Q: What are you currently reading?
A: At the moment, I am reading about the South China Sea and the importance of Pakistan in Chinese foreign policy. I am reading a book titled The China-Pakistan Axis: Asia’s New Geopolitics by Andrew Small which focuses on Sino-Pak relations throughout history, where they stand now, and speculates on how an alliance would reshape the geopolitics of the region.
The rising tensions in the South China Sea have multiplied the importance of China’s use of Gwadar Port as an alternate base. Most of the countries near the sea — Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia, — are on one side, and China is on the other. Despite the threat, China is not withdrawing from the South China Sea.
China is trying to exercise power by investing in her navy. While tensions are rising in the South China Sea, Gwadar Port makes an attractive alternative base.
Q: You often read history and politics. Could you name some books on these subjects that you’ve enjoyed reading?
A: I was a student of history, but now I think I am a student of politics and history. It is difficult to name just a few books. The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers by Paul Kennedy is a good tale of empire building. The book discusses how empires were built and later destroyed. It describes the role of the economy, the military and politics in building empires, and also highlights wars and the formation of nation states. It is a detailed account of history, politics and power. There are two other must-read books on the political history and society of Pakistan. I strongly suggest that every student read them. One is Mubarak Haider’s Tehzeebi Nargisyat, and the other is The Murder of History by K.K. Aziz. Both portray a true image of Pakistan’s history and society. They challenge Pakistan’s reporting of history, calling what the students have been taught false. They confront the established narrative by proving it wrong. The books contain lessons that have rarely been taught to students. Both are fascinating. It is critical to be able to see the other side of the picture that has never been shown to us.
Q: Has a character from a book ever stayed with you?
A: I don’t think any character has stayed with me for a lifetime. I do remember reading Mother by Maxim Gorky in college, and that every leftist student carried that book around. The story revolves around the Russian Revolution, and has an interesting character named Pavel. He is a labourer and has a lover who is a capitalist. Despite the odds, his mother helps her charismatic revolutionary son in his struggle for socialism and equality. The Revolution comes and his lover’s father is made an ambassador in Moscow. As she is leaving for Moscow, she callously reminds Pavel that, despite all his struggles, he is still a labourer.
Q: Who do you think is an underrated writer in Pakistan?
A: I think Dr Mubarak Ali, a historian, is one of the most underrated writers in Pakistan. He has not been given the place he deserves. Ali is one of the writers that I most admire.
Q: Which classics were you unable to finish?
A: I always try my best to complete the books I start. There is a novel I thought I might not be able to finish, but I did. Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea really took a long time to finish. I don’t know why. It is about fishing – actually, everyone in it fishes. But the old man’s aim is not to merely fish. His goal is to catch the biggest fish in the sea.
Published in Dawn, May 31st, 2017
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