complex world of Pakistani politics differently. Hoodbhoy’s proximity to key players and her unique perspective as one of the few women journalists to cover Pakistan’s gripping narrative makes the ‘Democracy Train’ a great companion to the news of the day.' —Karen Frillmann, Managing Editor - Newsroom, New York Public Radio

'A story of a courageous journalist who defied conventional norms during times when very few other women were in this profession, and the country’s political environment was heavily influenced by conservative values, bloody ethnic conflict and religious bigotry. [Hoodbhoy] witnessed the making of history first-hand.' —Hassan Abbas, Quaid-i-Azam Chair Professor, South Asia Institute, Columbia University and author of ‘Pakistan’s Drift into Extremism: Allah, the Army, and America’s War on Terror’

'It was her fierce independence and commitment to her country that inspired [Hoodbhoy’s] decision to become a newspaper reporter – the only female reporter at the Pakistani daily, ‘Dawn’. Living in the United States after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, she realized that she was in a unique position to shed light on growing Islamic militancy and sectarian violence. She does so here with the irrepressible spirit that inspired her early journalism.' —Frances Stead Sellers, Deputy National Editor, Health, Science and the Environment, ‘The Washington Post’

Author Information

Nafisa Hoodbhoy was staff reporter for ‘Dawn’, Pakistan’s leading English language newspaper, from 1984-2000. Based in the USA since 2000, Hoodbhoy researches, writes and teaches about the Pak-Afghan region.


Anthem South Asian Studies

Table of Contents

List of Figures; Preface; Introduction: The Effects of Partition; PART I: POLITICS AND JOURNALISM IN PAKISTAN; 1. Aboard the Democracy Train; 2. Ethnic Violence in Sindh: The MQM Saga; 3. News is What the Rulers Want to Hide; PART II: HUMAN RIGHTS; 4. Where Have All the Women Gone?; 5. Uncovering a Murder; PART III: TERRORISM IN PAKISTAN; 6. Pakistan in the Shadow of 9/11; 7. The Democracy Train Revs for Motion; Epilogue; Select Bibliography; Index


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