OVER A COFFEE: What Imran could have done —Dr Haider Shah
Imran Khan would do himself a great favour if he restricts Kulyaat-e-Iqbal to bedtime reading pleasure, and not use it as a textbook on public policy making
In a recent article, I had posed a question whether Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) would prove a Noah’s Ark or a doomed Titanic for the political leaders who have boarded it. Endorsing or condemning my assessment, many readers emailed me their valuable comments. Some of them also suggested that instead of just being critical I must also come up with some recommendations. Imran Khan has many qualified advisers in his party, therefore I would refrain from issuing advisory notes. I can, however, summarise what I had expected from Imran Khan and it is then for him to see if the expectations gap can be filled.
Charisma has been identified by famous sociologist Max Webber as one of the main sources of power. In fact, one fundamental difference between a manager and a leader is that the former is good in maintaining the status quo while the latter with charismatic power can transform an organisation in order to create a fit between the external environment and the organisation. Successful military leaders like Alexander or Julius Caesar, or prophets like Moses or Muhammad (PBUH), used their personal charisma in successful transformation of their peoples.
In modern history, we see a good example of charismatic leadership in the form of Kamal Ataturk. He singlehandedly transformed a decadent ‘sick man’ of Europe into a modern and respected Turkish nation. To a relatively lesser extent, we see that in the late 1960s, the charismatic personality of Z A Bhutto created ripples in the stagnant political waters of Pakistan. Criticism against his aristocratic rule is not entirely untrue; however, one cannot deny the fact that he was instrumental in infusing new life in the post-1971 dismembered Pakistan.
Pakistan today is reeling from the scars of extremism that we inherited in the mild form of the ‘two nation theory’. Fanned first by Bhutto himself with his idealistic pan-Islamism, and later by the jihadist Ziaul Haq, Pakistan has become an inferno of religious extremism. As Kamal Ataturk rescued Turkey from the clutches of Ottoman dogmatism, we need a leader who can use his charisma to save Pakistan from sliding further down the extremist route. As a celebrated national sporting hero, and as a respected philanthropist, and with a British family in tow, Imran Khan was the ideal person to qualify as an Ataturk of Pakistan.
Like the pied piper of Hamlin, Imran Khan is idealised by the youth in Pakistan. I, therefore, sincerely wish Khan had diagnosed correctly the nature of the damage that religious dogmatism has done in Pakistan. If he had not been lost in the wilderness of faith and theology, he had enough charisma to become the redeemer of a generation whose energies and talents are being devoured by the demon of radical extremism. The bulk of Khan’s passionate supporters belong to the middle class, educated, young people. I wish Khan had asked the Pakistani youth in unequivocal terms that they should treat religion as a personal matter and had demonstrated by his discourse that Pakistani nationalism was above our religious identities.
In a recent interview, Khan said that he considers Allama Iqbal as his mentor. No doubt, Iqbal is one of the founders of modern Urdu poetry, but making him a guide for political philosophy is a very risky occupation. Like Homer, Iqbal is also a superstore of ideas where you can find anything you want to. In my student days, Kulyaat-e-Iqbal (Iqbal’s collected poetry) was my primary source for writing my speeches for debate contests. Whether I needed to speak for or against democracy, I always found Iqbal’s poetry equally helpful. If you read Iqbal as an admirer of poetry, you are up for a great treat. But reading Iqbal is also like entering a maze with no signposts. Imran Khan would do himself a great favour if he restricts Kulyaat-e-Iqbal to bedtime reading pleasure, and not use it as a textbook on public policy making.
Some rationalist friends remain optimistic. They refer to the work of Wilfred Smith who identifies two different Iqbals. One is the reactionary Iqbal, who is a lover of hallucinated nostalgic ideas, and a staunch disbeliever in gender equality, and second, the pragmatist Iqbal, who is an admirer of the British Raj, wearing the British knighthood with great pride. Soon after his famous Allahabad address, he wrote a letter to the editor of The Times to clarify that he never demanded a separate state for the Muslims but was rather elaborating the point already made in the Nehru and Simon reports about the creation of Muslim majority provinces within the British Empire in India, which would serve the British colonial masters well. He stated, “A series of contented and well-organised Moslem provinces on the North-West Frontier of India would be the bulwark of India and of the British Empire against the hungry generations of the Asiatic highlands.”
Some of my friends argue that If Imran Khan embraces this second Iqbal, he could prove to be a very successful statesman. I tend to agree, but with some caution. Discourse is like a genie. Once created and out of the bottle, it is not easy to keep it under control and often the creator is at the mercy of this freed genie. I would have loved Khan as an exorcist of the demon of radicalism. Playing Machiavelli, if he is using an apologist discourse to gain the support of the religious lobby, he would find himself a captive of this discourse tomorrow. He might then regret that he had created the Frankenstein’s monster. Today, if I am asked to give one-line advice to Khan, it would be: “Of your admirers, listen more to Hassan Nisar, and less to Haroon Rashid, Zaid Hamid and Hamid Gul.”
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