The problem with Imran Khan’s politics

Published: September 16, 2010
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Former Pakistani cricket captain Imran Khan

In Pakistan we, particularly those belonging to relatively more educated and urbanized middle class, have developed this psyche where we find a strange solace in other’s miseries. When the Sialkot lynching occurred, many of us were appalled and shaken by the event and then tried to draw parallels to similar incidences in other countries to bolster our dwindling self esteem. A war of articles started where liberals were described as self loathers and were reminded that such incidences were a norm in other countries. Hence there was no need to worry and be depressed.

This was followed by the cricket scandal which exposed some of the illegal and immoral activities of some of our most talented cricketers on television. Predictably, we were first shocked, then disgusted and finally, true to our nature, started to look for conspiracy theories enabling us to remain in our self created delusional state of denial (and of course there is corruption with regards to President Zardari and other politicians). On a local news channel, RAW was cited as the possible culprit with their most famous anchor drawing parallels to the president’s alleged corruption. However, deep down, we all know that our cricketers are in all probability guilty.

Invariably we look towards a rare patch of successful and taintless period in Pakistani cricket much of which was under the captaincy of Imran Khan. He is still remembered fondly by almost all cricket fans as a true and honest cricketer. Pakistan’s cricket team has never been the same after his departure.

Imran Khan has also been heavily involved in flood relief efforts. It is strange that a person who despite being a political minnow commands extraordinary respect. People are willing to trust him with cash but not with their votes.

Too good for politics

Sometimes, I feel really disappointed that a person with his education, brilliance and extraordinary services in the field of social welfare had to indulge in politics and that I pray that he never wins. There is a tendency in the liberal media to lynch Imran Khan (Mr Nadeem Farooq Paracha it seems has made a career of it) and to some extent it is well deserved. However, let’s not forget that despite his reactionary political orientation, his contributions to Pakistan are enormous. In many ways Imran Khan is Pakistan’s asset and someone who has dedicated his life to this country.

The irony is that a squeaky clean person with an impeccable record, if elected, will be the one of the worst nightmares for Pakistan.

I feel that Imran Khan is the embodiment of all that is good in the upper middle class, aspects such as professional integrity, fairness and self pride. However, politically he also embodies all that is wrong with the upper middle class.

Too proud to be wrong

Self respect when projected on the political horizon becomes an almost naïve delusional state of denial further reinforced by slogans like qaumi ghairat. Although Khan has not been the conspiracy theorist he was anticipated to be, he does suffer from another somewhat related ailment of coming up with an apologetic defense to almost every issue. Both of these “diseases” (conspiracy theories and apologetic defense) are broadly similar outcomes of immense self delusional pride rooted in an ideologically determined identity which makes it difficult for an individual to identify flaws in one’s own culture.

It becomes impossible to either give or take constructive criticism.

The middle class, suffers from a strange twisted envy of the West where it follows western fashions and prefers their luxury goods and lifestyles while being ferociously defensive about its own identity defined in terms of religion and Pakistani nationalism.

In Imran’s case a western lifestyle fuses with the strange and immense self pride which extends to include the domestic culture and fails to even see some of its blatant shortcomings. The brutal “justice” system of tribal areas is declared as fair and impartial. The Taliban who have admitted to committing atrocities are given an apologetic defense. They are apparently merely a  “reaction” against US drone attacks.

Too rich to be risky

The upper middle class is dominant in the media, corporate sector, and other influential establishments. It is more conscious about its identity defined in terms of religion and Pakistani nationalism and has a stronger ideological fervor. It will mimic the West in its desire to be sophisticated and modern and at the same time retaliate when there is some backlash on an ideological front or identity. Even the sophisticated and foreign educated write articles like “liberal lynch mob” and are appropriately labeled as “designer patriots.”

Other than national sovereignty, corruption becomes another obsessive concern. Real or perceived corruption among politicians is debated in every drawing room across the globe.  Imran Khan often  voices these concern with zeal and is often perceived as the savior of the country. If elections were held on the internet, he would win by a huge margin. On social networking sites like Facebook the young and sophisticated members of the upper middle class regularly make Imran Khan the prime minister.

Too much like us

Khan, more than anyone else, symbolizes the middle and upper middleclass morality, its sophistication and its strange contradictions. No wonder, he is well liked by them. They are sympathetic towards the plight of the poor but are unable to engage with them. Their attitude is patronizing.

Despite doing extraordinary social work, the poor are the ones who despite respecting him cannot associate with him politically. Politics, particularly modern politics is strongly intertwined with connection and engagement. Successful politicians, particularly in a nascent democratic culture, have to successfully engage and interact with the masses. Having a sympathetic attitude towards them will perhaps make you a respectable humanitarian but not a successful politician.

In politics you have to engage yourself on issues which matter to the majority of the people. Corruption is an issue but it is not the sole issue. Yes sovereignty is an issue but once again not that important. And yes, a downright condescending attitude and display of intellectual arrogance towards the people will not endear you to them.

Unfortunately we are not yet ready to truly engage with the common man, it is no wonder that we end up yearning for military rule.

raza.habib

Raza Habib Raja

The author is a recent Cornell graduate and currently pursuing his PhD in political science at Maxwell School, Syracuse University. He has also worked for a leading development finance institution in Pakistan. He is a freelance journalist whose works have been published at Huffington Post, Dawn (Pakistan), Express Tribune (Pakistan) and Pak Tea House. He tweets @razaraja (twitter.com/razaraja?lang=en)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.