ISLAMABAD: Gazetted officers of the federal government receive a book from the Cabinet Division's Services Club every year - for a price - to stimulate their minds.
Last year, ‘The Idea of Justice’ by Nobel laureate Amartya Sen was chosen for them and was well received. In the book the eminent Indian economist argues that a “theory of justice that can serve as the basis of practical reasoning must include ways of judging how to reduce injustice and advance justice, rather than aiming only at the characterisation of perfectly just societies”.
But some recipients are disturbed over this year's choice of Bob Woodward's ‘Obama's Wars'. They find the “criticism” of President Asif Ali Zardari in it disturbing, more so when the book has been distributed through the Army's Services Book Club (ASBC).
Both the presidential and military spokesmen sounded non-committal in their comments to Dawn on the distribution of the book by ASBC.
“ASBC routinely sends books to civilian officers,” said Maj Gen Athar Abbas of the ISPR. But he was “not aware” that this year the ASBC had sent them Obama's Wars.
Presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar was equally unaware but more dismissive. “Since I am not aware about this (distribution) I have no comments to offer,” he said.
Bob Woodward, a Washington Post journalist, writes in the book that President Zardari told the then-CIA Director Gen Michael Hayden during their meeting in New York on 12 November 2008: “Kill the seniors. Collateral damage (caused by CIA drone attacks inside Pakistan) worries you Americans. It does not worry me.”
That unattributed account of the meeting irritated Islamabad and was immediately rejected by Pakistani ambassador in Washington, Hussain Haqqani. “I am amazed that the book was purchased in bulk and distributed to civilian officials,” said a senior federal bureaucrat. His colleague concurred that Obama's Wars should not have been a choice read because its narrative reflect's Washington's “paranoia like mistrust” of Pakistan.
However, there are bureaucrats who say that “anything revealing the inner thoughts of other governments about Pakistan must be read by us”.
“It was President Gen Ziaul Haq who made book reading a must in the bureaucracy. Every federal government officer of Grade 17 and above had to become a member of the ASBC,” recalled a former bureaucrat.
The missionary president, however, chose mainly religious books, including Maulana Abul Aala Maudoodi's voluminous Tafheem-ul-Quran. After him the titles changed and books on worldly matters by international writers also found their way through ASBC, he said.
ASBC distributes the book chosen for the officers at nominal price which is deducted from their salary.