The similarity between Imran Khan and Barack Obama is not in their origins or goals but instead in the suddenness of their impact. Imran Khan’s speech at Minar-e-Pakistan on October 30 was oddly reminiscent of Barack Obama’s at the Democratic National Convention in 2004. We all knew of the charismatic senator out of Illinois, but no one had expected him to come out with such force and sincerity. Similarly in Pakistan, Imran Khan is a household name but many have questioned his political career path. He has never been able to gain a significant share of seats or meaningful support from the masses.
On October 30 2011, however, something extraordinary happened in Pakistan. More than 100,000 Pakistanis gathered together for a non-PML-N and non-PPP candidate. This feat cannot be easily discounted. But there is hopelessness in the intended bravado — we have been dragged across the surface of rock-bottom so often that a third option is blindingly positive. We run in its direction, eyes closed, head to the sky, desperately hoping that this politician will finally make things right. With the mess of the memogate and the PML-N on a hunt to eliminate both a second and third political option, we must look past the celebrity veneer and ask ourselves, who really is Imran Khan and what can he do for Pakistan?
Khan is a man who does not depend on the laurels of his last name, rather, he depends on only the much stronger heaviness and glint of Pakistan’s golden year — 1992. ‘Kaptaan’ as we like to call him, gave us our first taste of world domination as 11, seemingly naïve, cricketers won — in what remains as Pakistan’s most proud moment — the World Cup. As much as I’d like to believe in Khan’s rhetoric and angel-faced sincerity, manning an 11-person cricket team is not the same as manning a country of 180 million, in shambles.
I’ve looked up to Imran Khan in many ways, but never as a politician. Verbosity has always scared me in the political sector and I’ve seen Khan tout change more than solutions. That is our greatest and most challenging problem. How do we change peacefully in a world that is shifting by the minute? In the wake of an Arab Spring (in deeply Islamic nations), why are we still stuck in the harshest winter? I’ve always seen Pakistan as the troubled child — the naughty adolescent balancing South Asia in one hand and Islam in the other; a child constantly destabilised by his troubled Afghani brother and dominant older sister in the north (China.) In such a fractured familial set-up, can we find stability without choosing a singular identity? Is there a place for Islamic governance in a world that is rapidly moving in the direction of secularism? How is Imran Khan equipped to solve these problems? He is an extraordinary philanthropist but charity is not and should not be the currency of the politician.
I always ignored criticism of Obama’s lack of experience during the 2008 presidential election but let us take a page out of America’s political history. I perceived the negativity as a vestige of an archaic white man’s world order, a bitterness and resistance to change. But now, with another election in the offing and witnessing the onslaught of anger towards Obama’s inability to deliver on his promises, I wonder if experience really trumps all other qualities. Obama had the leisure to surround himself with the best and most seasoned of politicians who knew how to maneuver the hallways of Washington and power past bureaucratic barricades. But who will cushion the blow for Khan? Pakistani politics is the Wild West of political landscapes and the stakeholders at play are vicious in their national and international dealings. Can our cricket star carry the burden?
The last thing we need right now is 15-minutes of fame for an aged heart-throb. The stirring created at Minar-e-Pakistan is one of value and deeply engrained Pakistani history — not a screenshot or a New York Times front page story. The rally was a product of the times, not of the man. What we need from Imran Khan is not a leader but a guide. The leader must emerge in each one of us.
The real slogan of the hour is not ‘Jaag Utho’ Pakistan. We haven’t slept in years. We have been wide awake, screaming at the top of our lungs. Is he the amplifier we are looking for? Can our golden boy deliver?
Published in The Express Tribune, December 20th, 2011.