If he ever felt any real contrition on his “I, Me, Myself” speech at the acme of his cricketing career in 1992, this is not evident in his latest work, Pakistan: A Personal History, though he mentions the incident in passing. Even if you grant Imran Khan that a personal history ought to be heavy with personal references and insights, it still is too fully loaded in seeing Pakistan from its creation and before “through the prism of Khan’s memories and recollections”.
To the extent that one cannot definitely state whether the book is ‘Imran’s autobiography disguised as a history of the universe’, as some wit remarked of Winston Churchill’s The World Crisis (please pardon the somewhat outlandish if not odious comparison) but it does have some parallels.
Imran’s many detractors have consistently accused him of being too self-centred, narcissistic and (politically) naïve. With this latest venture into authorhood, they need look no further, for he has handed them nearly 400 pages of cold print to rest their case.
Spread over a full one dozen chapters, if you include the prologue and epilogue, the book covers life in Pakistan, its geo-politics, the cataclysmic events since its birth – with the person of Imran Khan detached from these but only at places that are few and far between.
Another criticism, levelled by none other than his committed right-wing columnist friend and translator of the book, Haroon-ur-Rashid (who has perhaps ‘Pakistanised’ its Urdu version, or so he claimed in one of his columns) is that its intended audience is not Pakistani, but the West. This surely falls in the realm of fair criticism, for there is no other reason why he would go about explaining who the Quaid-e-Azam was.
That aside, howsoever much you disagree with this super high achiever (so far only in cricket, high society and philanthropy, though he believes that keeping his party afloat is in itself no mean feat, despite bagging one seat in parliament after 15 years of struggle) and criticise the book for its being steeped in self-absorption, it definitely has many a redeeming feature.
The narration and understanding of the Quaid’s pre-partition politics for one. The fallout of the Afghan insurgency of the 1980s, and Pakistan’s destabilisation as a result, is quite well described as are other major geo-political events of that period, such as the Iranian Revolution. Here he reads like an Oxford graduate who had studied politics in the same class as Benazir Bhutto – but he fails to make any charitable remark about the assassinated popular leader despite her undeniable service to the cause of democracy and resistance to military dictatorships of Zia and Musharraf.
The emphasis on Iqbal is pretty heavy throughout the book, and the last chapter is dedicated to Iqbal, except that it strays into other directions halfway through. References towards Islam and his rediscovery of the faith too are quite profuse, and though the anti-US rhetoric remains, the effort to distance himself from the extremists is quite visible too, though his view that ‘the best weapon against fundamentalism is enlightened Islam’ sounds a bit hackneyed.
It’s interesting to note in the backdrop of his dalliance with the Jamaat-e-Islami that there is part of the prologue that describes the IJT and the way it sent him into temporary incarceration – which to a man so used to a comfortable, even opulent lifestyle sounds funny. “Although I had heard tales about the IJT, I had not fully realised the kind of people they were. Everyone on the campus of the university is scared of them. …they appear to have degenerated into a kind of mafia or fascist group operating inside the university, bearing guns and beating people up. They stifle debate in an educational establishment that has in its time produced two Nobel Laureates.”
And without recounting his travails in that remote prison, this lament on Musharraf’s cruelty in itself is comical enough: “It was unnecessary to send me on a nine-hour journey in a truck to DG Khan when other political leaders were put under house arrest”.
The cricketing part of the book is pretty solid, though one tends to disagree with a particular conclusion – “that the seeds of greed were sown after the 1992 World Cup” when his charges revolted against him for the windfall. While one must acknowledge that it remained under check in his watch, but it actually started with the CBFS – in the 1980s in Sharjah, when matches that could be tanked started being organised by you know who.
For reasons quite understandable, it glosses over any detail of the eventful, stuff-of-the-tabloids, playboy part of his life – stretched not over an odd year or two but a good decade and a half. In the chapter ‘My Marriage, 1995-2004’, Imran has been unable to tackle with the Sita White scandal satisfactorily, though it had haunted him in his first election campaign in 1997, courtesy Nawaz Sharif’s unsavoury media tactics. Even then, it still is a pretty racy and entertaining read – on many an occasion quite invaluable in terms of its anecdotal value and at not many others for its insight.
In the third last chapter, ‘The Tribal Areas: Civil War? My Solution’, Imran tries to accredit an old solution to his own thinking. There is no dearth of analysts who have in the past criticised Musharraf for mishandling the tribal areas post 9/11. His defence, actually adulation, of the tribal way of life, finding justification in everyone carrying weapons and the jirga system sounds jarring and archaic from some who professes to transform Pakistan into a modern and progressive state free of corruption.
What does the book say about Imran, the politician? The swagger is unmistakable. “…I feel that my party and I are not only ready, but that mine is the only party that can get Pakistan out of its current desperate crisis. After fourteen years of the most difficult struggle in my life, my party is finally taking off, spreading like wild fire across the country… For the first time, I feel Tehreek-e-Insaf is the idea whose time has come”. Has it?
The writer is Sports and Magazines Editor, Pakistan Today.