At the recent TEDx event in Karachi, I heard Imran Khan speak. His talk reminded me of why he is a great man: His cancer hospital that caters to the poorest who suffer from this cruel disease, and his educational initiatives in the least developed areas of Pakistan. He has managed to give to the poorest of the poor where the state has failed, and with a level of integrity that is unmatched. During his talk, he came out as a man with humility and fortitude, not something that comes out through his almost near constant presence on television talk shows. He deserves to be in the list of the pantheons of our living saints, like Edhi. Imran has already had more turns at public life than other great men: But in politics he has made little headway despite this impressive resume. His selling point, un-corruptibility and independence, has been long established, amongst other instances, through the WikiLeaks saga.
Many Pakistanis clamour for an independent Pakistan free of corruption, yet they balk at the idea of supporting Imran Khan, myself included. This dissonance is interesting, especially since it is coupled with an increasing gulf with broadening support from the online Facebook generation of youth for Imran.The main reason for the above, I suspect, is his unwillingness to play compromise politics. If a man is unwilling to compromise on his integrity, that should make him stand shoulders above the rest, no? Unfortunately, that’s not true in Imran’s case. A man who fears no one but his own conscience would, in Pakistan, take a stand against the oppressive treatment of minorities, increasing radicalisation of society, demonstrate strength against the Taliban, an issue parliament so easily caved in on, take on the top brass of the military who have compromised this nation and the institution itself.
That doesn’t describe Imran Khan. Speaking on these issues can get you killed, and lose your place and support in this society. His choice is the simpler one; ride on anti-Americanism and support the establishment while condemning an already discredited government. Also, one doesn’t know what Imran really believes in.He says the NRO, an unforgivable law from American and British meddling, came to undermine the ISI and the army. If anything, it legitimised the role of the army since Musharraf was in power when it was drawn up. The press has been rife with rumours suggesting that Imran Khan has sided with the establishment for support. He scoffs at this, but it wouldn’t be out of character, as a committed democrat he has in the past happily endorsed Musharraf.
But the real matter, and one that Imran Khan takes issue with, is that it’s suggested by some that he is a Taliban sympathiser. And for that, one has to consider that there is no other force in Pakistan that treats them as a legitimate entity that has tangible demands that can be accommodated with negotiations. But perhaps most troubling is Imran Khan’s belief in magic. He thinks if the US withdraws from Afghanistan, all will be fixed. Once radicalised, mission creep begins. To believe that those who enjoy the spoils of the fruits of terror will cave in is a gross misunderstanding of what groups like the Taliban are. They want an end to Pakistan as it is, under our Constitution. Imran Khan extends the same line of thought to why there are divisions in the army amongst those who may have helped in the PNS Mehran attack. He traces it back to the war on terror, but misreads that the radicalised jawan just wants the Americans gone. They want democracy to end, they want minorities to cease to exist, they want a fascism of their narrowly-defined beliefs, and they want a state of perpetual war against others. In “Parker Spitzer” on CNN, Imran blamed the death of Salmaan Taseer on the war on terror. As if blasphemy related murders never happened before 9/11. In the same show, when prodded to explain how terrorism could end, he suggested a ceasefire, negotiations and compromise. That’s exactly what happened in 2009 in Swat and Malakand, with the government going further and giving the extremists legal cover.
In all of Imran’s statements, one can find a rich source of caveats where he espouses progressive views. But it’s hard to take that on face value when banned groups, Hamid Gul and the Jamaat-e-Islami take a liking to him and he cavorts with the latter two. To be uncompromising, one needs to stick his neck out for the defenceless and challenge the war on rationality in Pakistan. Pakistan is already overwhelmingly against the drones. In Imran, all we have now is a suave Jamaat-i-Islami version 2.0 repackaged in his person, not revolutionary but old news.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 15th, 2011.