OVER A COFFEE: Exploring the Imran Khan buzz, again —Dr Haider Shah
The young zealots of Imran Khan should realise that despite their sincerity, they are being used to preserve the status quo by restraining a political leader who seems to be a bit uncontrollable
I had no intention of writing this continuation of my analysis of last week as many other important international issues competed for attention. But two reasons prompted me to carry on with the same topic. One, many ardent supporters of Mr Imran Khan e-mailed me and offloaded their anguish over my ‘blasphemy’ against the new cult leader and a response was necessitated. Second, the BBC 2 on Wednesday showed part one of a documentary titled ‘Secret Pakistan, Double Cross’ on British television in which serious allegations of double gaming were levelled against the security establishment of Pakistan. While our international image is so badly tarnished, we cannot keep ourselves drowned in internal political issues anymore.
Before we begin analysing what Imran is up to we need to remember that a political environment is an interplay of different forces at a given time. Different political groups or individuals help generate, enhance or diffuse those forces. At the moment the present ruling arrangement is characterised by a diarchy. A coalition of political groups is running the civil side of the administration while important strategic level decision-making has been outsourced to the army. The power structure, despite all its failings, is well entrenched. The MQM, having given a sense of identity to the Urdu-speaking voters in urban Sindh, has insulated Karachi from Pakistani political waves. The more bloodshed Karachi suffers, the more secure ethnic parties like the MQM and the ANP become in retaining their seats. Similarly, in interior Sindh the PPP has the shield of the Bhutto cult and the JUI-F uses religious appeal to cushion against any national current entering its constituencies. It is only in the urban areas of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa that the insulations are very thin and a national current affects electoral politics the most.
In the last piece I had proposed a seven questions checklist for appraising any saviour of Pakistan. The two most important questions pertain to good governance at the internal level and repairing Pakistan’s ‘jihadist-friendly’ image at the international level. The BBC documentary makes it abundantly clear what the world thinks about us. In order to address these two questions, a leader is needed who understands the interrelationship of both issues and can deal with them in an effective manner. No doubt Imran has been consistent on the first issue. Perhaps it is this aspect of his discourse that is the source of his popularity with a section of our population. But on the second important measure of repairing Pakistan’s image, Imran fails miserably. It is this aspect that worries me the most, as a ‘revolution’ by Imran would amount to a takeover of jeans-wearing Taliban from the back door.
The supporters of Imran Khan fervently argue that if Imran is not the answer then who else can be? If this is the argument then why not propose Mahmood Khan Achakzai as he is one politician who not only enjoys a clean reputation but has also never shown any closeness to the establishment or militants. The problem with us is that being an impatient nation, we want to see a perfectly functioning democracy overnight. We need to be realistic and pragmatic and tailor our expectations according to the ground realities of electoral politics in Pakistan. We must understand that democracy will only flourish if institutions are allowed to develop. Already we have seen the development of two important institutions — the judiciary and the media — in the last few years. Democracy will gradually develop out of the existing power structures. In Britain, Charles I was beheaded after parliamentary forces defeated the royal army. The result was the military dictatorship of Oliver Cromwell. They did not give up their struggle for a democratic order though. After the French Revolution, both the king and queen were beheaded. But instead of a democratic order taking root, the most prominent leader of the revolution also got guillotined and in the end Napoleon Bonaparte proclaimed himself emperor. We need to learn lessons from history that a democratic order evolves after many setbacks and hiccups. There is no need for despondency and impatience. Instead of a general tirade against all politicians, we need to extend our support to the political party that promises institution building and is capable of asserting civilian rule so that new initiatives aimed at regional peace and rehabilitation of Pakistan’s international image could be undertaken
The supporters of Imran are often very sincere individuals. Both Hitler in Germany and Pol Pot in Cambodia were quite sincere in their political philosophies. What happened to their countries because of their sincerity is also well known and proves that sincerity without sanity is often more lethal. The charged and spirited supporters need to realise that Imran’s movement will only affect the voters in urban Punjab. In these constituencies the PML-N candidates will be pitted against the joint candidates of the PPP and the PML(Q). As Imran’s supporters will attract a few thousand votes in all these constituencies, the beneficiaries will be the candidates of the present coalition government. Consequently, the ultimate result will be a hung parliament where the present coalition arrangement will continue. The external and internal agencies used thousands of our youngsters during the 1980s and 90s to lay down their lives to help the US win its Cold War against the then Soviet Union. The young zealots of Imran Khan should realise that despite their sincerity, they are being used to preserve the status quo by restraining a political leader who seems to be a bit uncontrollable.
Personally I do not support any political party. But after following the discourse of many political leaders keenly, I find Nawaz Sharif very consistent in stressing the need for a break with the old paradigm of Pakistan. He has not missed any opportunity of questioning the undue influence of the military establishment upon policy making in Pakistan. True, during his early ascendency the scriptwriters were behind him. Political leaders should neither be allowed to rest on their past laurels nor should they be permanently vilified over their past conduct. Instead, they should be judged on the basis of their present roles. The Conservative Party cannot be permanently condemned as anti-democratic just because its parent party used to be the King’s party in the distant past. A political leader’s past should however make us extra cautious when assessing his present moves. The restoration of the judiciary demolished one myth: that military dictators can send judges packing for good. Nawaz’s return would also help remedy a wrong done to the democratically elected governments by the army dictators. Once in power, however, I shall join others in critically assessing the extent to which he matches his words with actions in changing the paradigm of Pakistan.
The writer teaches public policy in the UK and is the founding member of Rationalist Society of Pakistan. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org