Ten years ago Isambard Wilkinson was laid low by kidney failure. He spent his time surrounded by medication and dialysis bags. He had already undergone one kidney transplant.

The Daily Telegraph foreign desk ordered him to Islamabad.

His doctor said: “You are a very sick man. Patients like you are more vulnerable to disease and have died in such places.”

Wilkinson went anyway. As a result we have a work which is indispensable for any genuine understanding of Pakistan.

Unlike some foreign correspondents, who make a living out of trashing it, Wilkinson relished Pakistan. He really loves and understands the country, even though he arrived at a dreadful moment.

The military dictatorship had lost control. The Taliban was gaining ground every day, and held the Swat Valley, less than 100 miles from the capital Islamabad. It murdered Benazir Bhutto, the best hope for democracy.

Security chiefs regarded Pakistan as the most dangerous country in the world. They feared terrorists might seize a Pakistani nuclear weapons base.

Wilkinson reported all of these dramatic events because he had to, but they didn’t greatly interest him. There is a touch of Evelyn Waugh’s William Boot, dragged from a rustic idyll in the west of England to report a civil war, about Wilkinson.

He prefers visiting Sufi shrines. A friendly Begum in Lahore receives attention. He attends festivals and longs to visit the Nawab of Bugti in Baluchistan, an insanely dangerous enterprise because the Nawab is fighting a war of independence.

Isambard jauntily wanders past military command posts to reach the great fighter, who was killed by the army a few weeks later.

Some of his travelling was carried out in the company of Declan Walsh, an ace Guardian correspondent, who later defected to the New York Times.

Declan Walsh was not a relaxing travel companion because he filed stories at all times of the day and night, making Wilkinson nervous that he must be missing something. It is a feeling every foreign correspondent knows well. It gnaws at the pit of your stomach. Wilkinson communicates the insecurity and paranoia of a foreign correspondent’s life with the authority of an expert.

Every year a deep pile of books is published, warning that Pakistan is descending ever deeper into crisis, and about to fall over the abyss.

These book are not written for ordinary readers, and certainly not about ordinary Pakistanis.

They are mainly written for denisons of think tanks in Washington and London. The fashionable political commentator, Ahmed Rashid, each one of whose books is more apocalyptic than the last, is the leading manifestation of this excitable literary school.

Meanwhile the country carries on its merry way, undisturbed by the wild-eyed ruminations of alarmist western-supported intellectuals. Isambard Wilkinson conveys Pakistan as it is – a very beautiful country which anybody in their right mind should go to great lengths to visit not just once but over and over again.

Travels in a Dervish Cloak 

Isambard Wilkinson

Eland Publishing (28 Sept. 2017)