Visiting Pakistan to open The Richard Bonney Library at the National Defence University, Islamabad, June 2019
Richard Bonney, the late Minister of St Guthlac’s, gifted his entire library of academic books to the National Defence University (NDU) in Islamabad, Pakistan, before he died. Richard taught at NDU after his retirement from the University of Leicester, supervised many theses and gave conference papers there, so he had a long personal as well as professional connection with the university. It had troubled him to know what to do with his extensive book collection, and it had proved difficult to find any library willing to take it on. It was a wonderful day when he received a letter from the President of NDU saying that his university library would be delighted to host this collection, and indeed that it would become a working and growing part of the Research section of the university, used by staff and students alike.
With great generosity, it was arranged for the books to be collected from our home in Leicester by representatives from the Pakistan High Commission in London, and shipped out to Islamabad at their expense. The collection amounted to over 1,750 books, and so it was no mean feat to ship them to Pakistan. Once there, a team of students, under the supervision of the university librarian, Col Dr Qaim Raza Jaffry, catalogued the collection online, and made sure that every book contained a bookplate with Richard’s picture. By early 2019, the collection was installed in the library, and I was invited to go to Islamabad for the official opening ceremony.
Very fortunately, I had the company of Christine, our youngest daughter, who had previously accompanied Richard on a visit to NDU in 2013. After our 7+ hour flight through the night of 22 June, we arrived into the splendid new airport at Islamabad to be met by our official welcoming ‘team’ from NDU. Everything had been taken care of – from a car with official driver and security men to our accommodation in the guesthouse on the NDU campus.
The campus is big, and includes accommodation for staff, some overseas students as well as visitors. The central teaching and administration building is splendid, with spacious halls, marble floors and very efficient air conditioning. This was a relief, since the temperature outside was 100 degrees plus (old money!). A day of restful recovery on Sunday 23 June was followed by the Big Day, Monday 24 June 2019, for the ceremony.
Our driver arrived for us at precisely 9.55 (this is, after all, a military university run on very strict timekeeping!). As we drove up to the main building, we could see several men in military uniform lined up on the steps ready to greet us, all in a strict hierarchical order of seniority. We were introduced to the Head of Research & Development, the Chief of Staff and so on until we made it into the lobby, where the current President of the university, Lt Gen Aamer Riaz, was waiting to greet us. He was charming, and very interested in all that Richard had taught and written about South Asia – as well as showing a keen interest in current politics in Britain (Brexit!).
We walked through the building to the library, which is named Sahibzada Yaqub Khan library in honour of a Pakistani statesman and diplomat who wrote extensively on military methodology, texts which have become the foundation of courses at NDU. There we met the librarian, and saw Richard’s books all along one wall of the library. There were speeches from the President, the librarian and from Dr Rizwana Abbasi, who had received support and encouragement from Richard while researching in Leicester, and I responded on behalf of Richard’s family, explaining how it was that someone who had started his academic life as a historian of 17th century France became an expert on Indo-Pakistan current political issues, on global terrorism, the history of Jihad and the relationship between Islam and the West. It was all down to living in Leicester!
After an exchange of gifts, Christine and I pulled a cord by a curtain to reveal a large portrait of Richard, which hangs in the library, then we cut the green ribbon to declare the library section well and truly open! It was a wonderful occasion, and very moving to know how much Richard’s work is respected and referenced in Pakistan.
The memorable day was rounded out by a splendid meal in a restaurant up in the hills behind Islamabad, where on a balmy evening we looked out over the twinkling lights of the city and heard the evening call to prayer rising up towards us. Although we were mere civilians, and women, and non-Muslims, our hosts could not have been kinder and more thoughtful, and we are greatly in their debt.
After the excitement of this day, we were treated to a day out in the hills for our last full day in Pakistan on Tuesday 25 June. At our request, we were driven some 35 miles out of Islamabad up to Murree, a hill station which in the days of ‘the Raj’ was the place to which the British civil servants and military went when the heat of the plains became too much to bear. The air is cooler. The views are stunning, and the countryside is green. Sad to say, the delicate security situation makes it impossible to go anywhere without security – in our case, not only a car following our car, with 3 security men, but on our way back to Islamabad we had an army jeep and 4 heavily armed guards as well. We were quite a procession!
One day, we hope (inshallah) that a greater stability will come to this beautiful country, with its rich history, so that visitors can travel safely to see the sights.