Hashwani’s book “Truth Always Prevails: A Memoir”

hashwaniThere 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.

Read it.

Fatima Bhutto: Songs of Blood and Swords

I gave this book a huge margin for the fact that it’s not a work of history, as the author states right in the beginning, rather it’s her attempt to make sense of and come to terms with her own family history. So the following is my attempt to be less critical and hold the book to a different benchmark than my norm…

The book conveniently cherry picks a bunch of facts, true though some are, made up as others might be, to present a lopsided and sometimes made up view of history. The book is about Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and his family, but switches over to dry facts and lots of omissions when convenient – in this case, Zulfi’s large role in instigating and supporting the civil war in East Pakistan, and his sheer meglomania throughout in not willing to accept a party which had won more seats and more votes than his own.

There is much history written about this era, some good, many bad, and having read much of it the gloss and spin in this spin makes for painful reading.

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ECONned: How Unenlightened Self Interest Undermined Democracy and Corrupted Capitalism

There have been a lot of books on the recent economic crisis, but most of them address only small parts of the systematic failures which caused the crisis, and they don’t do a good job of explaining what the financial system looks like before moving onto the crisis itself. “ECONned”:http://www.amazon.com/ECONned-Unenlightened-Undermined-Democracy-Capitalism/dp/0230620515/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1276760627&sr=8-1 is a really good overview of both the systems in place and the crisis.

The book isn’t about just the crisis, but rather the current financial system and the regulatory, personal and economic interests which shaped it. The author’s “blog is really interesting”:http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/ as well.

Other books, like Micheal Lewis’s “The Big Short”:http://www.amazon.com/Big-Short-Inside-Doomsday-Machine/dp/0393072231/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1276761002&sr=8-1 do a good job of telling a small part of the story, but completely fail to deliver on what actually happened.

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Richard Fenyman: What do you care what other people think?

The book has more stories about Fenyman, continued on from his earlier book, Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! (Adventures of a Curious Character).

In this he writes about love (the book title come’s from a letter from his wife), science, and random bits from his life, like how he became a scientist in the first place. The second half of the book is on Fenyman’s work in the commision investigating the “space shuttle Challanger disaster”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_Shuttle_Challenger_disaster – it gives a lot of great insight as to how government and large organizations work.

The book is extremely interesting throughout, which is apt considering Fenyman was one of the most interesting characters of the 20th century.

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Naomi Klein – The Shock Doctrine

!http://ko.offroadpakistan.com/images/2008/naomi.png! This book is a must read for countries like Pakistan, which have already gone through multiple rounds of “shock therapy” at the hands of the IMF, and are just about to sign on the dotted line for yet another one.

The book doesn’t rail against capitalism, rather it rails against the extreme right-wing ideologues who wormed their way into economic seats of power in the US, and into the IMF and the World Bank. The problem with neoconservatives is that they live in a bubble full of right wing fantasies, and never condensed to step out into the real world and see how far their neo-liberal fantasies had diverged from the real world.

What looks good on paper often pans out different in the real world, especially in corrupt societies like Pakistan – and this is one factor which the IMF never seems to account for properly. In a poor country like Pakistan, regressive taxes like Central Excise Duty on services and sales tax on everything (even drinking water!) are highly regressive, and with Pakistan’s highly corrupt taxation system just give more of an incentive to people to stay further out of the tax net. It’s a vicious cycle… but read the book for criticisms of the IMF and their achievements in the developing world.

bq. In THE SHOCK DOCTRINE, Naomi Klein explodes the myth that the global free market triumphed democratically. Exposing the thinking, the money trail and the puppet strings behind the world-changing crises and wars of the last four decades, The Shock Doctrine is the gripping story of how America’s “free market” policies have come to dominate the world– through the exploitation of disaster-shocked people and countries. “#”:http://www.naomiklein.org/shock-doctrine/the-book

Pakistan is about to make a deal with the IMF..

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Tarun Khanna: Billions of Entrepreneurs

!http://ko.offroadpakistan.com/images/2008/khanna.jpg! Interesting book on how business is done in India and China, though not as good as the reviews on Amazon make it out to be. It seems overly directed towards the western reader who doesn’t have much knowledge of the two countries, and hasn’t read much else about them.

The basic gist of the book is that India and China have two very different approaches to business, and both countries have to be dealt with very differently.

There are lots of examples in the book, but there is where Friedman is better, in his book “The World is Flat”:http://ko.offroadpakistan.com/2006/12/thomas_freidman_the_world_is_flat_1.html. Both books have their flaws, but the hundered of examples and anecdotes in both of them make them a worthwhile read.

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M. Asghar Khan: We’ve learnt nothing from history

!http://ko.offroadpakistan.com/images/2008/asgharkhan.jpg! A first hand account of Pakistan’s history – Asghar Khan has lived through it all, and has been involved with all the major political and army leaders throughout Pakistan’s history. If not for Bhutto’s rigging and Zial Huq’s coup, Asghar Khan would now be written in the history books. It’s a testament to the threat he posed to the powers that be that despite the impact he had on Pakistani politics, he’s been written out of the official histories of Pakistan, both by Zia and than by Bhutto, who both disliked him intensely – Bhutto tried to kill him, while Zia put him in jail for years.

The book is highly readable and very interesting – Asghar Khan speaks of personalities and behind the scenes details which the official histories leave out. Asghar Khan is one of the few honest politicians in Pakistan, and now approaching 90 he doesn’t have much to fear from anyone – the book is a honest overview of how he lived through politics, starting from Partition and ending midway through Musharraf’s reign


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Ahmed Rashid: Descent into Chaos

!http://ko.offroadpakistan.com/images/2008/rashid-chaos.jpg! A good overview of Pakistan and Afghan history and American involvement – and a very bleak assessment of where they’re headed. The gist of the book is that both Afghanistan and Pakistan are hovering somewhere on the point of no return, descending into chaos and bringing the whole region down with them. It’s very well researched, and the author really knows what he’s talking about – there is a lot more in the book –

It’s a brilliant, encyclopedic summary of the current situation in Pakistan. The book, just like his last book, is extremely timely, as region after region in Pakistan falls to the Taliban, and the government pulls back further and further.

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