At a time when Pakistan seems to be the subject of a seemingly inexhaustible list of jokes, many an author would consider it intellectual suicide to pen an optimistic case for this “crazy and beautiful land.” Javed Jabbar is not one to mince words though, as he, in his latest book, clearly makes a case in favour of a nation coming to terms with its “unique origins in a tumultuous and volatile way.”
Referred to as JJ by those who personally know him, the noted intellectual needs no introduction. Having been published in 13 books before, the former senator and information minister launched his first full length book titled ‘Pakistan -- Unique Origins: Unique Destiny?’ at the National Library Auditorium on Tuesday.
Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani joined the gathering of noted intellectuals, writers and artists of the capital as the ceremony’s chief guest.
The book identifies and explores factors which, according to the writer, make Pakistan’s birth the most unique origin of a nation-state in the world. As the book’s title implies, the author expounds the relationship between unique origins and a unique destiny, to put it succinctly. Hardly a tome, the book is split into short chapters and is geared toward the younger generation and general reader. It is well researched but not a detailed academic treatise.
In the words of poet and intellectual Harris Khalique, the book’s optimism is based on the proven resilience of a society which has allowed it to survive “several military dictatorships, dismal state of public education and the unbridled greed of rulers.”
Referring to Jabbar as JJ, columnist Musharraf Zaidi said the author represents “the epitome of an unapologetic patriot” but without optimism clouding his judgment. He said younger readers would find an honest appraisal of the country in the book, even though “it does not pretend to be objective.” Delving a little into the contents of the book, he said Jabbar urges readers to maintain a democratic dispensation, negotiate a distinction between being Muslim and Islamic, stay mindful of relationships with neighbouring countries and take individual and collective action in the direction of a rational and compassionate society.
Writer Shabana Arif lauded the book for reminding readers of Pakistan’s qualities, which, she said, were often forgotten because of the perpetual bombardment of bad news. She said Jabbar’s contagiously optimistic book should be translated into Urdu, which, after all, is the lingua franca of the general public.
Jabbar feigned surprise at the punctuality of guests, especially since he cited lack of respect for time as one of Pakistan’s major national weaknesses. In characteristically light mood, he said he agreed with all the praises the previous speakers had showered upon him but felt that some things needed to be explained. “While remaining optimistic, I’ve included 38 weaknesses of both the government and the people,” he explained, urging Pakistanis to become “ruthlessly self-critical.”
Refusing to agree with Zaidi’s opinion of the book as highly subjective, he claimed he tried to be as objective as possible when writing the book. He emphasised the need to return to ‘Pakistaniat’, adding, “Ninety-eight per cent of our nation is Muslim, but we are still trying to convert each other!” He said the true test of a Muslim nation lies in how it treats its non-Muslim compatriots.
He chided the media for inducing a misguided sense of despair and advised it to “look at the unspoken virtues of Pakistan, at both the state and non-state levels. I challenge you to bring another country as crazy, as beautiful and as unique as Pakistan,” he added.
On a concluding note, Jabbar revealed that he placed the strongest emphasis in his book on the political process and advised people, “Don’t watch TV talk shows as a substitute for the actual political process!”
As the last speaker on the occasion, the prime minister congratulated the author on “writing a book based on facts.” He said the book would help readers to dispel doubts and despair about the country’s future. In his opinion, the book’s most important aspect was its emphasis on developing a civil-elective democratic culture without interruption. In conclusion, he complimented the author for “rebuilding our confidence in ourselves.”
Earlier in his introductory remarks Mazharul Islam, a noted writer and managing Director of National Book Foundation which has published the book spoke of the importance of book culture and urged the Prime Minister to take steps for the promotion of reading culture which is dwindling. “The Prime Minister himself is a writer and the book “Chahe Yousuf Se Sada” he wrote while he was imprisoned is widely quoted in political circles,” he said.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 20th, 2011.