Imran Khan might be “honest” but he can never be what’s best for Pakistan

Published: April 12, 2017

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan. PHOTO: AFP

There was a time when I used to literally worship Imran Khan. For me, one of the proudest moments in my life as a Pakistani was when Imran lifted the World Cup above his head. Immediately following the triumph, I went to the market and danced with all those who had gone crazy. Pakistan has always starved for international recognition (in a positive way) and therefore that moment has been permanently ingrained in the collective psyche of the nation.

It was an adulation, which was like the attitude of millions of current Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) supporters who dominate social media and are extremely abusive, or at least get visibly agitated, towards anything said against Imran.

However, I have changed a lot and now consider the rise of Imran Khan as one of the worst political developments in Pakistan. For some of my friends, who now support Imran and his party, my continuous criticism of Imran is highly surprising. In countless arguments, I have been told again and again about Imran’s honesty and his philanthropic contributions in the form of Shaukat Khanum hospital. And what amazes them is that how could educated people actually oppose Imran when the present political alternatives, at least in their opinion, have been proven to be incompetent and thoroughly corrupt. Imran, in their opinion, is credible and someone who has served Pakistan and has elevated the country’s name in the international arena due to his cricketing and “other” triumphs. He is articulate, speaks perfect English and is charismatic. In short, he’s a handsome role model.

But it is his reputation of honesty which provides the strongest basis of support of many of my friends, who like me belong to the urban middle class. Although some claim that their political support is very recent, but in reality, Imran has been respected for a long time by the middle class. Even in his political wilderness days, many from the white collar class liked him though may not have harboured an active desire to actually vote for him, or for that matter, anyone.

The political emergence is the interplay of a timely push from “friendly forces”, constant articulation of a particular kind of narrative on the media and the poor quality governance, real and perceived, of mainstream parties, particularly Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).

Most important of these factors is the electronic media which articulates and reinforces the urban mind-set. As Anatol Lieven in his brilliant book, ‘Pakistan: A Hard Country has put:

“Liberals had assumed that a new media, dominated by educated middle class people, would inevitably therefore reflect liberal and (by implication) pro-PPP and pro-Western positions. This ignored the fact that a very considerable portion of the educated middle class is conservative and even Islamist by sympathy. The media are therefore a microcosm of the Pakistani middle classes, and reflect their views.”

Imran has become the most prominent political face of the broad narrative constantly being churned out by the media. This narrative chiefly constitutes of scepticism about the outside world, “corruption” of PPP and PML-N, desire for “Rule of Law”, and above all, political romanticism that all Pakistan needs is a sincere and honest leader.

Imran fits this narrative pretty neatly as he hails from the same class, projects textbook nationalism (which blends religion and nationalism), always talks about corruption as the main concern, and articulates the inherent belief of many of us that in reality, we are very talented but have been unable to grow due to “dishonest” leadership.

Of course his supporters may not be agreeing to everything he stands for. For example, I know people who are liberal and are against his views with respect to religion but still support him due to his anti-US stand or his vision of a corruption-free Pakistan.

But on the whole, Imran’s supporters are adherent to most, or at least part, of the above mentioned narrative which also automatically creates this desire for an honest Messiah who would lead Pakistan out of problems with his honesty and “national honour” focused attitude.

In my opinion, this is a dangerous narrative and the solutions offered – despite the fact that urban middle class is most educated – are naïve. For his impressionable supporters, everything has boiled down to this. They think that once he is in power, somehow or the other, corruption, which in their mind is the number one problem, will disappear. This strange belief that there can be a “naya Pakistan” only if an honest leader is at the helm of the affairs is something which needs to be feared.

Their belief in his messianic qualities has elevated him to a cult-like status and they are unable to see anything wrong with him. Imran’s “honesty” blinds them to his every political blunder. If someone criticises Imran, he is immediately branded as a supporter of so-called status quo and “corrupt” parties.

The fact that Imran has constantly courted hardliners has simply not registered with his supporters. His constant apologetic defence for the Taliban actually mainstreamed extremism by giving it an “acceptance” in the society. For years, instead of condemning the Taliban, Imran’s focus was to singularly blame western powers and drone attacks. This narrative allowed the militants to penetrate into the society, despite committing horrible crimes, and were being construed as ‘victims’. Instead of revulsion, a large section of the population actually developed sympathy for them. Imran certainly was not alone in perpetuating this narrative, but he was the most effective one. Due to this obfuscating narrative, the government could not muster the essential political will to take a stern action for a long time.

Besides perpetuating an extremist conducive narrative, Imran also undermined the democratic process by not accepting the election results and indulged in petty street politics. For six months, instead of being in the National Assembly and taking part in constructive criticism of the legislation, Imran and his supporters were indulging in outright hooliganism on the streets. His supporters simply followed him, oblivious to the fact that no pre-election survey had predicted that PTI would win. During those six months, the economy lost billions of rupees, the civil-military balance skewed to the latter, and a new kind of virulent agitation tactics got injected into the national political landscape. In the end, no rigging was proved, putting a huge question mark over the rationale for those protests.

Furthermore, in the Panama case also, PTI has adopted the same tactics. Instead of developing parliamentary accountability, it has tried to go for a judicial route which, as I have argued previously, can lead to many problems in the future. Imran’s lust for power is overriding every other concern.

During these four years, PTI has not been a part of any progressive legislation. In fact, it even opposed the women protection bill passed in the Punjab Assembly.

In my opinion, the impact of political parties is best assessed by the way they influence national trajectories. PTI’s impact on Pakistan’s political trajectory is by and large negative. Instead of strengthening democracy and parliamentary practices, PTI has weakened it. Instead of playing a progressive role, it has become the embodiment of reactionary politics in Pakistan.

In our obsession over an honest leader, we are losing the bigger picture. A mature and educated person should not be swayed by simplistic notions that just because Imran is “honest”, he will therefore be somehow best for Pakistan.


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 (

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

  • Hasan


  • Keyboard Soldier

    Deep down Imran means good, but he isn’t talented enough to impress the common Punjabis; the main demographic that needs winning, if he’s to sit in Islamabad.

    Second, he’s a bit unpredictable; and this is not something that Rawalpindi wants in its set of already a million problems at hand.Recommend

  • Saqib Ali Rana

    when you want to get views “the earth is flat: Proved in this book”Recommend

  • Aamir Ghaznavi

    What about the current elite, do you think they are best for Pakistan ???Recommend

  • Nadia

    I guess its in Pakistan best interests to be ruled by corrupt leaders who come to power through dynastic sucession.Recommend

  • jiyala

    And PPP / PML-N are best for Pakistan? You should get back to reality.Recommend

  • Mudassar

    Huh….. what crapRecommend

  • Qiko

    Corruption isn’t our biggest problem, what we need more than anything else is rule of law and that won’t come from any party that’s so beholden to “the establishment”Recommend

  • RA

    Waste of space… the argument is completely incoherent and makes no sense.Recommend

  • Naeem Rehman

    Absolutely rubbish. You have no understanding of evolution, i.e. evolution in societies and nations.. People like you are influencing those young minds who will get disappointed in their country and its progress. At this stage Imran Khan is the best option for Pakistan. I can write a very long respond to you but I’m sure it will be a wasted effort. P.S. I also danced to the WC victory in 1992 and come from your generation.Recommend

  • Humza

    That’s what people like you forget to see. Whether PPP or PML or any other party, a functioning system is all the country needs. Someone like Imran Khan who ignores his own faults, off shore accounts and mistakes is only too eager to derail the whole country in his lust for power. The fact is a stable system can steer any nation to success. If PPP and PML are as bad as you say, why is this nation now making the greatest economic gains it has ever made in its existence according to London and New York based analysts? Why is it being upgraded from developing to an emerging market and why are all economic indicators on the up when most Muslim countries in the world are going down? Something called democracy I guess !Recommend

  • Haady Minallah

    What are the alternatives? Tried and tested incompetent nawaz or the the king of corruption zardari? Or how about both of them because they are on the same side and have recently joined hands to protect each others corruption. Recommend

  • Wajid

    The so called economic gains are due to debts…
    And sir if u remembered the martial law era of ayub,zia,and musharaff. The GDP growth was above 5%. In ayub era upto 9% so that was because of democracy???
    we belive in democracy but not curroptocracy, in previous govt tenure the gdp was the lowest, in the histroy of pakistan…Recommend

  • your father

    Another new writter trying to get the job …. keep going son you are on the write pathRecommend

  • Muhammad Daud Alam

    if anyone wants to get noticed, criticizing IK is the best option.Recommend

  • Muhammad Daud Alam

    i will always expect something valuable and top notch from a student of two top notch universities in the world.Recommend

  • Yasir Khan

    Bro, could you please elaborate on the Economics progress you mentioned?Recommend

  • Maryam

    Then who is mature and educated person, who is being swayed?Recommend

  • Qaiser Mehmood

    I can tell you. It’s actually huge burden of loansRecommend

  • Qaiser Mehmood

    “In the end, no rigging was proved, putting a huge question mark over the rationale for those protests.”
    I think you forget the 3 out of 4 constituencies recheck results that IK demandedRecommend

  • Zeeshan Khan

    If honestly is not the criteria than what Nawaz Sharif and Zardari are doing to Pakistan is what Pakistan people deserve. An honest man can learn the traits and improve. A corrupt leader will only improve on his corruption and there is no end to greed for Money. So before you start judging people because of their flaws / drawbacks the main point to consider is the personal traits offered by such person.Recommend

  • A.A. Warraich

    I being a PTI supporter disagree with you. The basis for this are:

    1. I don’t think (as u mentioned) that once IK is in power, then every problem will be disappeared. All these problems are generated over a period of nearly 70 years so it will take time to get rid of them.

    2. U said that he has not being aside with Democracy, I don’t think that a system named as “democracy” which is actually run by the political mafia of majorly 2 parties is to be supported by a leader like Khan. Also, please stop putting on the allegation of not accepting the Election Results, as all the constituencies challenged turned out to be sabotaged

    3. U said he has not been a Parliamentary person over this time, why to sit in a hall full of the people who are sitting there for the sake of defending the corruption of each other and which is mutually agreed to help out each other in hour of need.

    4. We believe in him, We supported him and will always support him even only on the basis of him being Honest, because if a person is honest to himself, to the society, to his job, to his designation and to the nation, only then he can actually do something for the people rather than making money in the name of sons and daughters.Recommend

  • Abid

    You deserve Zardaris…Recommend

  • JKhan

    How much did you make for this article? Be honest if you can?Recommend

  • Parvez

    ET…you should seriously do something about your comment section……it’s just not functioning well.Recommend

  • Israr Khan

    Raja i saw the article and saw ur name i did not even have to read the article which tribune is showcasing against IK. Imran khan is HONEST and THAT alone is BEST for PAKISTAN, how many honest leaders have ruled Pakistan lately ? None it has been corrupt musharaf corrupt nawaz and corrupt zardari so IMRAN KHAN IS HONEST AND THIS IS THE BEST FOR PAKISTAN … AN HONEST LEADER… Recommend

  • Israr Khan

    hamza beta look arround after panama there has been street riots in usa in uk in iceland in and arround the world beta look up and read what u have written, dont simply write it, ok look next time u write please before posting just read it urself u might not want to post itRecommend

  • Israr Khan

    oooo my GOD u r defending NAWAZ SHAREEF Recommend

  • canman

    C’mon!! You can’t ask a PTI supporter to go through that. This article should be illegal.Recommend

  • Abubakar

    His auntie Farzana Raja knows better :DRecommend

  • Qiko

    He hid the name of the company and it’s associated bank accountsRecommend

  • Qiko

    He’s been trying to sabotage the country since his failure in 2013Recommend