Terming liberals as “khoonis” only further exposes Imran Khan’s Taliban-apologist tendencies, lack of knowledge and right-wing mindset

Published: December 4, 2017

Imran Khan gestures to his supporters. PHOTO: REUTERS

I have always been genuinely interested in the Indian political discourse, particularly the way competing ideologies are framed. For example, in India’s political arena, the schism between right-wingers (largely represented by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)) and the liberal left has been growing. In India, despite electoral setbacks, the liberal left nevertheless has a very dominant presence in the media, which has enabled it to continue to stay relevant.

Ironically, a huge constituency of the BJP is composed of the educated middle class who often justify their decision to oppose Indian leftists by terming them as “pseudo seculars” and “fake liberals”.

Relatively in Pakistan, electorally liberal/left side of the political spectrum does not simply exist. Over the years, the political landscape has changed dramatically pushing the society towards the right. Consequently, what we have is just a variation in right-wing political ideologies with Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) perhaps the most right-wing, followed by Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML- N) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP).

The situation is only slightly better when it comes to the media, both electronic and print. We have nevertheless some prominent voices which have over the years provided and continue to provide a counter narrative to the rising right-wing nationalist ideologies. People like Asma Jahangir, Nadeem Farooq Paracha, Mosharraf Zaidi, Raza Rumi and so on, are extremely valuable as they are in many ways the last bulwark against the takeover of the ideological landscape by right-wingers.

However, the treatment meted out to them is in some ways even worse than that accorded to Indian liberals. Here the buck does not stop at calling them “fake” or anti-national but goes beyond that.

PTI’s Imran Khan perhaps articulated his right-wing constituency’s collective opinion perfectly when he called liberals as “khooni” or bloodthirsty in the aftermaths of the Faizabad dharna debacle. In a press conference, which was a sheer torture to watch, Imran chastised Pakistani liberals for their “pro-war” opinions. His contention was that genuine liberals are always against military action and he cited protests by western liberals against wars in Vietnam and Iraq. He then reiterated that it was the “correct” decision of not using force against protestors.

Unfortunately, since Imran commands a diehard and fanatic following, many leapt to his defence on social media. Some of them were even more “khooni” than the accused “khooni liberals”:

Obviously some on the liberal side retaliated:

Ironically, barely two to three days later, there was an attack on the Agriculture Training Institute in Peshawar, conducted not by “khooni liberals” but by those for whom Imran has been giving an apologetic defence for years. In fact by the same lot, who once nominated Imran for negotiation on their behalf and were once called “justified” warriors by him.

Since Imran has once again tried to misguide his so-called “educated” followers, who in turn have gladly lapped on to his words without any introspection, I would like to answer some of his assertions.

First, the Iraq and Vietnam wars cannot be compared to military action against militants in FATA or elsewhere in Pakistan. The former were basically aggressive wars and had imperialist underpinnings while the latter (military action in FATA and other parts of Pakistan) was primarily defensive and for the purpose of re-establishing the state’s writ. A genuine liberal would oppose war in Vietnam and support, or at least conditionally support, some sort of military action in Taliban-held areas because of the extreme human rights abuses committed there.

Second, Imran is wrong to say that liberalism is completely against military action. Yes, some liberals do oppose it on the pretext that it is indiscriminate as it does not distinguish between the actual culprits and the innocent population. However, on the whole, under certain circumstances, it would always support military action. One of such circumstances is the challenge to writ of the state.

Here for the benefit of PTI supporters, I would like to expand upon the philosophy behind liberalism. I hope they do read it as many of them don’t read and reflect and are prone to just abusive behavior.

Liberalism is a philosophical doctrine underpinned by individual rights and freedom. This is the fundamental and single most important founding principle. In fact, everything else emanates from this fundamental principle.

The role of any state emanates from this as well. For example, liberalism envisages protection of individual rights and for this purpose proposes limits on the power of the state in the sense that no single institution is allowed too much power. There are institutional checks and balances. Power is, in fact, dispersed between judiciary, legislature and the executive.

The limits to power are even extended to the concept of democracy. A liberal democracy is not merely majoritarian rule but places some constitutional checks on majority also. For example, the US constitution prevents simple majority through disproportionate representation of its states in the Senate, as irrespective of the population, each state has equal representation.

But liberalism does not envisage a powerless state either. While it tries to put limitations on the concentration of power in one branch or institution, it also wants the state to be effective and powerful to play its role in safeguarding the individual’s interests. Liberals want the state’s role to be enhanced in economic and social sphere. Modern democratic liberalism, in fact, both constraints and enlarges the scope of power of the state both for the protection of individual freedom and provision of better facilities across the board so that individuals can reach their potential.

A liberal state, while constrained, is not a weak state with very limited scope. In contrast, it has a huge responsibility of protecting its citizens’ life, property and freedom, while ensuring access to education and health.

Consequently, preservation of the state against threats (both external and internal) becomes fundamentally important. Disintegration, or for that matter even weakening of the state’s writ, would lead to erosion of the state’s capacity to protect its citizens (to which it owes responsibility). Liberalism would never advocate that writ of the state, and its ultimate monopoly over physical violence is undermined. For this purpose, it would thwart any efforts which try to create state in a state.

In short, liberalism does not advocate undue pacifism when adversaries, whether external or internal, are of illiberal nature. This tendency is not merely an outcome of the liberal nature but is in fact consistent with the liberal emphasis on protection of individual freedom.

Yes, liberalism would try to negotiate resolution in case of secession driven ethnic movements. It will as a first resort negotiate and for the preservation of its territorial boundaries aim to offer more autonomy and better access to basic facilities. However, if the threat is aimed at the very foundation of the state with the aim of overthrowing it and replacing it with a regressive regime, then even liberalism’s first resort could be of war. There is nothing inconsistent to the principle of liberalism there. In short, if aggression of few is completely undermining individual liberties of many, then a military action becomes liberal, as it is undertaken for the protection of the latter.

There is from that perspective a case for military action for war against militants. In Pakistan, most of the militants are not some ethnic outfit but a group which wants to overthrow the state and replace it with a regime which is a very anti-thesis of individual liberties. Frankly in this case, there is actually a moral case for a military action.

Yes, one argument often presented against military action and even drone strikes is that it entails collateral damage and also kills alleged militants without giving them “due process”. Here I would reiterate the importance of the establishment of writ of the state. This is an important point because due process can only be applied where writ actually exists. Only then can you round up the accused and bring them to trial where they can arguably be given a chance to defend themselves.

In a war, whether external or internal, a state first has to establish victory and then bring people to trial. The military action precedes the trials. It is different for criminals in urban centres where state’s overall writ already exists. There you have to capture the militants and bring them to trial. It is simply possible to do that where effective writ exists. You cannot apply due process or any such doctrine if, through barrel of a gun, the militants have created state within a state or have carved out a territory where their own rules apply and monopoly on physical violence is entirely theirs.

By the way, even the Nuremberg Trials occurred after the war when Allies had defeated Nazi Germany. If this due process logic is accepted, then Allies should not have tried to defeat Germany at all as it would not have been possible to isolate the Nazi leaders from ordinary innocent civilians. But Allies had to first defeat and then put people to trial.

The right to due process becomes applicable after the writ is established (or the enemy is defeated in case of external war) and militants or the accused militants are in captivity. In Pakistan’s case, due process would become applicable after the state’s writ has been established. And the state has to establish its writ whether in Lal Masjid, Faizabad or FATA.

So Imran’s assertion that liberalism is totally against war is sheer nonsense.

I will end this article by quoting this brilliant tweet by Ayesha Ijaz Khan.

Shame on you Imran Khan!


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.

  • Rohan

    A terror sympathiserRecommend

  • baba

    So what if he has a “right-wing mindset” ? I hope he truly is right wing. Majority of Pakistanis are conservatives. In a democracy, the conservative majority will rule the country. the most that liberals like you can do is write blogs and tweet.Recommend

  • Brijesh

    The secularism preached in India and Pakistan is not comparable. In India, it has become appeasement. Why else otherwise triple talaq, polygamy etc. are still not banned in India?? On the other hand, the fight of secularism in Pakistan is of different nature. There, minorities are scrambling to save their way of life and for freedom to express their religious sentiments and running from forceful conversions to Islam. So you are comparing apples to oranges when talking about secularism in India and Pakistan.Recommend

  • Asim

    Before lamming liberalism, one should realize that conservatism and right-wing parties have dominated Pakistan since its inception. Daikh lo haal.Recommend

  • ab

    Well i really like the word libtards use in one of the tweets above. suits them.Recommend

  • numbersnumbers

    Recall that before APS slaughter, the great IK never managed to use the words “TTP” and “terrorists” in the same sentence!
    Recall that before APS slaughter, the great IK was chosen by the TTP to act as their representative in negotiations for the governments surrender!Recommend

  • naeemhussain

    Imran Khan is absolutely correct all the so called liberals in Pakistan are working for the interest of the enemies of the country.Recommend

  • ThePrincekhan999

    A Look A Judgement From The Land Of ModiRecommend

  • ThePrincekhan999

    Can The Author Kindly Tell Us What He And Other So Called “Liberals” Wanted The Security Forces To Do.Open Fire????,Rain Bullets On Protesters??????,Create A Law and Order Situation Throughout The Country????Recommend

  • General Kakar

    Imran …Pakistan’s strongman. The man for all seasons and the man for all the right reasons.Recommend

  • Syed Ameer Abbas

    Raja Habib – you didn’t share any example where liberals stood by war?
    Moreover, lets not confuse state writ with Islam. Asian muslims took independence on the name of Islam. So our state write is the supremacy of Islam. And supremacy of Islam is hinged with undoubt faith on Khatam e Nabuwat (PBUH).
    So if state gets involved in changing that, then I’m afraid the writ of the state also becomes objectionable.
    Hope it suffices.Recommend

  • Parvez

    If you listen to the short video, you will notice that for half the period he praises the liberal mind set and explains what, in his mind, is a liberal. Then he goes on to condemn the position taken by our liberal lot, small as they may be, because they called for a strong hard line action to counter the goons sitting at Faisabad.
    In my view his criticism is not for the liberal but for the action recommended by our liberals …. which according to him would have spilt a lot of blood and been counterproductive, like the Lal Masjid action.
    You, and I are entitled to our views….and so is Imran Khan entitled to his, but does calls you and me liberals. His use of the word ‘ khooni ‘ was a poor choice and over the top, but used to emphasize a point he was making.
    I am not an Imran Khan apologist, but of late a section of the media is being hard on him….. my simple question to this lot is, ‘ who is the alternative ? ‘…..Nawaz ?…..Zardari ?.
    So our political system has again thrown up three choices bad, very bad and atrocious. Take your pick.Recommend

  • umar

    People have to make a choice to either vote for a leader who is not financially corrupt but espouses extremist views. On the other hand there are liberal parties like MQM which engage in Mafia like activities. I think voting for liberal parties is better as they might get transformed to less corrupt parties over time. But supporting people who support extremists who have killed 70,000 people in Pakistan and further radicalizing a radicalized population is a sure shot recipe for disasterRecommend

  • umar

    Conservatives are by nature blood thirsty. They never raised a voice Taliban were blowing up the markets. Infact many justify it as a small price to pay for an Islamic system. These people are devoid of all morals.Recommend

  • azfar hasan

    “the most that liberals like you can do is write blogs and tweet” …. and pay taxes, and remain peaceful, and not poke our noses in others affairs, and not block roads and burn government propertyRecommend

  • Patwari

    Agree with you.. Just like Modi. Also known as the Butcher Of Gujrat and leader of Hindustani talibans.
    Now elected PM of a country led by extremists and fundamentalists.Recommend

  • stevenson

    You saw the result of Imran Khan’s dharna and anti state behaviour encourage the Faizabad debacle where protesters can destabilise an entire country and shut down the capital. The person who makes a mockery of an entire democratic system and is hell bent on power no matter what consequence for the country is the real enemy of the state. The problem is the blind love for Imran Khan has blinded his followers to his mental instability and u turns. He is hardly Naya Pakistan but a step backward for the whole nation who hopefully have the common sense to never elect a confused character like him. He is an absconder in the US who refused to attend the court case of his daughter born out of wedlock with Sita White. The court judgement in the US is against him so how can he possibly be sadiq and azim in their minds? Imran needs to grow up and learn to be decent in his language and behaviour.Recommend

  • Patwari

    But Humza has a lot of accounting to do. How his two sons acquired [4] multi
    million dollar properties in London when they were 19 and 21 years old!!! Where did they get the money to buy these properties.!!??!?
    One was still in college. The other did not own any business yet. So??!!
    Nawaz also has an iqama from Dubai !!?!! The man was working
    two jobs.??!!? As PM of Pakland and Managing Director of a company.
    Don’t worry about UTurn Khan……worry about Nawaz and Maryam
    and Safdar and the two sons who are proclaimed absconders.Recommend

  • Phantom

    I just want to know the criteria on the basis of which you felt pitting 4 random anti-liberal tweets vs 4 tweets by well established news people.
    It is so random, one of the tweet only has one like. I could find some random tweets by immature liberals wanting “death” for their enemies etc. Will that prove Imran Khans point? No, it would be foolish.
    Similarly, I don’t see how you are justifying picking up some random strangers on the internet and using their opinion to prove your point. You can do better.

    Also, do you honestly believe Imran Khan is more right-wing compared to registered parties headed by Hafiz Saeed and Khadim Rizvi?

    Imran Khan has a bad habit of name calling, he goes over-board with it. I am not fan of the said habit.
    That said, the way you tend to go after him using hyperbole…is also something of a bad habit…Recommend

  • RHR

    Read the article til the end. Those 4 tweets were posted just to show how his impressionable followers lap on to his every word.
    In the later part of the article, I have challenged this assertion that liberals are always anti war and also this that Vietnam and Iraq wars are equivalent to military action in Taliban controlled areasRecommend

  • Rex Minor

    In the later part of the article, I have challenged this assertion that
    liberals are always anti war and also this that Vietnam and Iraq wars
    are equivalent to military action in Taliban controlled areas

    What is your objection to the Talibans controlling their own non liberal Pashtun region in pakistan and Afghanstan? The Americans have tried to dislodge them and so have Pakistan with their games but without any tangible success. Imran Khan is without doubt a realistic politician and this guarantees his survival

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • Ismail Effendi

    It is painful to go through the pedantic posts by Raza Habib. Imran Khan is a Taliban apologist but Pakistan’s commercial liberals have issues too – chief of which is their selective bias. They just cannot bring themselves to accept that their current hero Nawaz Sharif has a worst record as far as the Taliban and Sipah Sahaba are concerned.Recommend

  • Rex Minor

    And he is destined to become the next prime Minister of the country simply to clean up th swamp of Sharifs and to force their overdue exit from the country.

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • RHR

    PTI supporter?
    I can feel the “hurt” hereRecommend

  • RHR

    Hi Rex
    What are you smoking these days?Recommend