By Zubeida Mustafa
IN his newly published book, Baar-i-Shanasaee, Karamatullah Ghori, a retired Pakistani diplomat, recounts incidents from his professional life that make an interesting read. The book comprises character sketches of nine personalities who are dubbed in the book’s sub-title as the “history makers and history breakers” of Pakistan.
The book is by no means an objective historian’s analysis of its subjects — all of whom were politicians/military rulers, with the exception of Faiz Ahmad Faiz, the Lenin Prize winning poet, and Prof Abdus Salam, the Nobel Laureate scientist. The publication is more in the nature of reminiscences and the author vouchsafes for their authenticity as he was witness to or participant in the events narrated.
An anecdote from Ghori’s account of his encounter with Gen Pervez Musharraf struck me as worth recalling. Soon after seizing power in October 1999, the general visited Turkey where he had spent seven years of his childhood. The author was at that time Pakistan’s ambassador in Ankara. On seeing the ambassador’s personal library and on being told that Ghori was an avid reader, the general commented, “Mujhay parhnay ka shauq naheen”. (I am not interested in reading.)
This is a significant revelation and in these five short words Musharraf betrayed a succinct analysis of the political developments in Pakistan in the nine years that he was in power. He also summed up, to me it appears, what has been Pakistan’s tragedy.
The country has been ruled by leaders who were not interested in books. If they were, it was very selective reading they did which did not help them draw sensible conclusions. If one’s choice of books is not well-rounded, he will be denied the benefits that books have to offer.
This could be one of the basic underlying factors that have reduced our politics and governance — and so, logically, the country — to its present state. We may have produced leaders who outstripped Machiavelli and Chanakya in political expediency and ruthlessness but never actually read The Prince and Arthashastra. That is why we have produced no statesman in our corridors of power. I wonder how many have read Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom.
Reading broadens the mind’s horizons and one can learn so much without actually living through the experience one reads about. Reading a variety of books gives one an understanding of the different dimensions of a personality and events, offering the reader a better perspective of the times one is living in.
It would be an instructive exercise to study the reading habits of our leaders. It would certainly unearth a wealth of knowledge and information about them to help us understand our own history and politics. Z.A. Bhutto was said to have been impressed by Napoleon and read books on him. Whether he also read books by the French leaders’ detractors or gave himself time to absorb what he read is not clear.
Not much has been written on the Quaid-i-Azam’s reading tastes. He was a seasoned lawyer and therefore he must have read books on law. His knowledge of constitutional law was also profound. An interesting reference to a book Jinnah had taken a fancy to was given to me by Sayeed Hasan Khan, an author and political commentator.
He said that a foreign scholar doing research on the founder of Pakistan was browsing through Mr Jinnah’s book collection in the Karachi University Library and found markings in his copy of Gray Wolf, Kemal Ataturk: An Intimate Study of a Dictator. This indicates that Mr Jinnah had read the book closely.
This is also confirmed by Rafiq Zakaria who wrote in his political biography of Jinnah that Armstrong’s book on Ataturk (published in 1932) had so impressed Jinnah that he never ceased speaking about it to his sister Fatima and friends who visited him in London where he had returned in the 1930s after he was disillusioned by Indian politics. His daughter Dina lovingly nicknamed him Gray Wolf. Zakaria records that in Ataturk, Jinnah found his ideal.
“He was fascinated by what the Turkish dictator did to reform his co-religionists and to overhaul and modernise their outlook. He [Jinnah] wanted to do the same for Indian Muslims.
He was no less keen to free them from the clutches of the mullahs and rid them of the stranglehold of orthodoxy.” But Jinnah felt that he didn’t have the powers of the Turkish leader.
Those who read books leave a legacy behind them — their personal library. More than that, their choice of books sheds light on the intellectual input that has shaped their thinking. But those who do not read books — those who go more by what they read on Facebook — remain an enigma.