- Q: What books are you currently reading?
- Q: Which books were you unable to finish?
- Q: Who do you think is an underrated writer in Pakistan?
- Q: Is there any character from a book that has stayed with you?
- Q: What is the last book you particularly enjoyed reading?
- Q: What are you planning to read next?
Q: What books are you currently reading?
A: These days I am reading ‘Liberty and Death’ by Patrick French. The book narrates the final days of colonial rule in India and the chaotic partition of the Indian subcontinent. It delves into the details by examining the roles of such prominent figures as the last Viceroy Lord Mountbatten, Jawahar Lal Nehru, Gandhi and Muhammad Ali Jinnah.
Q: Which books were you unable to finish?
A: I could not finish ‘The Last Mughal,’ by William Dalrymple. The book is about Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last Emperor of the Mughal dynasty.
Q: Who do you think is an underrated writer in Pakistan?
A: I think Dr. Rafiq Afzal is the most underrated writer in Pakistan. He authored the comprehensive and definitive ‘A History of the All-India Muslim League 1906-1947’. I don’t believe that he is been given his due recognition.
Q: Is there any character from a book that has stayed with you?
A: I have researched and read about Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah and he has had a profound impact on me by virtue of his consistency in resisting obscurantist pressure and not compromising on his principles. But for Stanley Wolpert’s biography of him, we have not been able to project his incredible integrity and strength of character in the face of opposition not only from the Congress, but also from the religious bigots amongst the Muslims. As partition was becoming a reality and the Quaid was desperately seeking support from all sections of the Muslim population, Majlis-e-Ahrar with its significant political presence, began to blackmail the Quaid to throw out people like Chaudury Zafrullah from the Muslim League on sectarian grounds. The Quaid was unmoved, and Chaudury Zafarullah went on to do a brilliant job as the first foreign minister of Pakistan.
The Quaid brought Muslim women out of their homes and into mainstream politics, starting with the 1938 Patna session when he created a women’s wing of the Muslim League. He repeatedly argued that no nation could be emancipated unless its women were equal partners in the struggle. Not surprisingly, by 1946 Muslim women were demonstrating on the streets of Lahore and girl students were travelling to what was then the NWFP and other areas that came to form Pakistan, and successfully mobilizing women’s support for Pakistan.
There was opposition from sections of Muslims to his support of the Child Marriage Restraint Act of 1929, and the Shariat Bill of 1937, but he was unmoved. While the former bill was against child marriage, the latter ensured that women inherited property, and it was the [land owning class which] opposed the Shariat Bill as it would divide their property. The Quaid’s resistance to all kind of sectarianism, support for women’s rights and a refusal to compromise with the backward sections of Muslim pressure groups and parties, not surprisingly earned him the ire of the religious right.
Q: What is the last book you particularly enjoyed reading?
A: I am a historian and I love reading books on history. The last book I enjoyed reading was ‘Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire’ by Alex von Tunzelmann. The book is very balanced and incisive in discussing the partition, especially the role and implications of Nehru’s rejection of the Cabinet Mission Plan. The Cabinet Mission Plan, which the Quaid had accepted albeit reluctantly, would have created a confederation, but Nehru rejected it, leading to the blood bath of the partition, and leaving Muslims of India vulnerable to the ugly majoritarianism, evident in present day India.
Q: What are you planning to read next?
A: I am planning to read ‘A Mission in Kashmir’ by Andrew Whitehead. The book is on the origins of the conflict over Kashmir. Mr. Whitehead served as a correspondent for BBC in India. He is a journalist and a historian whose contribution is that he has proved that Maharaja Hari Singh signed the instrument of accession only after the Indian troops had landed in Srinagar, thus voiding the legality of the accession of Kashmir to India. He also points out, that not surprisingly, the original document of the Instrument of Accession is missing, and no researcher is able to access it.
Published in Dawn, August 2nd, 2017