Two years into the Prime Minister’s term and the Pakistani establishment’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of how soon can this government be sent packing home. Imran Khan is the latest to be struck by a Pakistani ‘jinx’ in which no Prime Minister has been able to survive a full five-year term in office. However, when it comes to Khan, it will not be for a lack of trying.
As the Supreme Court-mandated National Assembly session on 9 April drew to the closing hour, it seemed that the good captain and his coterie were ready to extend the proceedings to a time when the next elections were due – anything other than allowing the no-confidence motion to be passed, that is. If it took a C130 to kickstart a sputtering democracy in Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq’s Pakistan in 1988, this time around there was allegedly a helicopter that came into play in Pakistan’s version of Game of Thrones.
If ever there was a populace that was the living embodiment of Yeat’s words of “I would spread the cloths under your feet: But I, being poor, have only my dreams; I have spread my dreams under your feet; Tread softly because you tread on my dreams”, it had been a Pakistani public circa 2018, looking forward to the tsunami of change Imran Khan had promised with the launch of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI).
Imran's Golden Promises
I can understand a certain demographic that may have been drawn to him because of his cricketing and philanthropic resume, whether it was in Pakistan or India. I have made India my home for the past decade, and though I do not profess to know India (or India, me), Imran Khan assures us that he does.
But I do think I can garner a guess for the worldview of a generation that came into political awareness when Gen Zia-ul-Haq held sway in Pakistan. It was a time of obsessive identification of the self through religious and militaristic codes and structures – and Imran Khan allowed one to dream and escape a little through his prowess with the willow and leather and escapades around the world.
He was terrific when it came to fund-raising for the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Trust (and the country is ever richer for the state-of-the-art cancer medical facilities and research centres) and returned from a cricketing sabbatical to captain a World Cup win.
Khan’s hold on the South Asian imagination promised to be more than that offered by his cricketing and philanthropic persona, as he assured the electorate of a reading of political Islam and contemporary Pakistani politics that went beyond the clergy’s reading and that of dynastic politics and business-houses.
'Never Gave Us a Chance With the Ball'
Perhaps this is where one erred. In the past three years, Imran’s promises began to lose lustre; perhaps some of us should have realised that Khan was going to finish as he began. Teammates in the past may have complained that he “never gave us a chance with the ball”, but Khan’s problematic acceptance speech could have been the first indicator of how terribly self-centred he was. If a World Cup captain could acknowledge only the “I” in the cricketing win and how it would spearhead his “obsession” (no matter how noble) with nary a word for his teammates, it meant that years later, he would be willing to ditch key allies and patrons in his quest for self-glory.
He commenced his political career deriding Pakistan’s “NGO women” in newspaper opinion editorials, who, according to him, were choosing the bottle over the breast, and dumping children with unfeeling caregivers so that they could play with ‘Western’ agendas. So, his recent blatant misogyny as a sitting Prime Minister should have been of little surprise, including remarks that it is a “rare man”, a “quasi robot” at that, who can resist the lure of a scantily dressed woman.
Weren't we all initially confused by his rants about Pakistan’s brown sahibs and the VIP culture of the 1990s, along with his recounting on multiple occasions of the pride and joy of growing up, and studying and playing in privileged postcodes? Of Lahore’s Zaman Park, Oxford University and the ‘magnificent isolation’ of the house on the hill in Bani Gala, Islamabad? His rants were interspersed with videos where he is clearly exasperated when exuberant constituents try to interact with him. And so, his snootiness of “I have everything” during political interactions only indicates a messiah complex.
If anyone were to share with him governance models based on social democracy outside Pakistan, they were quelled with a “Main Maghreb ko behter jaanta hoon” (I know the West better than anyone).
Imran Never Realised That Perhaps, It Was Him
Khan has also explained in the past how he felt like an outsider when he interacted with boys from Urdu-medium schools while growing up – that they would “gang up and make fun” of him and that he could see the “huge educational and cultural gap” between them, “wider even than that found in the British class system”. He felt that these boys had a far greater hunger to succeed, which, for him, justified his fascination for bringing about a Single National Curriculum (SNC) in Pakistan.
Unfortunately, the SNC is envisioned to be a great disaster with future generations of Pakistanis being made to learn religious material by rote and brainwashed with a myopic reading of history with no critical thought. And this is all because a younger Imran Khan could not realise that perhaps there was something about him and his worldview that the boys resented.
The trouble with Khan is that he considers Islamic values to be a panacea for all ills and tries to sell religiosity in a country where, as the brilliant writer Mohammad Hanif points out, “villages may not have basic health units or schools but they will not be lacking mosques”. However, Khan shies away from any meaningful engagement with the egalitarian and intellectual debate – ijtihad – that is part of Islamic principles.
One must say though that Khan is an equal opportunity offender – he shied away from debate in Parliament, too. His has been an infamous government that passed 54 Presidential ordinances in its three years in power.
In Imran Khan’s version of Pakistani Islam, any discontent with the inequality of distribution of resources in Pakistani society, the skewed class structure of the Pakistani community and the lack of governance and accountability in society, is suppressed. All he can offer is a fictitious character from a Turkish soap opera as a hero to emulate.
Only the All-Knowing Khan Knows What's Next
Will there be an Imran Khan 2.0? Pakistan’s earlier ousted Prime Ministers such as Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto did see a return to office – sometimes visibly chastised and willing to commit new mistakes but not repeat the old. Is Khan capable of surprising us in a Jon Snow-style resurrection? One hesitates, as it is quite difficult to address him with a ‘You Know Nothing’.
Khan has a predilection for reminding us on multiple occasions that he knows everything and everyone – the “West”, India, the demise of the Pakistani family system, world geography, even the history of Uzbekistan, better than the Uzbeks. In such a case, even time can't tell what happens next. Only the all-knowing Khan can.
(Aneela Babar is the author of We are all Revolutionaries Here: Militarism, Political Islam and Gender in Pakistan ( 2017) and a forthcoming memoir on consuming Hindi cinema in Rawalpindi. This is an opinion article and the views expressed are the author's own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)