Imran won’t bowl anyone over with his prose stylings.
So let’s get this out there at the start and let’s not hold it against him: Imran Khan is a very arrogant man and he has good reason to be arrogant. Call it delusion or an excess of self-belief, this man has often set out to do the impossible and has usually achieved his stratospheric aims.
This doesn’t mean that Imran can coherently pull off the triple mission of his latest book, which serves as an introductory history of the country, a memoir and a political manifesto. But no one will be reading this book to be dazzled by Imran the prose stylist; we just want to get a better understanding of how this cricket celebrity and philanthropist who had permanent ownership over the hearts of Pakistanis and the social scene of London ended up becoming a divisive right-wing politician.
Imran is honest in admitting that an interest in politics and religion was sparked only after his cricket career was nearly at an end but the roots of his worldview become apparent early on. Forget his subsequent activism against drone attacks and military operations, Imran is at heart a pastoral reactionary in the mould of poets like Philip Larkin. Even at a relatively young age, Imran says, he yearned for the open spaces of an uncluttered Zaman Park, fell in love with Hunza and now laments that the former has been urbanised and the latter has become a tourist trap.
Again, Imran claims that he had no particular interest in religion till much later but the impressions he gives of his first visits to England show that the religious gene was always present. On his first visit to the country he laments how religious belief has been undermined by the twin evils of Darwin and Monty Python.
To be a bit uncharitable, Imran’s own religious awakening can be seen as a sign of his naivety. A man by the name of Mian Bashir came into his life, offered a few predictions that came true and Imran suddenly became a devout Muslim. Introspection isn’t Imran’s strongest suit but a more plausible explanation might be that he simply needed a bit of a push to bring out the religious belief that was always inside him. Whatever the spur might have been, those who maintain that the playboy is simply posing as a man of prayer should have their minds changed by Imran’s heartfelt explanation of his awakening.
The same sympathy should not extend to Imran Khan’s politics, which is based on a simplistic understanding of the country and is yet another sign of his naive nature. One charge that Imran should be exonerated of is that he is pro-Taliban. But he does downplay the Taliban threat by assuming that many of the militants are simply misguided Pakthuns who are simply fighting the US, and that once the imperialist power withdraws all will be well again.
Where Imran is at his most irksome is when he mocks those who think the threat of Talibanisation is greater than drone attacks or military operations, as if the constant bombing of shrines, government buildings and mosques and the continued massacre of Shias is not something to be immensely worried about. Even when Imran is absolutely spot on, as when he laments the murder of Salmaan Taseer, and says that anyone who is a minority or is pro-ANP lives in fear of death, he then follows up with a false equivalence by claiming that people like him also have to suffer because they are labelled pro-Taliban. He also takes unnecessary potshots at NGOs, saying “They did nothing, as most were funded by Western donors.”
Even those who disagree with Imran’s politics should never lose sight of that the fact that he is still one of the greatest living Pakistanis. As Imran documents the struggles he went through to make the Shaukat Khanum cancer hospital a reality, one realises that it is his doggedness, arrogance and refusal to bend to logic that have saved so many lives that would otherwise have been lost. And for that he deserves our gratitude.
Available at Liberty Books for Rs995.
By Nadir Hussain, Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, October 2nd, 2011.