Eye of the Tiger
Reviewed by Raza Ali Sayeed


GA_googleFillSlot("Dawn_Pakistan_inside_468x90"); In the 3rd century BC the great Carthaginian general Hannibal Barca was told by his comrades-in-arms that it was impossible to fight Rome on its home territory, never mind his astonishing plan to cross the Alps on elephants in order to achieve that objective. Hannibal is said to have replied, “We will find a way or we will make one”.

The great man was being an idealist whereas his fellow soldiers were being practical and realistic. Nevertheless Hannibal did achieve what others told him was not possible and sealed his name among the titans of history. Through the sheer force of his personality and a stubborn resolve he managed to do what others said could not be achieved.

In his new book Imran Khan also relates that throughout his life he has been driven by a similar bloody minded resolve. Whether it was during his years as a professional cricketer, as a philanthropist or now in the field of politics, he has been driven by a similar never-say-die attitude. When all those around him said that it can’t be done, he has proven them wrong. Although he has refuted the naysayers in cricket and when building the Shaukat Khanum Cancer Hospital, the final prize, triumph in politics, has eluded him.

‘Pakistan: A Personal History’ is a memoir that seeks to explain his own life story and the lessons that he has learned throughout his years in the limelight. The book can be divided into four parts, each of which flows side by side throughout the narration. It is part autobiographical, history lesson, political commentary and a religious testament. In a way it is a combination of ‘The Autobiography of Malcolm X’, ‘The Confessions of Saint Augustine’ and Vladimir Lenin’s political pamphlet ‘What is to be done”.

He relays out his own past that is intertwined with Pakistan’s history and his own vision of what he would like to see the country become.

It is a tad bit difficult to categorize Imran Khan. He is one of the genuine few icons that Pakistan has produced who is recognized around the world. Even those opposed to him admit that he was a great cricketer and is a compassionate philanthropist. It is however his politics and his personal behavior towards others around him that has led to severe criticism. He has been called arrogant, confused and at times an egomaniac who only talks about ‘me, myself and I’. Where political questions are concerned people either support him or simply cannot stand him.

Hailed as being the last hope for Pakistan’s future or condemned as a naïve amateur, Imran Khan inspires people and repulses them in equal measure. The book however has plenty of fodder for his supporters and his detractors.

He talks about his early years growing up as a child in a privileged household where he was told by his parents as to how fortunate he was to be born in a free country and not under the shame of British colonial rule. He was told by his mother, who was the greatest influence in his life, about how the Pathans were the only people who never submitted to colonial rule and had always fought for their freedom and dignity. That lesson apparently had a lasting impact on him and forged his psyche as a man. He relates that self -esteem and standing on ones own two feet were the only way a person, and in essence, a nation can command respect. That example he hopes the people of Pakistan will follow.

Perhaps he hopes that this memoir will be a testament to what he has achieved and what he wants the nation to achieve as well.

There are however confessions in this book on his own flaws as a man and especially in his political career. He tells about how during the peak of his cricketing career, in the early 1980s, he became a very self-centered person who only focused on himself. He embarrassingly admits that he was not always a compassionate person. In one instance, he tells about how he had a sense of contempt for people who were of a lower status than himself and that their miserable conditions were brought upon by themselves simply because they did not work hard enough to achieve more in life.

It was however the death of his mother from cancer that had the greatest impact on his life. While going through the torture of seeing her slowly and painfully die from a disease that in its early stages could have been cured, he realized what people less fortunate than himself must be going through in a similar situation. Added to this an earlier injury had an impact on his cricketing career and held him back while he was at his peak.

These misfortunes forced him to seriously evaluate himself and eventually drove him to two of his greatest achievements, the building of a cancer hospital and leading Pakistan to victory in the Cricket World Cup in 1992.

The bad hand he had been dealt also forced him to ask serious questions in life as to what else he wanted to achieve and certain spiritual questions, which ultimately led him to become a born-again Muslim. This last point raised the eyebrows of many and still continues to do so because of his well-known reputation as a jet setting playboy who was highly active in the London social circle. People criticize him for being a hypocrite for lecturing others on religious values while living the high life himself. This he responds to along with other allegations leveled against him by his critics.

According to recent polls, all this criticism has not dented his appeal among the youth of Pakistan, who still see him as the last chance to salvage something for the Pakistan that Jinnah had envisioned. Imran Khan himself states that his party Tehreek-e-Insaaf is the only one that can lead Pakistan out of the mess that it is in and lays out his vision in this book as to what the PTI would do if it came to power. Judging by his recent statements, he is very confident that his party will sweep the polls in the coming elections. But until then this riveting yet at times flawed memoir will have to be his political testament to the people of Pakistan.

PS. The book has apparently now been recalled from stores due to a controversy involving the map of Pakistan within the book, specifically the Line of Control that divides Kashmir. Hope it’s not an ominous sign for the author if he gets elected. – Courtesy Dawn



Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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