Pakistan — In Search of a MessiahAuthor: Major General (retd) Askari Raza MalikPublisher: Apollo Publications, USAPages: 280Price: Paper Back – $ 15.00, Hard Back – $ 25.00 Though the publishers have launched General Askari’s book Pakistan — In Search of a Messiah, its formal launch is scheduled in Islamabad by the end of this month. Notable personalities from the country’s elite and government officials have already been sent invitations to grace the occasion. According to the author, “Technically this book is my memoir. In essence it is a record of my perceptions of those consequential events that shaped the history of Pakistan.” He admits that since individual perceptions can vastly vary, he does not expect everyone’s complete agreement with his thoughts and arguments presented in the book. Yet he says, “No conclusion is wholly devoid of truth as no interpretation mirrors the whole truth. The book is open to divergent views”. According to initial reviews, the author’s characteristic approach makes the story intriguing as it presents a “human-side” of Pakistan to readers abroad. While reviewers agreed that his arguments might not align with popular sentiments, he does build his case on solid reasoning. The opening chapter of General Askari’s book sums up the political developments of the first ten years of Pakistan. When politicians were as free as their counterparts in India and had a similar opportunity to shape the destiny of Pakistan. During this period, there was no evidence to predict any military interference in politics in future. After the martyrdom of Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan, however, the succeeding politicians failed to deliver miserably. Thus, Pakistan had a very poor start to its political journey. The book gives an opportunity to the ordinary American to understand basic facts in context of Pakistan-India relations, the lasting peace in the region, and geopolitical realities that demand a fresh outlook by the reigning powers The following chapters then dwell on military rulers, their individual and collective blunders, and the events leading to the tragedy of the 1971 bifurcation of Pakistan, the judicial murder of civilian Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, and the fragmentation of Pakistani society amidst the religious prostitution that continues till date. The more recent history, Musharraf onwards, covers intimate details of how we reached the present sorry state of affairs where dynastic politics, oligarchy and kleptocracy have become the order of the day. Despite all the shortcomings, the author does not seem to lose hope. A free judiciary, fearless media and a politically growing parliament are silver linings, which could potentially put Pakistan on the path that leads out of the jungle. A chapter also deals with terrorism, and another with the essentials of leadership and governance. The last chapter deals with civil-military relations and Pakistan Army, which should help a civilian reader in gaining a better understanding of the country’s military. In view of its American readers, the book presents a picture of Pakistan that could never be perceptible in the heaps of nebulous concepts, misinformation, negative propaganda that surrounds Pakistan and its various institutions The book gives an opportunity to an ordinary American to understand basic facts in context of Pakistan-India relations, the lasting peace in the region, and geopolitical realities that demand a fresh outlook by the reigning powers. The style reflects military training — there is no doublespeak and no grey areas. Sometime the judgment could be termed as abrupt but it is uniformly so for the soldiers and civilians alike. The theme remains compulsorily — Pakistan and its unfortunate poor people. To quote the author, “The civilian and the military dictators have left the nation of Pakistan badly raped, traumatized and humiliated. Now only a Messiah can resuscitate her. Unfortunately, among the thousands in the arena there is not one political doctor who seems equal to the task.” The author’s passion about the nation’s Quaid, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, is obvious and bordering on emotionalism. He traces the political history of Pakistan and the suspect growth of its institutions like judiciary, bureaucracy and police. He thinks that it is the quality of justice alone that defines the comparative status of nations, the first and the third world. The author also emphatically advocates that it is not only the judiciary but the entire judicial system that needs to be freed from the executive. He has very high hopes from the emerging media in Pakistan, which is as free as any in the world. The chapter on ‘the friends and foes’ discusses the role of various powers in the context of regional security. He dares to express opinions, which might not be very palatable to non-Pakistani readers. The opinion is, however, as said earlier built on assumptions that cannot be cursorily dismissed as flimsy — they are food for thought. In his religious views, he can be called a fundamentalist liberal. He thinks the Islam at the time of the Prophet (pbuh) and his four righteous successors answers all the questions as it was based on equality and justice. It was an Islam that allowed equal rights to everyone living in an Islamic country without distinction of caste, creed or colour. The founder of the nation, Jinnah, was also clear on his concept of democracy as given out by the Holy Prophet (pbuh), equal rights and justice for all the citizens. A theocratic government was never a part of Jinnah’s dreams for Pakistan. That is the interpretation the religious parties are forcing down the throats of common Pakistanis. Whatever its merit, the book is bound to generate discussion. The author is conscious of popular perceptions that have taken roots in the absence of counter-narratives. Therefore, he thinks, “we can agree to disagree” but “It is our duty to record the truth. We owe it to our future generations”. The book is available at bookstalls like Mr Books, Saeed Book Bank, etc. The writer is a freelance columnist, based in Islamabad Published in Daily Times, September 15th 2017.