Imran Khan wins America
It was a Sunday night and Washington’s large Capital One Arena was packed. But it wasn’t packed for basketball or a music concert; it was 20,000 people who came to listen to Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan. It was at this moment when on a cultural level, decades of mistrust and bad blood between Pakistan and the United States (US) evaporated.
Prior to the formation of Imran’s government, Pakistan’s prime ministers were the kind of people who could only fill large public squares at home by mobilising a network of bribery and patronage. Such politicians could not attract any great attention abroad or in places where the system of feudal political patronage does not exist.
The moment when PM Imran Khan arrived. A magical reception for a people’s leader. The countdown, the arrival, the echoes of the crowd. This is the stuff of dreams. The dreams of Naya Pakistan.#PMIKJalsaInUSA pic.twitter.com/yLq9bX630K— Tehreek-e-Insaf (@InsafPK) July 21, 2019
But the people who came to listen to Imran were not paid or coaxed; many in fact came from all over the US at their own cost in order to see Imran in the flesh. When he took to the stage, flanked by both a Pakistan and American flag, it was as though a new era was born – one which carried with it the spirit of the 1980s, which was the last time that Pakistan and the US cooperated on an equal footing against a clearly defined and easily recognisable common enemy.
What’s more is that when speaking of a desire to create opportunities for Pakistanis to advance their worldly condition on a level playing field, he was speaking the language of political optimism that once defined American politics. But whilst American politics grows ever more cynical, Imran assured his audience of 20,000 that a forward looking ‘Naya Pakistan’ is being built for them and for their children.
Although most of the audience were Pakistani-Americans, there were surely a good number of Americans in the arena present with no connection to Pakistan. This of course includes those working at the large facility. They too would have seen and heard Imran and they would have realised that the man before them was speaking American insofar as celebrity is a major element of the broader American culture.
More importantly, Donald Trump, who shortly awaits his meeting with Imran, would have seen the footage. Above all else, Trump likes someone who looks and acts like a success. As someone who himself packs arenas for frequent political rallies, Trump will likewise recognise in Imran someone who is a formidable figure with a global appeal.
For all those who doubted, your criticism just kept charging me up. #OverseasPakistanis 🇵🇰🇵🇰🇵🇰 are the best kept secret yet .. out of words to Thankyou !#PMIKJalsaInUSA#PMIKInUSA pic.twitter.com/N5dv7Owqi0— Sayed Z Bukhari (@sayedzbukhari) July 21, 2019
The large and enthusiastic crowd, coupled with the image of Pakistani and American flags in the arena, underscored for me a basic but important point: Diasporas can play a potentially (I emphasize the term "potentially") powerful role in bilateral relations. #PMIKJalsaInUSA— Michael Kugelman (@MichaelKugelman) July 22, 2019
PM, Imran Khan meeting US President, Donald Trump today, after an impressive show of overseas Pakistanis. Best of luck. But, it would have been better if he could have avoided criticism and personal attacks on opposition leaders.— Mazhar Abbas (@MazharAbbasGEO) July 22, 2019
This contrasts sharply with the parochial, pretty and lowly style of politicians that Pakistan has produced since the 1990s. Such people simply do not turn heads outside of their own circles within parts of Pakistan and this has helped the international enemies of Pakistan to inflict damage on Pakistan’s reputation. Without a leader whose reach is global, few listened to Pakistan over the last 25 years, and in many respects, Pakistan’s leaders hadn’t even tried to get their point across outside of Pakistan’s borders.
With Imran, this has changed. He is a superstar and whilst his government’s sometimes lax security policies against certain seditious and foreign threats are clearly fit for criticism, there are signs of improvement which should not only be applauded but encouraged.
Although Imran’s meeting with Trump will be about more than symbolism, in politics as in life, symbolism is highly important. For Trump in particular, the personal and the political are deeply intertwined and as such, Imran’s mass rally in Washington will certainly be a pleasant conversation starter between the two leaders.
Even before Imran and Trump speak about key issues regarding resuming proper bilateral ties, Imran has won America. In a country that since 2001 was programmed by its fake news media to hate Pakistan, in a country where Islamic societies are often misunderstood and in a country whose arenas are usually filled with sporting or music events rather than anything remotely political, Imran stole the show. Even if his rally is played for 20 seconds on America’s notorious television news programmes, this is a victory for Pakistan because all it would take is 20 seconds of footage from Imran’s rally to change perceptions of Pakistan; from one that is wholly negative to one that is self-evidently optimistic and indeed one that is inspirational.
While the petty figures of Islamabad’s old elite continue to yell, Imran has done something that even many European celebrities find hard to do: he conquered America’s heart and he did it with dignity, charm and sincerity. This simply cannot be denied.
This post was originally published here.