By Yasser Latif Hamdani
April 29, 2019
Imran Khan’s misogynist comments against Bilawal Bhutto were not surprising in the least. Indeed one was surprised at those who were surprised in the first place. They assume that just because Imran Khan played cricket in England and attended Oxford University, he would somehow be attuned to modern sensibilities. Do not be mistaken by the swag of the once handsome world champion cricketer (in my opinion the greatest ever to play the sport) to think that he had in anyway adopted those principles that made western civilization what it is.
Imran Khan in London was like an oriental relic of a bygone age. His attitude towards women he befriended and dated mirrored the preferences of an Ottoman or a Mughal prince. Handsome, flamboyant and a star to boot, Imran Khan did not go to London to waste time in the famed Reading Room of the British Museum or to imbibe something of John Morley or Edmund Burke. That would be Jinnah, who at a ripe and tender age immersed himself in the theory of British liberalism. Indeed it is incredible that Imran Khan admirers and Jinnah bashers alike love to compare the Prime Minister to Jinnah. One uncharitable critic of Jinnah described him as the glorified Imran Khan of his time. Nothing can be further from the truth. Anyone who has bothered to read Jinnah’s record as a lawyer and legislature would know that he was the most careful of men. There was no slip of tongue or shooting from the hip. Everything Jinnah said was carefully crafted like a Barrister’s argument and his quotes of obscure legal texts, references to history of England and Wales and to political philosophers of the age of enlightenment were always accurate. It is not that Jinnah knew everything but that he refrained from commenting on things he did not know about. If there is any similarity, it ends at their respective professional achievements: Imran Khan was at the top of his game when it came to fast bowling and Jinnah was rightly considered one of the greatest lawyers produced by British India.
To his credit Imran Khan did find time to write more than a couple of books mostly about himself, something even Jinnah could not do. Some say those books were ghost written. Regardless these offer key insights into his thinking process. All Round View was his cricketing autobiography which even when it first came out contained a heavy dose on the perils of being a brown sahib and the superiority of Eastern values to Western values. Even the sport of Polo gets a dishonourable mention as being a colonial vestige that needs to be destroyed. Of course no one dared correct Imran Khan in those days and so nobody ever told him that Qutb-ud-Din Aibak, the founder of the Slave Dynasty and one of the earliest Muslim Kings of India, died playing Polo. With the incredible World Cup victory in 1992, which cemented Imran Khan’s status as the uncrowned King of Pakistan, he was the biggest celebrity in the history of the country. Indeed if he had jumped right into politics then, he might well have become the Prime Minister in the 1990s. Some how that did not happen and now we are stuck with the tall tales of 22 years of struggle. So whenever Imran Khan spoke, wrote or did something, everyone else just nodded in agreement. In one of his other books called Indus Journey, Imran Khan tells us about the inspiration he draws from Sher Shah Suri, the great Afghan King who built the “Gernaili Sarak” that later was appropriated as the Grand Trunk Road by the British. Sher Shah Suri’s life of course is awe-inspiring for many reasons but what disappointed me even as a 13 year old die-hard fan was Imran Khan’s sheer disregard for historical facts. In the book Imran Khan moaned that Sher Shah had died young aged only 39. At the time I had been reading Ferozesons’ comic book on Sher Shah Suri and knew that the great Afghan King had died at what was considered pretty advanced old age – 72. So inspired was he by Sher Shah Suri that Imran Khan had once dressed up as Sher Shah Suri at an event in London. Yet some how he failed to do even the most basic of fact checks about his great hero and inspiration. In retrospect I wonder if that was an alarm bell.
Imran Khan’s callous disregard for the facts should be self-evident. The Germany-Japan border controversy is a major slip for a world leader, especially in this day and age of information. It is a dangerous slip even if it was in fact a slip of the tongue. Yet to his admirers there is always an excuse. Some argued that he meant France, which is the best possible scenario though it is hard to imagine how one can mix up France and Japan. Others argued that he spoke of their individual borders though that still is problematic because Japan is and has always been to the best of my knowledge an island. Thankfully none of his supporters argued that “Sahiba” is a word used for gentleman in a dialect of Urdu spoken on the Japanese-German border. One can thank God for small mercies.
Even more problematic is his cavalier nonchalant attitude towards gender. In this day and age when gender identities have become deeply contested, for a world leader to exhibit such an attitude is unforgivable. One can hardly wait for that earth-shaking moment when Imran Khan finally meets Donald Trump and they exchange notes on the issue of political correctness. Indeed they might find in each other true kinship and camaraderie. That might just help reset the troubled US-Pakistan ties. As for the rest, well that hardly matters in the post-truth world where doublespeak and doublethink are standard best practices for leaders and their followers.
Yasser Latif Hamdani is a practicing lawyer and was a visiting fellow at Harvard Law School in Cambridge MA, USA