Made you look, didn’t it. But this piece isn’t about Imran Khan. Not really. It’s more about the people who love to write about Imran Khan. There are lots of those. They are as numberless as the stars in the sky, the grains of sand on the beach, the lotas in the houses of parliament. Okay, maybe not that many but you do get the drift. There are lots.
Almost universally, the pieces are negative and usually belabour the point that he is a flash in the pan, a person of limited political significance who can only, at best, mislead the already confused youth of Pakistan. If that’s so, then why on earth would you bother writing about him?
Having been around in this beautiful country for some years now, I have seen many elections come and go and seen lots of politicians make speeches, get (s)elected, and then be unceremoniously deposed at the point of a bayonet or by a presidential decree. Few of them have been submitted to the kind of electron microscope scrutiny that the PTI’s leader has undergone. Don’t get me wrong, there have been horrible vilification campaigns carried out against Benazir Bhutto in particular, but those were sponsored by the establishment and its political and media pawns as an accompaniment to the political dirty tricks campaign that has finally been laid bare by the Asghar Khan verdict. This is a little different though. Here, the establishment is not opposed to Imran, and while his political opponents are many, it is not conceivable that they have launched a funded campaign to get op-ed and blog writers to discredit the PTI. Sorry Insafians, but that’s really not happening on the scale that you imagine it is.
Still, it is easy to understand why the PTI is on the defensive. Take the economic policy for example. Rarely have I seen something as unsexy get so much attention. It has been written about, attacked and debunked in columns and talk shows alike. Have you ever seen such attention given to the PML-N’s policy? As far as I know, it has something to do with motorways and Asian Tigers. As for the PPP’s economic policy, it seems “Roti, Kapra and Makaan” has been replaced by “Ruin, Korruption and Malaise”. Does the JI even have an economic policy? Does the MQM? I don’t know. No one’s really ever written about it.
The simple fact is that most writers write about Imran for one reason: because they can. Because he is a soft target.
Unlike many other parties, you can rake the PTI over the coals all you want without a threat to your life and livelihood. There are certain parties which, if they were to receive even half of the abuse that is heaped on the PTI, would send you the not-so-proverbial bullet in a letter. Or at least give you the: “Aap ko tau pata hai, shehr kay haalaat bohat kharab hain” phone call that turns your knees to jelly. Not being an established party, and certainly not being in government and thus not being in the position of being able to yank the chains of corporate media and/or deny government advertising is also another factor. Sure, journalists look to the editorial line, but their bosses mostly look to the bottom line. Guess which one wins?
Write against the PTI, however, and the worst that will happen is that … wait for it … you will get trolled. Yes, badly written abusive tweets and emails in CAPS will be directed at you. You will be labelled a paid agent and, horror of horrors, you may even get bombed. Via email that is. Distressing as it may be, it is certainly not life threatening. There will be no sudden suspensions from on high, no motorcycle riding assailants and certainly no white Corollas without number plates. Also, all that trolling will give you some great fodder for the next column. Which brings us to the other reason Imran gets so much flak: the internet clicks. The PTI is probably the most ‘online’ party in Pakistan and anything written about it is certain to get attention. In an age when the impact of a piece is gauged largely by the amount of comments it elicits, bashing Imran Khan is a sure route to success. The columnist gets attention and the editor gets clicks. It’s as close to win-win as you can get.
Of course, there are exceptions: one open letter in particular stands out as an example of how criticism should be phrased and delivered and there are other examples as well, but they are, sadly, few and far between. Does this mean that Imran should be above criticism? Of course not. There are glaring issues with his stance on militancy, for one thing. But then, this is also a country in which a sitting minister can call the Taliban his brothers; where Fazlur Rehman can call Malala Yousufzai’s shooting a ‘drama’; where Munawwar Hasan can sidestep condemning suicide bombings time and again; where bakery boys can be beaten and the rules of business overturned to favour a selected few. Take all the columns written on these issues and multiply them by 10 and you will almost approach the number written about a single PTI misstep. So, is the reason that the rest of our politicians get off easy simply that we have given up on them? That we have grown tired of advising, cajoling and condemning them to no avail? Maybe Imran gets blasted so often because writers think that he may actually listen to their sagacious advice? As for me, I think it’s because we do it for the clicks. And because we secretly love getting trolled.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 8th, 2012.