As Pakistan is all set to face yet another political tempest, reading the memoirs of one of the key players in the drama — cricketing legend Imran Khan — is worth the effort. In Pakistan: A Personal History, Khan reflects upon the watershed moments in his life. The memoir addresses Pakistani youth — befuddled by existential questions pertaining to their state and their identity — and issues concerning the war on terror — when and how will it end? Are there any solutions? And this memoir is just that. Khan barely dwells upon the magnificent career he had as a sportsman, except to have an account of the memorable and miraculous 1992 World Cup Victory in Australia. He does mention his nine-year-old marriage to Jemima Goldsmith, the birth of his sons and the slander campaign that was instituted against his wife for being a Jew, insinuating that this marriage was the first step in the establishment of a Zionist state in Pakistan. But details of his personal life, except for those relevant to his political career including his growing identity as a Muslim, are relegated to the background. He does not spend too much time discussing Indo-Pak relations either, but he is clear that political dialogue can settle disputes.
For a man who belongs to the elite in Pakistan, with a Western upbringing, educated at Aitchison College, the English-medium public school in Lahore, followed by the Royal Grammar School in Worcester and Keble College, Oxford, and later a successful and legendary cricketer, to enter politics was a major turning point in his life. He established his party, Tehreek-e-Insaaf, nearly fifteen years ago. He decided to set up the Shaukat Khanum Cancer Hospital and Research Centre, Lahore to provide free care to the very poor. It required seed money of $ 22 million, apart from other funds to sustain it. During the long process of fund raising, the man who was considered powerful and invincible had to face funding fatigue, and learn humility, when the poorest of the poor, came forward and donated small sums of money.
Imran Khan also dwells upon Pakistan’s damaging relationship with US, especially the aid that it is given. “The greatest danger that we face today is if we keep pursuing the current strategy of taking aid from the US and bombing our own people, we could be pushing our army towards rebellion.” He is quite appalled by the impact that this financial lifeline has had on Pakistan. For him, post 9/11, Pakistan is “a country that has fought the US’s war for the last eight years when we had nothing to do with 9/11. Pakistan has over 34,000 people dead (including 6,000 soldiers), has lost over $68 billion (while the total aid coming into the country amounted to $20 billion) and has over half a million people from our tribal areas internally displaced, and with 50 per cent facing unprecedented poverty (while 140,000 Pakistani soldiers were deployed all along our border).” For him a turning point in the political history of Pakistan was 2 May 2011, the killing of Osama bin Laden by the Americans in Abbotabad, a mere 50 kilometres away from Islamabad, and a mile from Pakistan’s Military Academy.
He does not spend too much time discussing Indo-Pak relations, but he is very clear that the Pakistani “foreign policy has to be sovereign and needs to be reviewed with all our neighbours – especially India. All our disputes with India should be settled through political dialogue, and the activities of the intelligence agencies — of both countries — must be curtailed.” In fact, the book was recalled within a week of its release in London as the Partition-time map shows ‘Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir’ shaded in the same colour as that of Pakistan. According to the press release that was issued by the publishers, “the mistake was made by the publishers as the map included in the book was not the one provided to them by Mr Khan”.
Pakistan: A Personal History is a memoir that reads like an election manifesto. It concludes with these lines, where Imran Khan is very sure about his political future. “Fifteen years after forming the party, 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 wildfire across the country, so that today it is the first choice of 70 per cent of Pakistanis under the age of thirty. … For the first time, I feel Tehree-e-Insaaf is the idea whose time has come.” It is not surprising that this book has been published in 2011, on the eve of elections that are being planned in Pakistan.
(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 30-01-2012)