The PTI may soon be able to form its government at the federal level and its head, Imran Khan, would become prime minister. However, there are certain image issues with Khan in the outside world, particularly the West, which needs to be identified and worked upon. Because a better image of Khan and his government would be critically needed by Pakistan to attract foreign countries and their investment, and to make them understand the country and its issues in order to solicit their support. The PTI chief’s negative image was formed in the West when he called for holding negotiations with the insurgents. His opponents labelled him ‘Taliban Khan’ and started calling him a Taliban sympathiser. In fact, he was never a Taliban sympathiser but justified his call for negotiations by arguing that when the state had failed to control the Taliban in military operations and it was not winning what options had been left. He had further argued that talks with the Taliban could be used as a strategy to separate the hardcore
elements from the malleable ones and this would be instrumental in creating cracks within the insurgents’ ranks. Leaders across the political spectrum were against this stance but then prime minister Nawaz Sharif visited Khan’s residence and immediately extended talks offer to the TTP. At that time, the TTP was led by Hakimullah Mehsud, who in response had announced one-month halt in terrorist attacks. Importantly, Khan’s advice has been instrumental in reducing the number and scale of terrorist attacks in Pakistan. As after the government’s talks offer and the TTP’s response, the hardcore elements within the latter refused to talk and soon rifts started appearing within the TTP. This was the beginning of the end of TTP. But Khan had already gotten the title of ‘Taliban Khan’ and this has been exploited by his opponents and international media to infuse fear within Western countries and India. It is important to note that despite being dubbed ‘Taliban Khan’, Imran in the 2018 and 2013 elections defeated the so-called religious parties, who have
been supplying rank and file members to Pakistani Taliban groups. In other words, Khan and his party have been a political bulwark against the forces, who have been supporters of the Taliban. Khan’s negative image in the West has also been due to his aversion to Pakistan becoming part of the US-led war on terror. As a Pakistani nationalist, Khan argued that the war on terror has brought untold misery on Pakistan and there is a lot of substance in this argument. It may also be recalled that Khan had also staged days-long sit-in against the CIA-operated drone attacks inside Pakistan. The image problem of Khan, and of the PTI, has also been due to the lack of clarity about their agenda and ideology. This is because the PTI cannot be placed in any of the traditional political-ideological categorisation. The party is neither a revolutionary party whereas Khan’s continuous use of the term ‘anti-status quo’ smacks of it being a totally non-conservative party which wants to transform the extant social, political and economic order, which has
been bringing benefits merely to a few groups or families. Moreover, Khan’s emphasis on strengthening the various state institutions is a clear indication that he and his party believe in the system and want transformation, while keeping within the constraints of the structure. The confusion in the West regarding Khan and the PTI is fundamentally because they gauge both on the benchmarks of Western criteria. This is a grave mistake because Pakistan has its own standards of liberty and conservativeness. Otherwise, Khan is a liberal person and this can be deciphered from his oft-repeated mention of Western democracy, its ideals and standards, which he wants implemented and followed in Pakistan. He has been quite appreciative of the Western countries governance system, particularly the extensive and effective accountability system which has resulted not only in good but also corruption-free governance. Khan’s image managers need to highlight this point because this is direly needed by Pakistan.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 13th, 2018.