Why Imran Khan’s HARDtalk interview would make every Pakistani cringe

Published: June 17, 2018

Leaders and polished politicians are frequently called masters of the art of spin. They use this ‘spin doctrine’ in debates and interviews to satisfy the viewers, all the while deflecting from the real questions being asked. Similarly, even second-tier politicians know that defensive body language like hand-wringing, arms folded across the chest, clenched fists or narrowed eyes should be avoided during interviews, so as to seem collected in their responses.

But perhaps Imran Khan is not a seasoned politician yet, or he simply is not good at being asked critical questions.

His recent interview to Zeinab Badawi, the host of the famous BBC show HARDtalk, proves this statement. Imran – the darling of the Pakistani media who is not accustomed to giving a genuine interview loaded with critical questions – seemed helpless during the show. On the other hand, Badawi was successful in highlighting that Imran and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) are only limited to sloganeering.

To start off, Imran was asked why he is sure of his electoral win in the upcoming elections, as recent surveys still show the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) ahead of the PTI and expected to win. He simply responded that surveys are never an accurate indicator for anyone winning the polls.

Fair enough.

However, while answering a question later regarding his party’s government in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P), Imran referred to surveys which showed his party’s popularity in K-P – the same surveys which he earlier suggested offer no indication of reality on the ground.

This was not a one-off event; Imran appeared rather clueless in the entire interview. When Badawi suggested PTI’s manifesto is not different from the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) or the PML-N, Imran had no logical argument to counter that. On being questioned regarding missing persons and human rights violations, Imran sounded ill-informed. Likewise, on a question asking why he lives in a 300-acre luxurious house and talks about the slums of Pakistan, Imran had no answer other than saying he acquired the Bani Gala through white money.

The most interesting part of the entire interview, however, was to see a flustered Imran struggle with answering Badawi’s questions regarding PTI’s performance in K-P. Quoting PPP leader Khursheed Shah’s statement, which questioned how a party that could not create a few thousand jobs in K-P during its five-year tenure would create 10 million jobs in the whole country, Badawi asked Imran to comment. Imran’s response – that being his political opponent Khursheed has to pass such remarks – was disheartening to watch.

After prompting him to talk about his party’s performance in K-P, Badawi asked Imran how many hospitals and schools were constructed, or clean drinking facilities provided during PTI’s tenure in K-P, if any at all. Imran’s response was that his party is “very popular” in K-P and will win the elections once again. He did his best to avoid answering the question, but as this was a BBC show, there was no hope of any pressure on the channel to not ask such “tough” questions.

This interview proved what some people in the country, particularly those who live in the province, have known for a while – PTI has nothing considerable to show for its performance in K-P. Imran may have celebrity charm in his favour and millions of devoted fans, but politics is not all about charm or blind followers. To get votes, one has to be able to claim some progress, and Imran has failed miserably on that front.

During PTI’s five years in government, Imran was busy bashing the PML-N and PPP and showing his love for street agitation. While his dharnas wasted the time, energy and resources of our nation, all to try and topple the PML-N government, it is evident through this interview that nothing was being done in K-P. After all, Imran could not claim having built a single university, or any significant improvement in hospitals, structural reforms, or infrastructural projects. His lack of response makes one doubt the veracity of the billion tsunami project, as well as the 350 dams that have allegedly been built but do not seem to exist.

In the entire interview, Imran could be seen getting defensive, and yet he remained unable to prove any single point in favour of PTI’s performance in K-P. On the contrary, his diversions from the questions and his U-turns from positions stated by him earlier on in the conversation (such as his contradictory response on the surveys), all showed that Imran still has a long way to go to learn the art of speaking rationally.

Perhaps Imran needs to realise he cannot grow in stature simply by declaring all his opponents to be dwarfs incapable of governing the country, especially when he cannot even govern a province. This interview has proved that apart from those who blindly follow him, the world has a clear view of the dismal performance the PTI has delivered thus far. Instead of simply making tall claims, it’s time for Mr Khan to do some real work.

Imad Zafar

Imad Zafar

The writer is a columnist and writes for various English and Urdu publications. He tweets at @rjimad (twitter.com/rjimad)

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