If your mind is still reeling from the news of sedition charges that Uttar Pradesh filed against Kashmiri students just because they were celebrating Pakistan’s win against India, then you are forgetting what happened in the aftermath of Pakistan’s victory in the Indian home series. The ODI series concluded on January 6, 2013, and the following day, Pakistan lodged a strong protest against an ‘unprovoked attack’ by India on its check post across the LoC that left one soldier dead. Conflicts have an uncanny gift of inventing excuses for their existence, but I belong to the generation that vividly remembers how an India-Pakistan match was always followed by cross LoC hostile exchanges.
And this takes me back to 1992, the year when everyone I knew lived and breathed cricket. The bitter memory of past World Cup losses had ensured a climate of desperation in wanting to win the cup. Those of us who could not participate in the tournament prayed day and night. And we had the right man to lead our team –– Imran Khan led the country to an unexpected win. For weeks and months we celebrated it. Back then, Mr Khan was still capable of learning from his mistakes.
The next we heard of Imran Khan was his campaign to build Pakistan’s first cancer hospital. He had seen his mother wither away due to this disease and wanted to take revenge. Once again, he asked people for their support. They came out in droves. They were as generous with money during this campaign as they were generous with prayers during the World Cup. A girl I knew donated her only gold earrings to the campaign. Mr Khan handled all of this quite deftly. He built the hospital and made another mark. His second coming was almost as fulfilling as the first. I so desperately wish that he would have stopped there.
But he had to enter politics. In 1997, we all knew who was going to win. The word had it that if Mian Nawaz Sharif decided to give his party ticket to a khamba (pole), the khamba would win. But instead of observing the elections from the outside and waiting for the right moment, which could have easily been in 2002, he decided to run for public office. His party failed to win a single seat and destroyed his chances of ever being taken seriously.
The third incarnation of Mr Khan was in the shape of a drifter. His refusal to be part of a system that had so thoroughly rewarded him and hold a position so diametrically opposed to all things political, ensured that he would always be an outcast, a reactionary force.
His biggest problem is that while he has considerable stature, he lacks matching depth. His cocksure manner and uncanny ability to charm youth and women, notwithstanding his autobiography, bears testimony to the existence of an impressionable mind, shaped primarily by oral traditions rather than printed words and is full of contradictions.
It is because of this shallowness that over the past decade, he has veered so far right that his relative political success recently has totally transformed the national narrative, where radicalism and denial have become the new norm. Today, the solutions he offers are delaying crucial actions that could have stopped the unraveling of the state. But more so, his stance on negotiations and drones has dragged the ruling PML-N back to the path of radicalisation where it was found in 1999. All this is akin to selling the nation to its worst enemies. The same patriotism that led me to root for his win in 1992 now asks me: why did you pray for him back then? Why did you root for his success in his philanthropic undertaking and later his political career in 1997? I wish I could take all that back.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 8th, 2014.
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