The electronic media has undoubtedly played a large part in introducing Imran Khan as a political option. On some talk shows, Imran is a regular, appearing at least a couple of times every month. However, the frequent appearances notwithstanding, the PTI still remains an enigma in the minds of many viewers. With a few exceptions, notably an excellent “Hard Talk”- style interview conducted by Iftikhar Ahmad on “Jawab Deyh” (October 2, 2011), most talk show hosts end up chit-chatting drawing room style with Imran, allowing him to talk big on generalisations but omitting to grill him on any specific plans.
In this context, let’s begin with Imran’s view on Pakistan-US relations. As Najam Sethi rightly pointed out in his show, how is Imran’s “hum dosti chahte hain, ghulami nahin” different from Ayub Khan’s ‘friends not masters’ theory? In other words, four decades on, the same grandiose rhetoric may appeal but be just as difficult to achieve. Could the fact that Pakistan was never non-aligned but squarely in the American camp have something to do with this difficulty? How possible is it for us to extricate ourselves from this historic alignment and yet avoid economic ramifications? Is it not true that when the Americans invaded Afghanistan in October 2001, they simply asked us ‘are you with us or against us’ and no third option was given? Is it also not true that Americans, high on hubris, threatened ‘to bomb Pakistan into the Stone Age’ were we to decide we were not with them? These are some of the questions I would like to see Imran answer specifically on television instead of lecturing on how well he knows western psyche.
Shortly after his successful Lahore rally, Imran appeared on Nasim Zehra’s “Policy Matters” (November 5, 2011). To the anchor’s credit, she had researched Imran’s declaration of assets, but when she questioned him on the discrepancy between the present market value of Imran’s assets and the far lower purchase value disclosed on the return, he dismissed her question altogether, choosing to lecture us instead on accounting principles, Imran-style. As the conversation progressed to his China trip, the fluffiness of Imran’s responses became even more apparent. When he spoke of China pulling millions out of poverty, Ms Zehra agreed, as would most of us, that this is an enormous accomplishment. But there were no follow-up questions when Imran claimed that Pakistan could use the Chinese model. How, I wondered, would Pakistan apply the Chinese model? China has certainly made giant economic strides but would these have been possible without its strict one-child policy? Hasn’t China also severely curbed religious practice and democracy? Are these measures possible, or even advisable, in Pakistan?
Reading the blogs written primarily by the 20-something crowd taken in by Imran, I understand the yearning for change and appreciate our youth’s desire to be a part of the political process in order to make Pakistan a more just and prosperous place, but what disappoints me is the lack of research and historical perspective in trying to achieve this noble objective. Most blogs focused on the feel-good factor of Imran’s rally. Nationalistic pride, a street party with rock bands and a political rally where families can participate are all well and good but does the rhetoric match up to actions?
Several lines were written on Imran’s acknowledgement of women and minority rights. But why is it then that Imran refused to support the Women Protection Bill when it was presented in parliament in 2006? Isn’t a politician’s voting record a more accurate indicator of his leanings than mere rhetoric? The Women Protection Bill sought to provide relief to those women who had been raped but languished in jails for years as the Hudood Ordinance promulgated under General Zia ulHaq failed to distinguish between rape and adultery. And if Imran is in fact concerned about minorities, why would he congregate his dharna in April of this year at the controversial Akora Khattak madrassa, a madrassa that has been known to propagate anti-Shia hate literature?
PTI members say that in both these cases, i.e., refusal to support the Women Protection Bill and insistence on congregating at the Akora Khattak madrassa, there was opposition from within the party, but it was overruled by Imran. This then brings me to the question of the PTI’s internal structure. Isn’t one of the main problems with our existing democratic parties the fact that they are too tightly run by the bosses? If the PTI is indeed a party of change then why can’t it exhibit that change internally before it vows to do so countrywide?
On the contrary, PTI’s chief strategy appears to be one of glorifying Imran’s personality. ‘Join Imran’, not ‘join PTI’ is what I hear from many of his supporters. When asked to name 10-odd people who would help him reform Pakistan, Imran is at pains to even name one. Is Imran’s strategy simply to await bigwig turncoats rather than lure competent people who may steal some of his thunder? After all, an opportunistic politician may switch sides and grovel provided his/her personal interests are better served but those who wish to make a difference will join the PTI only if they are given a say in running its affairs.
When the present lot of PTI representatives appear on talk shows, I must say with regret that they often seem less impressive and learned than their counterparts in the more established parties. A post-rally “Capital Talk” (October 31, 2011) that featured, among others, Mian Mehmood Rashid of the PTI, left me thinking that though Mr Rashid started off well, his arguments, particularly on terrorism, were no match for the PPP’s Faisal Raza Abidi. Similarly, watching “Kal Tak” ( October 26, 2011), it was telling that neither Nabeel Gabol (PPP) nor Shireen Mazari (PTI) understood the concept of food security and only Ahsan Iqbal (PML-N) talked about it intelligently. As a viewer, therefore, I would like to regularly see PTI members, other than Imran Khan, debating politicians of other parties on television so that there is a tangible basis of comparison. Imran Khan, too, should debate all other party leaders so that voters are able to compare party manifestos, specific plans and leadership acumen.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 17th, 2011.