The Karachi rally was undoubtedly a success. Pakistan’s ‘third option’ — ahead of the rally — had confidently stated, “The PTI and the Karachi jalsa will make people forget the Egyptian revolution.” Well, I sure hope that despite the rallies huge turnout this doesn’t happen.
The youth of Egypt, geared with every ounce of revolutionary zeal and having successfully overthrown a 30-year-old dictatorship, finds itself targeted today by the military that it once chanted slogans with. Using tear gas and batons to chase away protestors and dragging girls across the streets, Egyptian security forces have proven that destruction often follows ‘tsunamis’.
Adding fuel to the fire, during the first phase of what is expected to be a cumbersome and complicated threefold election process, Islamist parties in Egypt have comfortably secured leading positions.
In Pakistan, too, religion has always been the opium of the people and a guiding criterion to casting a vote. Imran Khan’s current platform is revolutionary but what is to follow still remains uncertain and ambiguous.
While Khan’s rhetoric of change and hope is mesmerising, where is his agenda? His personal memoir, Pakistan, is as confusing as his politics. He seems to have more in common with orthodox Islamist parties than he does with the liberal educated youth that is quick to rally support for him. Impatient, frustrated and impulsive, Khan illustrates a naive understanding of Pakistani politics, which remains deeply wrapped in bureaucratic red tape, conspiracy theories and civil-military power struggles. At one point, he brutally states, “Never should our army chief ever be allowed to talk directly to the US or any other government” (p.363). I would love to see how that works out for him.
Comfortably alienating liberal journalists, the government, the military and NGOs, Khan claims that all stood idle as Pakistan deteriorated, ultimately leaving “only my party and the religious parties to take a stand” (p.249). Revealing his limited understanding of international affairs, regional politics and the war on terror, Khan proposes opening a “dialogue with various militant groups, as the US has done in Afghanistan, and set a timetable for the withdrawal of our troops from the tribal areas” (p.360). It is ironic that he is ready to take cues from a foreign entity he repeatedly blames for the majority of Pakistan’s problems. For anyone who has mildly followed the war in Afghanistan knows that dialogue has been largely unsuccessful and US troop withdrawal has only mounted pressure. He also fails to address how troop withdrawal will bring an end to extremism and terrorism in Pakistan.
On the other hand, Khan’s humanitarian efforts are admirable. Following the 2010 floods, he “headed a campaign to raise funds for the flood victims and in one month collected two billion rupees” (p.349). South Asia has seen great philanthropists like Abdul Sattar Edhi and Muhammad Yunus who have done more for their country than their respective political leaders. I almost wish Khan had joined that crowd instead.
“I was and always have been an idealist” (p.155); one wonders if behind Khan’s idealistic rhetoric lies a strong, optimistic leader with a serious vision or a young and naive philanthropist, still searching for direction.
Whatever the case is, idealists don’t last long in politics.
Though not ready to write him off just yet, I hope Imran Khan will soon tell us ‘how’ he will solve the problems that beset Pakistan today. My vote matters, just like yours. And I’m not ready to make a mistake.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 2nd, 2012.