(Simultaneously published at Pak Tea House)
One of the rallying points in favor of the rise of Pakistani politician Imran Khan, apart from the utter disillusionment of the masses and corruption of both the major and leading parties, has been his charismatic personality. But Khan’s recent interview to NDTV’s Barkha Dutt, seemed to have lost that element and for once laid bare the stark contradictions between his own statements showing his inanity.
For example, Khan believes, to quote him, ‘the age of martial law is over… Whatever happens I don’t see military takeover.’ Yes, Mr Khan it is. But the ‘military Raj’ has not ended, it has found new ways to penetrate back into the Pakistani society. To believe that military makes its presence felt only through martial laws and coups is naïve. Furthermore according to Khan the parliament may be sovereign but the ‘constitution is supreme’. No doubt that constitution must be upheld at all times and given utmost respect. But if the constitution is supreme and not the parliament, what about the fact that the parliament can amend the constitution? Would that not be against the supremacy of constitution? If not, then would that not make parliament supreme and not constitution?
Khan has a problem with stereotyping but would not hesitate to label Pakistani liberals across the board as drone loving ‘fascists’, or ‘scum of Pakistan’ against the interests of Pakistan. One is but bound to wonder the expression Shirin Mazari and Yasir Lateef Hamdani must be wearing while the great Kaptaan uttered the words. Ironically he uses the typical image of a liberal woman in Pakistan, wearing jeans, to show how his jalsas had garnered the presence of Pakistani people across the board from all sections of society.
The inspirational philanthropist and cricket legend deems the corruption of PPP and PLMN so despicable, and perhaps rightly so, that he would not join hands with them. Not until they declare their assets. According to him once they honestly do so, they would lose out in the game even before he accepts or rejects partnership with them since they are corrupt and an impartial Election Commission of Pakistan would preclude them from running.
However Khan seems to have made corruption the only criteria, or so it seems. That may not be wrong. But one is to ask some questions on that account. He may have problem shaking hands with PPP and PMLN but is alright having representative from his party, Pakistan Tehreek-I-Insaaf, attend Defaye Pakistan Rally holding hands with the religious zealots such as notorious Hafiz Sayeed, whose inflammatory speeches the talk show host Barkha Dutt raised issue about. Khan failed to answer adequately why he would send PTI representatives to Saeed, save the explanation that one needs to reconcile the polarized sections of society than to marginalize themg. But not marginalizing the voices of the likes of Hafeez Saeed would in turn mean silencing the voice of progressive Pakistanis, and sanity. Is that really the price Mr Khan is ready to pay in hope that Hafeez Saeed and company might have a change of heart given their status quo depending on blind Islamic nationalism? How mature of Khan to believe that people like Saeed once brought to table may leave aside their fundamentalist demand for further rigid application of Shari’ah laws. It is true that the strategy would most probably work for the low levels of such fundamentalist movements, where the support and muscles are derived from the poverty stricken sections of society but let us not forget the strategy would most probably fail for the higher cadre of these movements where more than poverty it is power status quo and rigidly jihadi mindset at work. How can you reconcile them, without compromising on fundamental principles of democratic and open societies in 21st century, is my question.
One may deem it easier to imagine that if given a chance to reconcile and leave their old ways, PPP and PMLN, including notorious Zardari may turn all saints and leave corruption. On what grounds is it exactly that a misogynistic, anti-religious minority party with no sense of what the demands of a 21st century open and democratic Muslim society are, is to be given leverage over corrupt albeit progressive and secular parties. The point is not to defend any party in particular but to raise a serious question regarding the future prospective partnerships between PTI and others. While Khan is not ready to work in alliance with liberal ‘fascists’ (read: drone loving liberals), he is fine having talks and attending rallies with Islamist fascists.
For many perhaps such questions may sound moronic. Are not PPP or PMLN guilty of such crimes, leave alone almost all the so called secular parties in Pakistan? Correct. But not in the way Khan and company does it. If it was a political alliance only, we could have justified it in the name of real politik. But the darling takes it a step further and repletes his speeches, interviews and even on stage actions with ‘I Used To Be A Playboy But Now Am A Humble Sinner’ statements, while openly promising us a religious freedoms and rights in an ‘Islamic welfare state’. We know how well that promise works, in an Islamized society. Also, not only freedoms and rights Mr Khan but religious equality should be the goal of any man seeking to change the ‘status quo’ to quote you favorite word.
But how would Khan be able to change status quo when he is not ready to take on the Military/Mullah axis in Pakistan? Do the problems of Pakistan begin and end with PPP and PMLN? Surely corruption by political parties is a serious crime but one ought to ask are these parties and their corruption the disease themselves or mere symptoms of a much more serious issue lying underneath? If Khan wish to change status quo in Pakistan he would have to be a bit more courageous and call spade a spade. It comes with a price of course. But wait! Was he not the one promising us unprecedented change and the one Pakistani society deems to be an honest and upright man of principles? After all according to Khan “Religion liberates you from fear; fear of being killed.”
During the interview Khan somewhat admitted he thinks it dangerous to discuss the whole blasphemy law controversy. His solution to the problem? Reconcile the polarized society by eradicating poverty (and of course drone attacks). But is it that simple? To deal with the controversy of the misuse of blasphemy laws we would always need an unpopular iron fist move. Is Khan ready to speak up for real change? Nobody wants to end up dead but nobody should be allowed to give such reductionist explanations, making him seem like a simpleton and misleading people.
Khan speaks of revolution but why is it that there is little attention paid by him to the issue of Balochistan and how military is using its might? Why is it that he is silent on the persecution of religious minorities, especially Ahmadiyyah and Hindu community? Similarly if Khan believes, as he stated elsewhere, that ‘any law that discriminates between human beings is unjust’ and if one is to believe ,as he puts it, ‘Tehreek-I-Insaaf stands for justice’ why is it that Khan has not talked about the unjust religious laws against religious minorities in Pakistan, in the face of their ever more increasing persecution day in and day out, save the same old mantra by almost all of the political class in Pakistan stating under their rule religious minorities would enjoy liberties and freedoms? But by playing his Islamic cards he is doing exactly the opposite. His explanation that Allah is Rabb-Ul-Aalaameen (Lord of the Worlds) and not Rabba-Ul-Muslimeen (Lord Of Muslims) sounds just in an idealized Islamic state. But the fact is Khan is more than sixty now and would soon be with his Rabb-Ul-Aalaameen. What about then? Would the next leadership of PTI show the same reformed mindset while pandering to the Islamic voters on the party lines set down by Khan? That is the reason a clear cut party line for PTI must be set out now, a party line which is all-inclusive, a secular one. If Imran Khan has reached such an enlightened understanding of Islam ( “In my opinion someone who is religious, who is spiritual is going to be compassionate, leftist,” he says while his party’s Ijaz Chaudhry along with religious parties declare al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden the ‘martyr of Islam’ at the Istehkaam-e-Pakistan Caravan on The Mall in Lahore), it does not mean every PTI voter would think like him nor would be watching every interview of his explaining his understanding of Islam. For voters, the Islamic symbols that adorn Khan’s speeches may well represent a common understanding of ‘Muslim identity’, and thus add to the present status quo’s power Khan would like to deconstruct, without an intellectual exercise to comprehend the real meaning behind Khan’s usage of them. That is the reason playing with religious politics, even with a reformed mindset, is a dangerous deed. That should answer Khan’s question to Dutt, “Am I not respecting the sentiments of my own people?” when asked about his praying on stage in front of 100,000 people.
Khan goes on to tell Dutt how “if I was not spiritual I would not have been in politics” and “if I did not have faith in God I would not have been in politics”. Good Mr Khan. Now stop shoving your spirituality down our throats. Pakistan has religious minorities, and nonreligious minorities, apart from Liberal and Secular Muslims. Do you not count them in when you tell Ms Dutt that PTI “is a party that hopes to get all the country on the platform”?
In 2002 when he was elected into the parliament as the sole spokesman from PTI, Imran Khan aligned with Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), and criticized the idea of madrassah reforms as well as the mixed sex races being held. Can we be sure now that he has support even from the moderates Khan will shake off the earlier influence of MMA? To convince his critics just as he has conceded his wrong by once supporting Musharraf, he ought to concede publicly being wrong on this note as well. Above all he ought to admit how wrong he was in his reservations on the Women’s Protection Bill in 2006. If he did have the problem with bill and not the freedoms and rights of women it was seeking, Khan could have proposed amendment(s). But he did not. Unless he does so his saying to Ms Dutt that “youth and women are always in the forefront of the change” is futile and contradictory to his actions for he would have failed to protect the very harbingers of change he is counting his support and hopes from a change on.
What then is the alternative seems to be the favorite question of PTI supporters. You, one should tell them. Supporting Imran Khan does not and should not mean pinning down all on him. Your vote does not mean you have lived off your responsibilities as a citizen. It is time that PTI youth should start asking Khan critical question and form a pressure group within party to pressurize him into not only fulfilling his commitment but to move beyond rhetoric and contradictory statements. Today Imran Khan may be Pakistan’s symbol of hope, but the real force is the support behind the symbol. Liberals (if they have any shame and self-respect they should have left the party by now) and Moderates within the party must pressurize PTI to bring itself in line with common sense. Or else, if what we are seeing is the coming of a revolution, a tsunami, we better cross our fingers and hope it dies out soon.