Imran Khan was condemned as a coward by Feisal H Naqvi in his article “Shame on you Mr Khan” (October 16) for making the following comment, “We have local affiliates and supporters. Sure, I can give big statements against the Taliban but that would make them [the supporters] Taliban targets.” The writer, a friend and astute lawyer, took an unusually harsh tone, one that has joined the cacophony of ‘allegedly’ liberal voices emanating from backers of the current government.
Over a month ago, I was held at gunpoint in my home in Lahore. The gunman put his revolver to my temple and instructed me to take him inside my home, where my wife was watching television. With perhaps, a momentary lapse of reason I told him, “Shoot me if you have to but I’m not taking you inside.” He took my cell phone and left. Some would call this bravery, others might call this stupidity. In fact, I believe Feisal politely referred to it as the latter. To this day, I am not sure whether I did the right thing, but whatever the results, they would have been on me. Of course, I was only risking my own life. However, if the gun had been pointed at my wife, one of my children or friends, my answer would have likely been different and compliance with the diktat a priority. In any case, the rationale employed here figures within the realm of basic human responses in a crisis situation.
So, when Imran said the words quoted above, isn’t it possible that he actually had the best interest of his party workers at heart? Is there something wrong with that? The region the supporters in question inhabit is known for unspeakable acts of violence and little if any state protection, as most recently evidenced by the attack on Malala Yousufzai. Even Pakistan Tehreek-e- Insaf (PTI) workers have children and the ones I have met from Swat do educate their 15-year-old daughters. I am sure no one wishes for any harm to come to any of them either. Besides, even in the statement quoted, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that he alluded to the Taliban as the culprits. Setting this fact aside, is a provocation of a ruthless and murderous enemy the standard operating procedure used by those responsible for the lives of the innocent? Do security forces storm hijacked airplanes full of innocent civilians to prove they are tough on terror? In certain situations they do, but each instance is certainly debatable and difficult choices made ought not to be condemned as “shameful” without careful consideration. Disagree with his impulse to ensure his party workers do not come into harm’s way (at the cost of obvious political fallout, if not principle) if you must, but to make the jump to cowardice seems excessive.
A more balanced approach might have been to pay heed to the plethora of other statements he gave on the same day before labelling him a “coward”. In each of the others, he clearly condemned this terrorist act as “unworthy of human beings let alone Muslims”. I am not sure there is anything more offensive one can say to a member of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) or any other gang of Muslim zealots. It is extremely unlikely that those who attempted to murder Malala would understand such a message as being for anyone else but them! Moreover, the assertion that Imran did not condemn Malala’s attackers is at best a gross exaggeration, at worst, completely baseless.
For all the shame being hurled at Imran for failing to criticise the TTP, something he did rather forcefully on Hamid Mir’s show a few days ago, it is indeed surprising that very little shame is being cast upon the government and security forces actually responsible for protecting Malala. The party in power is the only political party in Pakistan, which can lay claim to playing a role in preparing the groundwork for the TTP’s formulation. A fact conveniently forgotten by Pakistan’s ‘allegedly’ liberal elite is that a former PPP interior minister, Lt General Naseerullah Babar, is widely credited for convincing the Daughter of the East to give birth to the Curse of the East — the Taliban. No doubt, her defenders would say that she was coerced into making the decision. Such admissions of weakness might be comforting, if in fact, anything had changed since her passing. The PPP not only remains weak and unable to challenge the military, in the wake of the Malala incident, it can’t even get a bill passed through parliament authorising the use of military force in North Waziristan. The PML-N boycotted the legislation and the PPP retracted the bill, not because the government didn’t have the requisite majority to pass it, but because they didn’t want to shoulder the responsibility for the operation alone.
In this scenario, where the organs of state tremble at the thought of an operation in North Waziristan, only a “shameless” leader hell bent upon bravado before the election would risk the lives of countless more civilians. Least of all, the “cowardly” leader who refused a parliamentary seat adjustment with the PML-N on principle, choosing instead to contest the PTI’s first ever election in 1997 on its own. More recently, he expressed solidarity with the terrorised people of Quetta when no one else would. He travelled to the gates of South Waziristan to express solidarity with the terrorised people of Fata, when no one else would or could and he expressed solidarity with Malala and her family before any other leader could (or had time to make security arrangements for the perilous journey to Peshawar).
To quote George Orwell, “Every war when it comes, or before it comes, is represented not as a war but as an act of self-defense against a homicidal maniac.” Furthermore, “All the war-propaganda, all the screaming and lies and hatred, comes invariably from people who are not fighting.” History demonstrably bears testament to Orwell’s observations. It is sadly ironic, though, that Imran is to be castigated for agreeing with Orwell and taking the road less travelled; in this case, the road to peace.
While I disagree with Feisal’s assessment, I know him to be impartial. Therefore, it behooves me to ask, if the verdict for Imran is “shame on you”, what the verdict is for those ‘fearless’ leaders charged to protect Pakistan’s sons and daughters.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 21st, 2012.