Carey Schofield

Pakistan: A Personal History by Imran Khan

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Pakistan: A Personal History

Imran Khan

Bantam, pp. 400, £

Imran Khan’s Pakistan: A Personal History describes his journey from playboy cricketer through believer and charity worker to politician. His story is interwoven with highlights from Pakistan’s history. At times he seems to conflate his own destiny with that of Pakistan, and at others to be writing a beguilingly honest personal account.

Khan describes how youthful hedonism eventually gave way to faith. His cricketing life led him to realise that talent and dedication were no guarantee of success. In the end, he says, it comes down to luck. ‘Over the years I began to ask myself the question — could what we call luck actually be the will of God?’

Khan’s religious awakening was further stimulated by physical vulnerability. In 1982 Khan was at his peak as a fast bowler. Pakistan was becoming a force in international cricket and had ‘thrashed Australia and India comprehensively’. Khan felt invincible, but a stress fracture suddenly meant he was unable to bowl for two and a half years. Most of the doctors he saw said that he would never bowl again. His ‘whole world came crashing down’. After an astrologer and a couple of clairvoyants failed him, he says, ‘in my state of uncertainty and vulnerability, despite all my doubts, I would turn to God’.

Worse still was to come. The author was recovering from the injury when his beloved mother became ill. Shaukat Khannum was told that she had a stomach infection, but it later emerged that she had colonic cancer. Khan was appalled by the standard of medical care for cancer sufferers in Pakistan, and after her death he raised the money to build a cancer hospital in her memory. It was a phenomenal achievement, driven solely by his vision and determination.  

His role as the captain of the world’s most successful cricket team has given him, he says, an understanding of strong leadership: ‘cricket is the only sport where you need leadership on the pitch; no other sport gives so much of a role to the captain as in cricket’.

Imran Khan is now in politics and — as he tells us — polls have been showing considerable support for him. His book provides no evidence, however, that he can be as effective a leader in politics as he has been in cricket and in charity work. He does not appear to have any plan to build a party structure that can wage a nationwide campaign or any strategic communications capability. His approach — and therefore his party — seems to be centred around his celebrity appeal.  

The Tehreek-e-Insaaf (the Movement for Justice) is not so much a political party as a moral bandwagon, its programme based only on criticism of the other parties and their periods in power. Apart from its campaign against corruption, the Tehreek-e-Insaaf has no policy for economic development.

While Khan demonstrates in this book no talent to mobilise the masses, he is acutely aware of the failings of Pakistan’s elite. He portrays them as spoilt and callous:

Like many others from my background I would complain about the state of the country but would not lift a finger to do anything about it. We did not have to worry if the hospitals were going downhill because we could always afford to go abroad for treatment. And if there were power breakdowns, we could buy generators. (By 2011, most of Pakistan would go without electricity for 12 hours a day.) Corruption makes life easier for the rich; they can buy whatever help they want.

Khan is vitriolic about all his country’s leading political players. Nawaz Sharif attracts the most opprobrium for his incompetence and corruption. According to Khan, Sharif’s industrial empire grew by 4,000 per cent between 1985 (when he became Chief Minister of Punjab) and 1992 (during his first term as Prime Minister). Sharif’s technique for buying the support of politicians has entered the language:

The term ‘Changa Manga’ politics . . . stems from Sharif paying off and then literally locking up a group of provincial MPs in an isolated rest house in the forest of Changa Manga outside Lahore so that the PPP could not make them a counter-offer.

Imran Khan’s apologia is a compelling story, plainly told. It reveals a great deal about Pakistani life and politics, as well as about the great cricketer’s strengths and failings.