There is a severe shortage of books by the movers and shakers of Pakistan. Yes, there are some books out there now, but many are fiction, or hagiographies like Musharraf’s masterpiece of ego stroking or Fatima Bhutto’s rosy retelling of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (both men which feature in Hashwani’s life).
Hashwani’s book is a breath of fresh air. Here is a primary mover and shaker writing the story of his life and country. Every mover and shaker in Pakistan moves about in such a fog of half truths, rumours and outright falsehoods that if you are outside the mover and shaker circle it is impossible to know who they actually are and how they got there.
How honest he has been is another matter, what matters is that this is his opinion on his Pakistan, through the story of his life. And it is an impressive life – Hashwani has built an impressive empire from relatively humble beginnings.
As a story of Pakistan and getting to understand the viewpoints of a significant percentage of the elite and upper middle class, this book is great. There are legions of drawing rooms all over Pakistan which have been saying much of what Hashwani puts down on paper here, whether it’s the story about Zardari as a young man being kicked out of his hotel to blaming Zia for just about everything wrong with Pakistan today.
Hashwani says a few times that the books is for the youth of Pakistan – that left a slightly off taste in my mouth. Yes there is a bit about how Hashwani worked hard but if it is as easy to buy a hotel as saying I decided to buy the InterContinental chain and then I bought it then life would indeed be easy for the youth.
Be born to a good family, make sure they send you to school, have connections in the business community, get handed a job or a sales agency, combine that with hard work and grit and you too can make it. For someone who projects himself as so humble Hashwani stumbles to recognise that though he wasn’t initially from one of Pakistani’s elite business families, he comes from a family which put him squarely in the top one percent.
Hashwani glosses over a lot in his book – as a memoir, or to understand business in Pakistan I found it lacking. There is a lot of of text about how business is hard, but nothing about what Hashwani actually did to make it, besides the platitudes upon platitudes on hard work, honesty and pluck.
Hashwani lists his many accomplishments from working his way to the top of the cotton and grains exporting industry to become the hotel king of Pakistan, yet now while I know he became Cotton King, there is not enough there about the how, the whys and the circumstances.
Hashwani knows many Generals, from corps commanders to Chief of Army Staffs, and some are close personal friends – yet again the book is strangely lacking about these friendships. In a memoir, I expected more. There is hardly anything in the book about the many people who have helped Hashwani’s meteoric rise. Hashwani might be a self made man, but as he says repeatedly, business in Pakistan has many non-business challenges – and all I got from the book is that if you walk the straight and narrow path, and have powerful friendships with powerful generals, things will be ok.
What actually happened along his rise? How did he deal with the politicians and bureaucrats who he says hindered him so many times? It can’t have been just as simple as just saying I am a honest man over and over again. And if he is the rare case who did just that, that is amazing and all respect to the man, but even then I wish he had said more about his trials then just naming names and calling them corrupt.
I felt the book was a selected cataloging of incidents and challenges Hashwani faced, mixed in with his thoughts about Pakistan and the world, and missed out too much on his actual life and how he made it.
The more I think about the book, the more disappointed I am, yet I highly recommend it. I wish more people in the circles which Hashwani moves in write their memoirs. Regardless of how selective they are, it’s still fascinating reading and there is a lot in it.