Imran Khan claims that his party, currently without any seats in the assemblies, will lead an electoral revolution in 2013. Although I respect and admire Imran Khan for the cricketing hero he once was, for the philanthropist he still is and for the revolutionary leader he aspires to be, his personal and political life is rife with grave contradictions.
Khan has u-turned on every major decision in his life. In his autobiography, All Round View, he wrote of his promise to his mother to never bring home ‘a foreign wife’. Yet, he married English heiress Jemima Goldsmith. Then there was the Sita White affair, where Imran denied paternity of his illegitimate daughter until he was forced to accept it by a US court.
Personal life aside, even in politics, Imran Khan has been glaringly inconsistent. In the 1997 elections he was scathing about Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, accusing them both of massive corruption. When a bomb went off at his Shaukat Khanum hospital in 1996, he even refused to meet Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, implying that she was to blame. He always seemed more comfortable with the religious conservative, dictator Zia, than the elected moderate Benazir Bhutto. In his book he affectionately recalled yielding to Zia’s request to take back his resignation in 1987. In 1999, he supported General Musharraf’s coup, until the 2002 elections and then did a u-turn. One version is that he wanted to be nominated prime minister and turned bitter when he was told his party was not strong enough. He went on to wedge himself right of centre, often appearing at rallies second billing to theocracy loving, Taliban-sympathiser Qazi Hussain. He then performed another u-turn, joining hands with both the ‘corrupt’ Bhutto and Sharif in trying to unseat General Musharraf.
So where does he stand politically? He refuses to unequivocally condemn the ‘Taliban’. He talks of repelling American influence like an 18-year-old student, high on university polemic and activist zeal. His understanding of international affairs is more suited to Vanity Fair magazine than the Foreign Policy Journal. At the time Asif Zardari was elected president, Imran Khan remained silent. Sensing the tide of public opinion now against the president, he has become vitriolic in his statements, displaying a tendency to jump onto the bandwagon, rather than originality of thought. He rallies against western influences and ‘brown sahibs’ yet, both his children are being brought up in the height of western society. He claims democratic credentials yet, most people would be hard-pressed to name even one other office-bearer of his party. The PTI is run like a personality cult even after 15 years of its inception. Without him — it would be nothing.
Many of his supporters agree that Imran Khan would have been better off had he devoted the past 15 years to philanthropy alone — by now he would have had a hospital in every major city as well as schools and universities. He would have had popular support, credibility and cross-party political support for any social reform agenda. He would have been untainted by a relish for personal power. That is the final nail in the coffin of Imran’s hopes. Those close to Imran speak of his hefty ego — the need to be the centre of attention. It is understandable for a superstar who was mobbed wherever he went for two decades. That kind of fame is addictive. Remember the 1992 World Cup victory speech where he claimed the win as his achievement alone, forgetting to mention his team?
Although, he may be patriotic, untainted by financial corruption and charismatic, Imran Khan is not worthy of leading the revolution. The road to revolution is not paved with fundamental contradictions, u-turns and half-baked theories. It is forged, inch by inch, by a sterling character, self-sacrifice, unswerving principles and passion for the people. If Khan really wants to prove he can deliver results, then perhaps he should offer to manage and mentor the Pakistan cricket team in preparation for the 2011 World Cup. It would be a test case for his promise to tackle mismanagement and corruption. If he succeeds — well, that would be a mini revolution in itself.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 30th, 2010.