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Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Review on Imran Khan's Book - Pakistan: A Personal History.

Imran won’t bowl anyone over with his prose stylings.
Unless your name is Jinnah, it takes a healthy amount of arrogance to write a book titled Pakistan: A Personal History. About as much arrogance as it would take to believe that you can lead an injury-plagued, out-of-form cricket team to a World Cup victory or that you can build a cancer hospital from scratch that provides free treatment to the poor.
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.

Imran Khan from the heart

By Khaled Ahmed

The writer is Director, South Asian Media School, Lahore khaled.ahmed@tribune.com.pk
Imran Khan has published an account of his life in Pakistan: A Personal History (Bantam Press 2011), talking of matters he has probably not discussed before, some quite frankly and with regret.
The formative matrix is Zaman Park where he grew up. His maternal grandfather Ahmad Hasan Khan continues to be emblematic of the place. A contemporary noted that in the early years of the 20th century that when he entered the Government College (GC) Lahore, Ahmad Hasan Khan, as a student of the GC, was talk of the town, captaining both cricket and soccer teams. He grew to become the most intellectually gifted of the Pathans of Jalundhar, serving as census commissioner of Punjab at the height of his career as a civil servant.
The sporting DNA came from him, father to three daughters who gave Pakistan three captains (Javed Burki, Majid Khan, Imran Khan) of the national cricket team. Of the three, Imran’s mother was the most educated. Under her tutelage Imran achieved excellence in both aspects of personality, sport and intellect. Typically, at Zaman Park, he was withdrawn and wild, conforming to the first law of the jungle, survival of the fittest.
Ahmad Hasan Khan’s son Ahmad Raza Khan went on to embody Zaman Park’s arcadian model: he played all sports with distinction and was a natural leader in civil service. Majid Khan’s father Dr Jehangir Khan combined in his genius a scholar-historian and a javelin-throwing wrestler who became an all-India cricketer.
Following the completion of his A-levels in 1972 from Aitchison College Lahore, Imran went to Oxford (p.57). He already liked the defiance of Bhutto who had committed Pakistan to a thousand-year war with India at the UN. But Bhutto fell early enough because of his embedded flaw of a feudal mind (p.40).
Memory inclined him to abhor what he calls the brown sahibs of Pakistan whom he first saw in Lahore Gymkhana where “Pakistanis pretended to be English and danced to western music on a Saturday night” (p.43). Gora sahib British had embedded an inferiority complex amongst the natives with great care (p.45).
He loved cricketers who refused to kowtow: “Sir Vivian Richards from the West and Sunil Gavaskar of India were both examples of sportsmen who wanted to assert their equality on the cricket field against their former colonial masters” (p.64). British Raj had romanced the Pathan highlander even as he fought him, admiring his defiance.
As captain of the Pakistan team, Imran got on well with General Ziaul Haq although “his political use of Islam was aimed more at capturing the mood of the time” (p.69). He thought Islamisation was mere outward observance and remained untouched by it. (Later Captain Inzimamul Haq would preside over a crudely demonstrative religiosity that left the team empty of all ethic. Today, after Talibanisation, even Miandad says he used to do wuzu before going in to bat.)
Imran imbibed a strong sense of personal destiny. He recalls: “Pir Gi from Sahiwal said I would be very famous and make my mother a household name” (p.89). Imran had announced his first retirement when he met another clairvoyant: “Baba Chala, lived in a little village just a few miles from the Indian border. He certainly had not heard bout my retirement… the man looked at me and said I had not left my profession…. It is the will of Allah; you are still in the game” (p.93).
But the man who stood by him as his spiritual mentor was Mian Bashir (d.2005) who shocked him by naming the Quranic ayat his mother used to read to baby Imran and predicted that Allah had turned the tables in his favour in the Lamb-Botham libel suit whose reparations would have pauperised Imran (p.189). Mian Bashir also disarmed a sceptical Jemima by accurately guessing her three secret wishes (p.120).
Imran married Jemima in 1995 but the marriage was on the rocks soon enough. He is graceful in his expression of sincere regret at what happened: “The six months leading up to our divorce and the six months after, made up the hardest year of my life” (p.214). If the book is a personal narrative, Jemima probably deserved more space. She was of far greater personal worth than he realises although he is appropriately grateful that his two wonderful sons are growing up with her in England, away from the violent dystopia of Pakistan.
Jemima and Princess Diana were both good for Imran and his cancer hospital. His icons looked for the ‘autonomous woman’ in their dedicated lives. Allama Iqbal had his Atiya Fyzee and Jinnah his Ruttie. Inspirational, predestined Imran had his ‘rational’ Jemima?
He discusses his pre-marital “hedonism” and calls it “a mirage”: “The hurt I caused and the feeling of emptiness I experienced in transitory relationships far out-weighed the moments of pleasure” (p.91). He is aware of the ‘born again’ label and resists it, even recalling Fazal Mehmood, the playboy fast bowler of Pakistan, who went heavily religious after retirement from cricket. He is more firmly moored in Allama Iqbal and Jinnah who Sarojini Naidu thought (p.18) was “a little aloof and imperious of manner” — just like Imran Khan?
From his sense of predestination comes his risk-taking character. But he says: “The difference between a good leader and a bad one is that the former takes huge risks while fully grasping the consequences of failure. Leaders of a country shaping policies out of fear of losing power have always proves to be disastrous. Great leaders always have the ability to resist pressure and make policies according to their vision, rather than fear” (p.113).
A most falsifying aspect of leadership is its condition of being a public good. Imran has read his Allama Iqbal and Ali Shariati, but he may finally be more like Syed Qutb, too reactive, too much a politician of extremes.
Coda: The cover picture of Imran with a punk thatch may be too brown sahibish compared to the more impromptu and ‘true’ photographs inside the book.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 2nd, 2011.