Why not the bitter pill of realpolitik!

PTI chief's decision to face jail allows him to maintain the fight between the most powerful and the most popular

Imran Jan August 24, 2023
The writer is a political analyst. Email: imran.jan@gmail.com. Twitter @Imran_Jan


Before entering the quagmire of Pakistani politics, Imran Khan had achieved stardom in cricket. His political stardom came from the fact that he marketed himself as an alternative to the boring musical chair between the two parties that had defined the politics of Pakistan for a long time. Khan came to the scene as the other man, the sincere and honest alternative to the swamp that the politics of PPP and PML-N had been.

There have been several instances where he could have easily become a minister but that would have meant him embracing the same filth, standing up against which he had built his politics around.

There has been an argument that IK should have worked pragmatically and should have left the country and run a campaign from abroad in order to galvanise his support base and find common ground with the American establishment. A per the argument, the assassination attempt had provided a perfect opportunity for him to go abroad for medical care and fight from abroad.

One can’t disagree with that argument. Ayatollah Khomeini comes to mind instantly. He had been in exile for about 15 years during the reign of the Shah. His exile took him to various countries such as Iraq, Turkey and even France. When the Iranian revolution happened, he returned and became the supreme leader. We have examples even inside Pakistan. Benazir had done similar. She returned after her self-imposed exile and while she was assassinated, her widower rose on her popularity and PPP won the election of 2008. Nawaz also saw the prime minister’s house even after being removed and exiled by Musharraf.

I am reminded of the Afghan Jihad where the Arabs had come to die but the Afghans, whose land was occupied, did not want to die in the fight for their homeland. They rather wanted to live so that they could continue the fight against their occupier. You can only fight when you’re around.

Every dog has its day. There’s no denying that. However, it’s also a fact that there’s a good chance that IK would have lost the love and support of the people had he made that deal with the devil. He wouldn’t be seen as the messiah that he has become in the minds of the people of Pakistan. Many might argue that, but the right way to play politics and the rise to power is through these two magic words: realpolitik and pragmatism.

However, what that argument misses is the simple fact that that is exactly what IK had come to change. His raison d’etre in Pakistani politics has been to change the status quo. It’s his idealism that has made him a magnet for the people; the belief in the unthinkable, pronouncing the unspeakable, the faith in a better future, the wisdom of meritocracy, the call for a change and so forth turned a lethargic youth into an energetic force.

Sure, an exiled Benazir campaigned her party’s way to power and the dead Benazir can’t. Similarly, an exiled IK would have fought better than a jailed one. But that would have changed the fight from between the most powerful and the most popular to one between the most powerful and just another Pakistani politician.

Pragmatism shouldn’t always rule the day. Finding the right answer is less important than asking the right question. We grew up in a culture where we have to find and give the right answer. Somehow nobody has ever taught us to ask questions. In my brief stint as a teacher both in Pakistan and in the United States, I always judged my students not based on their right or wrong answers but rather based on whether or not they asked questions.


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