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Not the whole truth

Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain’s autobiography

Not the whole truth

Personally speaking, every time autobiography as a form of narrative is mentioned, the word ‘confession’ crops up in the mind as its principal constituent. Autobiography is considered as a literary genre in which an account of a person’s life is written by him.

Confession is a written or spoken statement in which you say that you have done something wrong or committed a crime; the act of telling people something that makes you embarrassed, ashamed: In Christian faith, it means the act of telling your sins to God or to a priest.

In essence, an act of writing autobiography draws on Christian faith. Saint Augustine (354 CE to 430 CE) is said to have invented the modern autobiography. However, Augustine baulked at establishing a pattern; the influence that his work engendered was so pervasive that all subsequent autobiographers were affected by it, either positively or negatively. The impact resonated quite tangibly even after the Christian faith ceased to be the determining factor in literary articulations.

The most famous example of a reaction against Augustine’s Confessions appears in the Confessions of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Coming to the subcontinent, confession figured hardly in autobiographical literature. People like Gandhi, Nehru, Abul Kalam Azad, who produced valuable accounts of their eventful lives, did not furnish anything critical of their own selves; as if they were redeeming themselves by self-projection through that genre. They are more of elegies than an account of the life lived in this mortal world.

When the focus is narrowed further down to include some Pakistani politicians, one sees how they have churned out self-congratulatory accounts of their political ‘feats’ in the name of autobiography. None of the autobiographies produced by them can be ranked among historical accounts holding any political, moral or historical value or worth for posterity. They are at best self-referential and self-laudatory narratives with hardly any objective analysis of histro-political events.

Even Benazir Bhutto could not engage in any kind of self-appraisal in Daughter of the East. How could then one expect Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain to be critical of himself in his latest biographical account Such to Yeh Hai? I for one never fancied him as a politician with any insight or vision which would enable him to devise any viable plan for the country.

Politically inarticulate and suffering from poor health, Ch. Shujaat Hussain, 72, has nevertheless shown himself to be a master of realpolitik, according to some analysts. But even that realpolitik skill is blunted now. His party [PML (Q)] has faded just like figures drawn on the sea shore.

You could question as to what prompts me to analyse his autobiography. There were quite a few reason(s) for picking that book. For instance, how and where did his father Chaudhry Zahoor Elahi, a junior foot constable, accumulate resources to set up a cotton mill. I thought Chaudhrys too were the beneficiary of the partition, like the Sharifs. Just to put that perception to a test, I started reading the book. I could not find much to satisfy my quest.

Shujaat Hussain lauds his uncle (father of Pervaiz Elahi) and gives him as well as his own father the credit for laying the foundation of the industrial enterprise which subsequently made them into one of the wealthiest families of Pakistan. As per his account, it was by dint of their hard work that success grovelled at their feet. They did not ask anybody for any due or undue favour, no negotiation or dealing with government officials. Things were so straightforward for them as if they lived in a mythical age.

From the book, the sense I drew about Z.A. Bhutto and his relationship with Chaudhry Zahoor Elahi was very positive. He came to Gujrat on their family events and also asked Zahoor Elahi to join Pakistan People’s Party who later refused to join Bhutto’s party. What exactly was the problem which had set Bhutto against Zahoor Elahi? Elahi’s disdain for Bhutto became so intense that he even hailed the latter’s execution. In retaliation, he was killed.

The general belief is that the assassins came after Maulvi Mushtaq, the judge who ruled against ZAB and not Elahi. His assassination was just coincidental and not intentional. All said and done, the book does not offer any plausible reference or explanation for the antagonism between the two.

TK visual

Under Zia ul Haq’s dictatorial regime, while the Chaudhrys were vying for power, Mian Nawaz Sharif emerged on the scene as a major stumbling block. Although the book is written with a purpose to politically malign Nawaz Sharif but, if read dispassionately, Sharif appears to have a political acumen which was far superior to the Chaudhrys. Sharif’s connections with General Ghulam Jilani and Brigadier Qayyum and how he managed to reach out to Zia ul Haq through them speaks volumes about his (and his father’s) social skills employed with dexterity. Pervaiz Elahi’s move to upstage Sharif from the position of Punjab’s chief minister was foiled, and Nawaz eventually emerged as the leader against Benazir Bhutto. I think the ghost writer has not done his job properly.

Shujaat Hussain’s political career peaked under Pervez Musharraf who was his contemporary at FC College, Lahore. He was elevated to the coveted position of Pakistan’s prime minister, though only for brief period of time. His cousin, Pervaiz Elahi, was the chief minister of the Punjab for five years who did manage to initiate some development projects in the province. But by the end of their tenure, the Chaudhrys had lost political legitimacy, which was quite evident in the 2008 election results. Shujaat’s version that the Americans did not want PML-Q back in power and therefore they were made to lose the election does not hold water at all.

Read also: Selective, convenient truths

The sections on chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and Lawyers’ Movement are relatively more interesting. Same can be said about the Lal Masjid issue. But he could have said a bit more on these two very important events of Pakistan’s political history as he was in the thick of things.

All said and done the book Such to Yeh Hai is not the whole truth. There are far too many unaddressed issues, unanswered questions and queries.

Tahir Kamran

tahir kamran
The author is a historian and teacher based in Lahore.

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