Profile: The man in the container

Updated September 21, 2014


Over the course of the past month or so, the mental image we all had of Imran Khan, has begun to change. — Photo by AP
Over the course of the past month or so, the mental image we all had of Imran Khan, has begun to change. — Photo by AP

Living on the street can change your outlook on life. Being camped out in front of the nation’s parliament for over a month in the company of thousands of your supporters, well, there’s nothing quite like that.

Over the course of the past month or so, the mental image we all had of Imran Khan, has begun to change.

People were used to the big-talking, well-bred scion of an affluent Zaman Park family, who had dared to dream, and in doing so became a hero for millions of Pakistanis around the world. First as a cricketer, then as a philanthropist, and now as a politician.

Only, Imran doesn’t do subtle. On TV each and every day for the past four weeks, he’s shown us that he’s in it to win it.

By his own admission, his battle is directly with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Not the parliament, not the Sharif’s sundry aides; but the big man himself. To Imran, the current PM embodies all that is wrong with the system.

He wasn’t always like this. Indeed, many of his critics termed him naive, an idealist. His abstract charging at the windmills of corruption and injustice was mocked openly in the drawing rooms of the affluent and the powerful.

Now, after one election boycotted and another allegedly rigged, Imran believes that it is his time. Betrayed, in his own words, by the former chief justice, he is more cynical now than he was before the elections.

But he has no regrets. “This movement, all of this, it began with the lawyers’ movement, and I am carrying that struggle for justice forward.”

“If you don’t have rule of law, no system will work.” There is a sense of finality in his voice.

His eyes cloud over at any mention of the former chief justice. “I didn’t join Qadri the last time he came to Islamabad just because I trusted Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry. But he betrayed my trust.”

Needless to say, Imran is convinced that the elections were rigged. “This regime, this fascist regime will now go to any length to remain in power. And I won’t rest until I’ve dethroned them,” he says.

This tone is merely a sample of the venomous language he has used against all his opponents. From the prime minister to the former chief justice and everyone in between, no one has been spared the accusatory ‘Oye!’

The flippant, colloquial style may endear him to the masses, but among the educated classes, it is his irreverence that has made him something of a pariah.

His outbursts against several public figures and, at times, outrageous choice of words, have cost him some modicum of credibility, inside parliament and at the international level as well. He even likes to take credit for inspiring the recent wave of public dissent against political figures, such as Rehman Malik.

Indeed, the recently concluded joint session of parliament was just as hostile to Imran’s designs as he has been towards them. Politically, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf has positioned itself as in such a way that it is being dubbed “anti-democracy”.

But if the foundations of Parliament House have been rocked, it has been due to his perseverance. By sheer force of willpower, just by staying the course for this long, Imran Khan has managed to make believers out of champion sceptics.

Very few expected him to follow through with his promise to live on the street. No one expected him to come this far. And now that he is here, no one is willing to speculate on what will happen next.

Those closest to him always have a sparkle in their eye and a spring in their step, like they know something we don’t know. And though they won’t let on, they insist that there is more yet to come.

Imran has also been dogged by accusations that an unnamed “scriptwriter” is planning his every move. Even though both he and the ISPR have denied the allegations, many political analysts agree there is more to it than meets the eye.

Most recently, PTI’s boat was rocked by the very public break-up between him and his most senior politician, Javed Hashmi. While Hashmi has not exactly been reserved in his outbursts against his former leader, the vitriol with which PTI has attacked its former president has also been surprising.

But whatever the outcome, these four weeks have caused many in the country to change their opinions about the man living in that container.

The realities of life on the road are very different from the everyday mundaneness of life in a home of your own. The tall man from Mianwali has little room to stretch his legs in the narrow, claustrophobic confines of his new quarters.

“This is a mission, missions have no time frame,” he says when asked how long he’ll have to keep this up.

This is backstage, but we’ve all seen the main event. It comes live from the top of the container on nearly every TV channel that your cable provider deems fit to broadcast.

It is from the top of this stage that he addresses the world every night. It is a heady feeling. More powerful than any drug in the world.

Published in Dawn, September 21st, 2014