On a visit to Karachi in 2011, I witnessed a surprising spectacle. Imran Khan, Pakistan’s legendry cricketer, was in town. His Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party was holding a rally in the shadow of Quaid-e-Azam Mazar, the mausoleum that houses the tomb of Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of the nation.

Once upon a time there was a king who had only one daughter. She was beautiful and accomplished in every way and famous for her horse riding skills. The king and the princess were keen on acquiring horses. Whenever any merchant presented a pedigreed horse the king would buy it for the asking price.

‘It’s too dangerous. I’ll have to send a driver.’ The voice on the other end of the mobile takes a breath. ‘I hope you don’t mind.’

On Peshawar road we encountered a scene which would be unusual anywhere else: bearing down on us on both sides of the road was a procession of cars, lorries, carts, tongas, motorbikes and SUVs, with passengers hanging out of windows, standing on roofs, dancing and chanting. The merry crowd carried no banners, signs or placards to broadcast the cause of their jubilation. It was six am.

Failed states, Pakistan-specialist Anatol Lieven declared afterwards, don’t hold literature festivals. Perhaps Lieven assumed too much: there are festivals in Iraq and Palestine. And novelist Mohammad Hanif provided a grimmer perspective during his very well-attended and gently provocative session when he said ‘even places that don’t have running water want to have a literature festival now.’

Like the sword of Damocles, a perennial question mark hangs over Pakistan. Can Pakistan survive? Can it continue to endure the ‘war on terror’? Will it see out drone attacks, the Taliban, violent fundamentalists, the insurgency in Balochistan, inter-provincial rivalries, rampant corruption, economic meltdown and twenty-hour daily electricity blackouts? Given that it ranks high on the Failed States Index and is characterised by ‘perversity’, US-based journalist Robert Kaplan goes as far as to phrase the question as: should Pakistan survive?