By Nadeem F Paracha
Sep 23 2011
Everything about Pakistan’s cricketer-turned-politician, Imran Khan, is iconic. At least that’s what his recent book on the history of Pakistan (seen through his eyes) would suggest. The book, Pakistan: A Personal History, is his third. One wishes he had stuck to writing about cricket, as he did in the two previous books, because his view of Pakistan and Islam is not very different from the views that so many young Pakistanis are fed about their country and faith in their rather fictitious history books at school.
Nevertheless, this does not change the fact that Khan is iconic. So are two of his most famous images. The first involves him lifting the 1992 cricket World Cup in Australia and then going on to state that the victory was the pinnacle of his playing career, while the rest of the team stood around the podium wondering if their skipper was the only man who had won the Cup. It took him almost a year to confess that, yes, his speech was kind of selfish.
The second iconic image related to Khan is the one showing him standing on a stage in front of a dozen or so microphones, raising hell against the US drone attacks in the rugged, militant-infested areas of northwest Pakistan. Of course, no such hell is raised by him when many of those wonderful human beings, who are the real targets of the US drones, go about their business of slaughtering children, women, Shia Muslims, liberals, cops, common soldiers — all in the name of liberating Pakistan from US imperialism and imposing the laws of the Almighty across Pakistan, Afghanistan and maybe even all the way to London.
Ah, London. Say Khan’s name and three things come to mind: the World Cup, drones and London. Do check him out when he visits this city, which is often. Always dressed in the most expensive suits or the most stylish denims, Khan looks and sounds like a completely different proposition compared to what we see of him in Pakistan. From being an anti-West/anti-US firebrand and anti-corruption crusader in Pakistan, he turns into an introspective and “balanced” liberal patriot in London, trying to convince the very forces he blames for turning Pakistan into a hell, that he is Pakistan’s best bet. Nowhere in London will you find him righteously wagging his fingers and lashing his tongue like a charismatic media-savvy demigod who matter-of-factly mixes his Marx and Mao with Maududi and Qutb.
But then, what’s new? Khan’s been like this for a long time. There is also nothing new about the fact that the coming Pakistani political messiah has been playing footsie with the ISI.
The ISI is swallowing its pride by accepting Asif Ali Zardari (a man who belongs to a party, the PPP, which has had a troubled history with the military). The military establishment is tolerating Zardari because it is not comfortable with the “wayward” Nawaz Sharif. The irony is, while Sharif has been the most straightforward in criticising the ISI and the military’s role in Pakistan’s politics, his party, the PML-N, remains ambiguous about the Taliban and suicide attacks.
Yet, it is the gung-ho Khan that the ISI has allegedly decided to prop up, to play the military’s cards (anti-Americanism, drone attacks, etc.) with the Americans. And why shouldn’t they go for him? After all, he is popular, even though his appeal is still restricted to the youth belonging to urban middle and upper-middle classes. However, Imran Khan needs to get his act together, starting with a functioning party. His party, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf, is sometimes jokingly called the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Imran. He also needs to work on an image that the working classes and peasants can relate to as well.
He is popular with the right-wing media and the class they represent. However, in their excitement of having propped up a messiah-like figure, they have forgotten that the majority of Pakistanis see Khan as belonging to an elite that has kept itself above the masses. This cross-section is unlike the elite that leads mainstream political parties. The so-called masses could relate to people like Z.A. Bhutto, Benazir Bhutto, Sharif and Altaf Hussain because the people believed, instinctively, that they had an empathetic understanding of their culture and their struggles.
But Imran Khan does not belong to this relatable section. The elite that he belongs to also has a history of welcoming military interventionism and of continuing to mistake Sunni Islamic hegemony and Punjabi chauvinism as proud political and cultural planks to build a nationwide ideology. These days it is called “ghairat” (honour). Imran should be learning from the positives and negatives of mainstream politicians, no matter how corrupt, incompetent or cynical they may look. Otherwise he is bound to get more hearts than votes.
The writer is a Karachi-based journalist, firstname.lastname@example.org
Source: The Indian Express, New Delhi