New Age Islam Edit Bureau
22 March 2018
Paradoxes of an ‘Abnormal State’
By Imtiaz Alam
The Saudi Factor
By Mushtaq Rajpar
Soft Power In Countering Extremism
By Amna Ejaz Rafi
All the People, All the Time?
By Kamila Hyat
Yemen: Divided We Fall
By Arhama Siddiqa
What Does Imran Khan Believe In?
By Shahzaib Khan
Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
March 22, 2018
Pakistan is not a ‘normal country’ due to its paradoxes and fault-lines, particularly when an impression to this effect comes from defenders of our frontiers, at a time when everything is imploding – from the balance of payments to the balance of the constitutional division of power.
Conflicts and contradictions in the evolution of state and society are inherent to any societal or state formations. So, there is nothing abnormal in considering our statehood abnormal. The real question is: how do we rightly identify the various paradoxes and contradictions? And how do we become a ‘normal’ nation-state that serves the people rather than their masters?
When people call Pakistan a ‘gift from God’, they foreclose any inquiry. The very idea of ‘Muslimhood’ as separate from and at par with Hindus on the basis of lost entitlements with the fall of last Moghul in 1857 had its origin among the aristocratic Urdu-speaking elites (Ashraf) of minority provinces, as articulated by Sir Sayyed Ahmed Khan. Whereas the Two-Nation Theory originated from the minority-Muslim provinces, the Lahore Resolution envisaged that those “constituent units shall be autonomous and sovereign” where Muslims were in a majority. This contradiction between an exclusionary ideology of a self-imagined nation in consonance with the notion of a supra-territorial Ummah and the historically inclusive aspirations of the indigenous populations remains unresolved.
The conflict between the democratic national aspirations of the provinces and the protagonists of an authoritarian centre continued to disturb the evolution of the nation-state, which resulted in the division of the country. If Bangladesh continues to find it difficult to resolve the dilemma of Bengaliness and Muslimness, Pakistan is yet to overcome its ideological hangover which is now quite vulnerable to sectarian schisms. Even though religious extremism and terrorism now pose an existential threat to Pakistan as a nation-state, the ruling civil and military elites – consisting of roughly 2000 families – are not ready to share power with the peoples of Pakistan.
The civilian and military elites continue to monopolise power in rotation, and deny the oppressed classes and deprived ethnic groups their due. Benefiting from the external hostility from both our eastern and western borders, they coalesced in to promote a nationalism that served their privileges at the cost of sustainable and participatory development. The civil and military elites worked against both people and participatory democracy. This is reflected by various quasi-civilian-military coalitions which collided on share of power, as seen by the overthrow of the civil governments or removal of Bonapartist generals. And this circus of power-struggle continues in the name of ‘national interest’. Consequently, Pakistan is yet to stand on its democratic and multi-ethnic and linguistic premises. Authoritarian structures and the hegemony of extremist and exclusionary ideology are super-imposed. In turn, the paradoxes and fault-lines that Pakistan faces are further exasperated.
A somewhat bumpy democratic transition continues to face uncertainties that allow desperate elements to disrupt a fragile democratic transition and a constitutional path to stability. There are ideological, political, strategic and institutional paradoxes that distort political processes, making the state look ‘abnormal’ – often described in symptomatic terms of failures of governance. Pakistan has moved on with all the burdens and damages caused by disparate modes of development and models of governance. Nothing has worked – from quasi-elected civilian dispensations, manipulated by the bureaucracy, to extremely devastating direct or indirect authoritarian models.
Despite the framing of the 1973 constitution, after the dismemberment of the country under Gen Yahya Khan, the country suffered at the hands of quasi-civilian and naked military rule – supported by an obliging judiciary under the ‘doctrine of necessity’ – by rotation in a perverse khaki and mufti divide. The resulting contradictions, conflicts and paradoxes have continued to dog us over the years. These days there is talk of the ‘doctrine’ of a non-Bonapartist general. However, no doctrine is worth its name unless it addresses the paradoxes that we face.
There are five major paradoxes: first, the nature and character of the state. Some political scientists find that issues inherent to the exclusively Muslim independence movement are simplistically exploited by the religious right to make Pakistan an Islamic state, even though it has resulted in sectarian divides. These elements fail to build a unified terrestrial nation-state which they reject due to their concept of Islamic universalism. The other view is of a modern nation-state that is based on geographical sovereignty regardless of its citizens’ religion but historically rooted in the organic multi-ethnic nature of the country.
This fundamental ideological paradox remains to be resolved. The compromise reached in framing the 1973 constitution among various ideological schools or reference to the founders’ intentions is not helping us reach a logical conclusion. This has resulted in the failure of the state to evolve an alternative national democratic narrative to counter the Islamic universalist view represented by extremist and religious outfits. Even the so-called politically liberal parties remain confused on ideological parameters, as religious parliamentary parties resist becoming democratic unlike their Christian counterparts in Europe. Hence, Pakistan remains a conflicting mix of religious and secular entities, having failed to resolve its ideological dualism.
The second paradox is civil-military dichotomy, which has continued to hinder a smooth transition to a democratic and constitutional order. Over decades of direct and indirect rule, the garrison has emerged as a de-facto power over whatever it deems to be in the ‘national interest’, or due to the lack of capacity within marginalised civilian structures. When the de-facto power structures representing non-elected institutions continued to collide with de-jure civilian structures, no stable representative system of governance could emerge. This gives the army leadership an overriding role over the elected leadership. These are the institutional imperatives behind experiments with various versions of authoritarian, totalitarian and controlled quasi-democracy.
The third paradox is the conflict between the federation and the provinces: despite the passage of the 18th Amendment, the tension and overlapping between the structures of the federal tier and the federation units continues to generate controversies, conflicts and even insurgencies and counter-insurgencies. Controversies over National Financial Commission or distribution of resources, lack of functioning of Council of Common Interests, an inverted pyramid-like unequal development, unending military operations in Balochistan and the tribal regions, over-extended role of paramilitary forces and debate over the routes and benefits of CPEC are some of the manifestations of the uneasy relations between the country’s centrifugal and centripetal forces.
Fourth is an unequal and unsustainable economic development model that helps concentration of wealth in a few hands at the cost of the marginalisation and pauperisation of the vast majority of dispossessed people and deprived regions. This creates not only social stratification, but also regional disparities. The Ayub model failed, so did Bhutto’s quasi-socialist experiment and the Sharifs’ brick and mortar model. Under increasing debt, crises of balance of payments, higher defence expenditure, falling exports and remittances, Pakistan’s economy is facing an enormous crisis. In fact, an over-burdening super-structure cannot be sustained by an unsustainable and fragile economic base. There is no focus on the demographic surge of youth that – rather than becoming an asset – will turn out to be a dangerous liability in the absence of proper education and human resource development. As rent-seeking and corruption prevail, manufacturing and agriculture are becoming unviable.
Our fifth paradox is that extending security designs, and a hostile regional environment, is going to further exacerbate both the internal crisis and conflicts with neighbours. It is not a double-speak foreign policy that is failing, but flawed and dangerous security paradigms that bring Pakistan in conflict with everybody. There is no alternative to a peaceful resolution of conflicts. Without regional economic integration with the ongoing CPEC and other regional cooperative projects, Pakistan cannot achieve a secure and prosperous existence. Instead of quarrelling over frivolous issues and undermining each other, politicians should focus on fundamental policy issues and mobilise public opinion on alternative paradigms of inclusive political and socio-economic development. But it may be too late as we seem to be moving towards yet another reversal of the democratic route.
Saudi Crown Prime Mohammad bin Salman is on an official visit to the US to sell his reformist agenda to an American audience. He wants the US to see that the “Kingdom [of Saudi Arabia], under his de facto leadership, is undergoing a sea change” and “is opening up for business for American companies”, including the entertainment industry.
His visit comes at a time when US bipartisan senators are due this week to vote on blocking the sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia. Many of them believe that these weapons are being used in Yemen to kill innocent citizens.
Saudi Arabia is caught in a direct war with Yemen. During all other violent conflicts within the Middle East, Saudi Arabia has remained largely unaffected. In fact, the country was not caught in the crossfire until the Houthi rebellion broke out in Yemen. Saudi Arabia is not winning the war despite the supply of US weapons, technical assistance, and guidance in selecting targets within Yemen.
During Trump’s first foreign visit as president to Saudi Arabia, the US president offered an $110 billion arms sale deal to the kingdom, of which $23.7 billion were already authorised during the former US administration. According to a report published in The New York Times, “in 2017, the US sold roughly $610 million in weapons and munitions to Saudi Arabia and $48 million in firearms to [the UAE]… both countries are bombing Yemen…according to human rights groups, [the bombings] have killed over 10,000 civilians and wounded another 40,000. [A] UN assessment of [the] Yemen situation termed it ‘one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises’”.
We have not seen much coverage in the Western media of the Yemen conflict as it lies in the backyard of a rich kingdom. The Pentagon may deny any involvement in this conflict by claiming that they are not taking part in airstrikes in Yemen, but the report published The New York Times clearly spells out America’s role in the Yemen crisis. According to the report, Saudi Arabia stated last year that it is paying $750 million to the US army to help train Saudi soldiers to minimise civilian losses.
US-Saudi Arabia relations have been fraught with challenges after 9/11. The American media has especially come down hard on the kingdom as all the 9/11 bombers were Saudi citizens. Saudi Arabia is considered to be the second pillar of America’s foreign policy in the Middle East. This policy supported dictatorships during the cold war to bring stability to the region – which later proved to be a form of “false stability”.
Saudis concerns came under discussion during the talks with President Trump. But as many in Pakistan believe, the road to Islamabad goes via Riyadh because Saudi Arabia is seen to enjoy considerable influence on Pakistan. Saudi Arabia is essential to Pakistan’s economic solvency as 30 percent of its remittances come from the oil-rich country – which, in dollar terms, amounts to over $6 billion. Some 1.6 million Pakistanis have worked in Saudi Arabia since the 1970s. There are strong link between both countries and the Saudi influence on our society, politics and culture remains paramount.
But Saudi Arabia is changing. Will this have a domino effect on countries that are believed to be under the influence of this oil-rich country, including Pakistan?
Pakistan has been a close ally of Saudi Arabia and this proximity is reflected in times of internal crises. The extent of Saudi influence in Pakistan’s security and foreign policy can be gauged from the fact that even though parliament had passed a resolution to not send troops for the Yemen war to Saudi Arabia, troops were still dispatched – ‘for training purposes only’.
For some Pakistanis, Saudi Arabia’s justice system has its own appeal. Disenchanted by the delays in our own justice system, citizens who have limited exposure to diverse legal systems, seek quick-fixes and remedies. During the 1970s, Pakistanis started working in the Gulf countries – mainly in Saudi Arabia. Those who started working in Saudi Arabia did well and returned home with stories of justice and peace at a time when Pakistan was marred by unrest, violence and disorder.
Following the Iranian Revolution of 1979, street talk has favoured Saudis and Iranians. As a result, Pakistan has been sandwiched between their proxy sectarian ideological influences and recruitment programmes.
Once Saudi Arabia broadens it social and cultural horizons, we hope that its support for conservative elements within Pakistan will also come to an end. Such politicisation of religion has fuelled intolerance on sectarian lines. The gains of successive military operations against militancy can only be sustained once foreign funding ends for these hotbeds that exist in many parts of Pakistan.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s reformist agenda seems to be fully backed by Western powers. Although the reforms will give more public space to women, they fall short of abolishing laws that restrict women’s rights, such as guardianship laws under which women are required to seek permission from male family members.
Hearing the Saudi crown prince talk about equality between men and women was music to the ears of Americans. But the real change will come once women’s rights are enshrined in the law, and move beyond the end of the driving ban on women.
Soft Power in Countering Extremism
March 21, 2018
In today’s globalised world, a new way of life has emerged in which distances have been reduced and interactions have become brisker and livelier in the wake of geographical access and broadband interconnectivity. The transnational world has also brought in new forms of vulnerabilities and insecurities. The use of media, in particular, has in a way eased the job of extremist factions; through the internet a large number of people can be reached.
Former US president Barack Obama’s prescription of how ideologies could not be defeated by guns but by ideas is particularly astute. In an era of information technology, the soft approach needs to be employed not only to counter the hatred spread by extremist mindsets but also to promote a balanced ideological outlook.
Pakistan has been battling militancy for more than a decade, and since then a number of counterterrorism operations have been conducted. For the most part, terrorism has limited the entertainment activities in the country; concerts, industrial exhibitions and Lok Virsa events are still organised but these are fewer than in the past. Terrorism has changed our way of life. The National Action Plan (NAP) introduced by the government has put a ban on hate speech and extremist material (reference point 5 NAP). The strategy has also prohibited the glorification of extremists on media (point 11).
Besides, there is also a provision to take action against those who lure young people towards extremism through social media (point 14). Much emphasis has been placed on the media. Can media be an effective tool in deterring extremist ideology? The projection of violent acts could attract a wider audience but it also has the tendency to instigate violence. The media, instead, should project positive narratives like the examples of young people facing the challenges courageously. The media also needs to expose the lies and destructive consequences that the extremist ideologies reinforce. The argument that Muslims are allowed to use violent means can be countered by religious teachings. The Quran is explicit about the killing of a human, equating it with the murder of all humanity. And whoever saves a person, it is as if he has saved all of mankind.
Our religion prohibits the targeting of the civilian population and the use of violence. The lectures and talk shows of religious scholars highlighting the true essence of Islam could be useful in creating harmony between the various sects as well as in promoting interfaith peace and understanding. However, the communication gap could be an impediment to reaching out to a larger audience. Therefore, religious scholars need to be integrated into modern technological platforms and online social networking sites. Deradicalisation seminars and lectures on YouTube and Facebook should also be shared.
Meanwhile, the role of “Sufism” in the spread of Islam in the subcontinent is a testament to the fact that there is no room for violence in religion. Traditional and “Sufi devotional music” Qawwali needs to be promoted. It is a known fact that culture and literature have been pivotal in creating (or destroying) societies. For instance, Allama Iqbal’s poetry was a motivating factor for the Muslims of the subcontinent.
Dramas and movies on subjects relevant to social issues can be helpful in the building of a balanced perspective. Often films indicate how young minds can be misguided or corrupted. That is why we need to counter these possibilities. To conclude, since everyone has suffered due to terrorism, to ensure an effective implementation of NAP, our state institutions need to enlist the help of different segments of society, including teachers, parents, sportsmen and the youth.
In 1998, Nawaz Sharif tried to augment his powers as prime minister and perhaps subvert democracy when he tried to bring in the controversial Shariah bill or the 15th Amendment.
Had the bill been approved, it would have given extraordinary powers to Nawaz, helping him determine what was right or wrong and take other measures to ensure conformity with religious belief. Fortunately, at the time the Senate declined the bill, although the National Assembly where Sharif held a two-third majority had passed it. Sharif and the PML-N will also be remembered for the 1997 storming of the Supreme Court in Islamabad as then Chief Justice Sajjad Ali Shah heard a contempt of court petition against the then prime minister, Nawaz Sharif. The incident is still recalled with horror.
In addition, the PML-N has often followed the policies of General Ziaul Haq, whose imposition of orthodox Islamic rule altered the country forever. The Punjab government’s recent ban on dance performances in both state-owned and private schools is being likened by many to the dress codes that were imposed on PTV employees during the Zia regime.
During the late 1990s, Nawaz Sharif attempted to throttle the press by acting against specific journalists and the publications they wrote for. He also banned the popular song ‘Ehtesaab’ by the rock band Junoon, perhaps because it raised the issue of accountability and corruption. Sharif’s exile in 1999, following the coup d’état by General (r) Pervez Musharraf also brought accusations of cowardice and the striking of an underhand deal brokered by the Saudis.
Nawaz is not a man whom we would expect to attain the status of a hero. But due to a variety of factors, he is now being seen as a martyr and a figure who stands for democracy. His protestations that he has been conspired against and wrongfully removed from the office of prime minister and the presidency of the PML-N are one of the prime reasons why people are sympathetic towards him. There are predictions that this wave of sympathy will translate into votes during the 2018 elections.
In many ways, it is the misfortune of our country that such people become heroes. This could have been avoided – and brought us many benefits – had the people been permitted to oust Nawaz Sharif on their own by using their votes against him. He would have gone down in history as a failed leader, setting an example for all other politicians. The same is, in many ways, true of Benazir Bhutto. Her assassination converted a leader whose governments did not enjoy the best records in terms of their ability to offer people what they needed into a martyr who will live on forever. The mistake that is being repeated is the effort to forcibly remove politicians from the field of play rather than leaving the decision in the hands of people. If people are able to decide, there can be no turning back of what they have expressed. This is the factor that can change Pakistan’s politics for the better.
We have had a few leaders who have been ousted because the people no longer want them to rule. The removal of such leaders by citizens can make a real difference to people’s understanding of politics, and also compel other politicians to avoid walking down the same path. For us, this could mean some easing of corruption and a greater will on the part of leaders to make some kind of difference in the lives of people who have voted them to power. The severing of the link between people and their political parties is a big factor for the dire straits we find ourselves in.
Despite all that has happened, all the acts of possible wrongdoing by the PML-N, Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam have assumed a position from which it could be difficult to bring them down. Elections can of course be fixed. This has happened before. Nawaz Sharif’s own party accepted gigantic sums of money in 1990 to help them win the 1990 elections. Other elections have been rigged through both the use of money and other means. But the task is becoming harder because the people are savvier. It is no longer easy to fool them, and sometimes all of us forget that all the people cannot be fooled all the time. People have begun to see through opaque panes and recognise what is happening. It is also true that they can be easily manipulated by politicians themselves. Over the years, as he developed into a more sophisticated politician than the young man General Zia had picked up for the role of leader as his puppet, Nawaz Sharif has learned how to manipulate people. Few suspected he would be able to stay afloat as the odds against him built up. But even with the PPP, the PTI and an array of other forces lined up against him, Nawaz has chosen to keep fighting. Perhaps he believes he has nothing to lose. This desperate struggle has turned him into a kind of knight in the eyes of people who continue to turn out in large numbers to attend his rallies. As we have seen in the past, charges of corruption rarely bring public disapproval for leaders.
It is certain that a balance needs to be created as we go into the 2018 elections. The PML-N, like all other parties taking part in the contest, should be judged on the basis of its performance and its manifesto rather than on the actions of a single man. This is now beginning to look even more difficult. We need to create equilibrium and to ensure that people realise the significance of the vote they cast, and that they have every right to vote for the party of their choice.
The problem right now is that there is some reluctance to criticise Nawaz Sharif openly on the basis that it is wrong to fling stones at a man who has already suffered many wounds. This may not carry much logic; but does have a sentimental value.
Other political parties that have lined up against the PML-N – forming unlikely and unprincipled alliances to do so – need to project their policies so as to attract electoral support. People should be able to recognise the advantages these parties could bring if elected. The PML-N too needs to focus on policy and not just on Nawaz Sharif and his daughter standing atop a burning ship.
It is vital that the question of what people need and what the region needs be added back into the political cooking pot. It has been removed for the moment and all we are left with is a set of accusations and counter accusations which really do more damage to people and our democracy than to any individual or a political party.
AT the end of January 2018, the self-purported Southern Transitional Council (STC) in Yemen demanded that Hadi dissolve his government over assertions of corruption and incompetence. The Council is led by Aidarous al Zubaidi, once a governor of Aden who was forced out of his post by Hadi in April 2017. The STC believes in secession and a return to the pre-1990 situation when there were two Yemeni states, and is backed by the UAE. As the deadline was expiring, on the eve of January 30, the separatists and Hadi’s forces pulverized each other using tanks, artillery and machine guns. This illustrated the cracks present within the US-backed Saudi-led coalition supporting Yemen’s president while fighting the Houthi rebels. This is not be confused with the Saudi inspired Islamic Military Alliance. While the latter comprises of 41 nation states and focuses primarily on countering terrorism, the former comprises of 9 nations and focuses on extricating the Houthi rebels who are backed by Iran. The Saudi coalition that includes the United Arab Emirates as a key ally has been battling rebels in northern Yemen for nearly three years on behalf of President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s government.
The fierce infighting turned the southern port city of Aden into a war zone. The violence killed at least 36 people and wounded 185.The dispute revealed both the separatists’ certainty in their strong position on the ground and their exasperation for a place in the political league. The clashes also exposed the friable position of the Yemeni President. Forces loyal to Hadi have largely been defeated in Aden by the STC and its forces known as the Security Belt, which was formed, financed and armed by the UAE. Since its freedom from the Houthis, Aden city has witnessed severe security challenges, economic and basic infrastructure problems, and most recently growing support for separation from the North. The city has also seen measured attempts to silence activists supporting the Hadi-allied Islah Party, as well as some voices within the Salafi movement with a number of imams gunned down in 2017.
The Saudis launched their campaign in Yemen in March 2015 after an appeal from Hadi for military assistance. The Saudis then pushed for UN Security Council Resolution 2216, that demands the Houthis hand Sanaa back to Hadi, along with all arms and ammunition they possess. It also definitely calls Hadi as Yemen’s legitimate president, something the Saudis and the Hadi government are keen to highlight, because this then makes Hadi and his appointed officeholders the sole legitimate representatives of the Yemeni state. This further entails that any deal that is to be made to end the war will have to be made with the president, and by extension, his patrons in Riyadh. Essentially, Hadi, who is currently in exile in Riyadh, gives the Saudis’ role in the Yemen war its political and legal cover.
The current clashes have sparked fears of a repeat of the 1986 South Yemen civil war, an unsuccessful socialist coup which killed thousands and helped pave the way for the unification of South and North Yemen. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia says restoring Hadi is its main objective in Yemen, but then conversely, the Saudi coalition spokesman avoided condemning the separatists and called on Hadi to “fix flaws” in his government. This implies that Saudi blessing was involved in the recent clashes. Yemen’s civil war, meanwhile, shows no sign of ending. It has left more than 10,000 people dead, displaced 2 million people and pushed the impoverished nation of some 28 million people to the verge of famine. On top of this, nearly 2,200 more have died of cholera amid deteriorating hygiene and sanitation conditions, triggering what the UN has called the world’s largest humanitarian disaster. Even though both parties issued a joint statement citing a united front and dismissing all claims of divides, the fault lines have already been exposed. Indeed, if this escalation of violence continues in Aden, it will weaken not just the course of the war against the Houthis, but the whole political process of the Gulf Initiative (which in 2011 established a caretaker transitional government in Yemen), the national dialogue (between the UN and the GCC), and the various United Nations Security Council resolutions aimed at emphasizing the territorial integrity of Yemen.
The following steps need to be taken: 1. Both Saudi Arabia and the UAE have to state explicitly their support for a negotiated resolution of the civil conflict in accordance with UNSC Resolution 2216, which calls explicitly for the reinstatement of the legitimate government under President Hadi in the capital of Sanaa. 2. Demand that the Hadi government do more to demonstrate its capacity to take on the responsibilities of governance which according to the broadly held view among Yemenis has abdicated its responsibility in addressing the needs of the Yemeni population. If the power struggle within the Saudi-led coalition carries on with fighting spreading to other cities, it could create a void that would allow extremists like al-Qaida and Daesh to rise again. The vacuum of power could even allow the Houthis to advance further. It is now time for all the parties involved: the Saudi-led coalition as well as the Houthi rebels, to obey the decrees of logic and reason and avoid lengthening Aden’s suffering because in the end the final casualties are the Yemenis. Otherwise, the current escalation of conflict within the city could open a new chapter of unparalleled violence and volatility that the rest of Yemen and the Saudi-led coalition cannot afford.
March 20, 2018
The unprecedented hype to the build-up to the Senate elections lived up to expectations as the ruling party saw itself get outmanoeuvred in the race for top election posts. The PML-N had backed the outgoing Senate chairman, who had undoubtedly managed to pioneer a raise in the profile of his position and the Senate and later a senior leader of his own party.
Opposition to the ruling party in the Senate was expected, what had kept analysts busy was the mechanism, nature and ultimately effectiveness of this opposition. The curiosity of the analysts was rewarded when in a surprising turn of events, which some have alleged to have been “engineered,” the PTI decided to form a tactical alliance with the PPP. What transpired then was the election of the first chairman of the Senate from Balochistan, undoubtedly a belated achievement for the polity. And while the ruling party cried foul over what they alleged was a “managed” election for the top seat, as the dust settles, the allegations are becoming background noise.
Surely enough, whether through masterful engineering, or through unprecedented, but not unexpectedly tumultuous politics, the PTI and the PPP were able to outthink and outmanoeuvre the ruling party. This piece is not about the Senate elections, however. It’s not about whether they were engineered or not, or whether in a realpolitik arena the ruling party should reasonably have seen this coming. It’s about Imran Khan.
When the election for the top posts in the Senate were over, and as members of the political spectrum descended onto the TV screens of the nation to make sense of it all, Imran Khan shared a Facebook post.
To those, if any, unfamiliar with Imran’s Facebook page, and the page of his party, it is a particularly special one. The page is flooded with daily DSLR quality pictures of Imran Khan often doing nothing at all. Often the post will have Imran Khan smiling, or looking sidewards rather inspiringly, with a quote by Imran, usually and somewhat inexplicably about cricket as a caption for the picture. I’m not too sure what the point of these posts are.
As the top posts of the election were decided the official PTI page shared a post with Imran smiling coyly in a situation that was surely unrelated, with the caption, “And they told me, I don’t know politics.” I’m not too sure what the point of this post was either.
Was it to beg the question, as to what politics Imran actually refers to? Considering that’s the only reasonable derivation of the post. If so, the post succeeds, and we now ask, what politics does Imran Khan believe in?
It would be rudimentary to dig out statements by Imran where he is rather unkind to the PPP and Asif Zardari. If one is to dig only slightly deeper we would come across Imran’s vehement and consistent claims that the PTI will never ally with a Zardari-led PPP. But everyone, and most importantly the electorate is now reasonably aware of Imran’s consistently anti-Zardari rhetoric. Often in Pakistani politics, rhetoric is just that, rhetoric. Parties are quick to subscribe to an existing political culture that allows them to tip-toe across the aisle and form alliances which were previously unthinkable, case in point the new alliance between the JI and PML-N. Considering that this is now part of the political culture subscribed to by the mainstream parties, the electorate is also able to digest it without much of a revolt.
This is, however, where the problem for Imran begins. The premise of the PTI’s politics is negative. Rather than positively claiming to pursue a cause unique or revolutionary, Imran has brought up the PTI as the anti-thesis to mainstream politics, the break in status quo, the NOT your average-Pakistani political party. The premise of the former premise is an uncompromising rejection of politics of compromise. While the PPP and the PML-N are political players in themselves as the status quo, and so can exist in a vacuum, the PTI as Khan has imagined it, is simply the rejection of the status quo, which can only exist in relation to the status quo itself. That’s how Imran Khan plans to get votes, by promising not to do what has been done, allegedly for decades in Pakistan, by casting the PTI as “different.” But what happens when it turns out it’s not “different”?
Hashmi Warns Zardari, Imran Will Become Targets
When Imran Khan reaches out to PPP co-chairman Asif Zardari it is seen as Imran compromising his position and his standing. When the latter reaches out to the former Asif Zardari is praised as political master strategist. If there is a seemingly impossible problem, with power centres locking horns, Zardari can act as a masterful power broker. He defuses the situation and earns the praise of political and non-political admirers alike. Of course, his strategy is premised on political compromise. But that’s the point. While Khan so adamantly resists political compromise, thinking of it as morally compromising, others like Zardari embrace it, they preach it and they practise it. And so, when you find Zardari reaching out his hand across the aisle to a previously “impossible alliance,” you appreciate his politicking, and his cunning.
For someone whose singular claim to power is being NOT Zardari, dealing with Zardari does not look good. Imran’s decades of anti-status quo politics have rendered the PTI incapable of existing singularly on its own, without reflecting negatively on the status quo. The PTI has modelled itself like the moon which needs the light emanating from a corrupt, politically compromised sun to allow it to exist, if there is no light for the PTI to reflect, for us at earth it may as well not exist.
Aamir Liaquat Joins PTI, Calls It His ‘Final Destination’
And so, when Imran Khan professes of knowing “politics,” it is worth asking what politics he refers to. Unlike the PML-N and the PPP, the PTI cannot afford to indulge in politics of compromise when the same threatens its very existence. The PTI and Imran Khan cannot occasionally indulge in political compromise, when convenience requires so, and ally themselves with the very entities they have for so long professed to upend. The electorate, though being exceptionally generous, is not extravagant enough to forgive Imran for indulging the status quo, considering his only possible self-professed value is upending the same. Far from illustrating his knowledge of politics, Imran then may have made a strategic political mistake just to maintain his opposition to the ruling party. With Zardari getting his candidate in and maintaining his political prowess, Imran has been seen to do business with what he has previously maintained to be the “bad guys.” Perhaps, it’s a tiring Imran, wary of losing elections and then some by-elections, wary of being the eternal opposition, compromising now in hope for greater power. Perhaps it’s none of that. What it is surely not, is good politics.