|Illustration by Abro|
Recently the volatile leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI), Imran Khan, told a renowned TV anchor (in an interview) that his persistent allegations against veteran journalist, Najam Sethi, were just a ‘political statement’.
Since last year, Khan had been insisting that Sethi (who was Punjab’s caretaker chief minister during the May 2013 election), had been instrumental in engineering the results in PML-N’s favour by applying ‘35 punctures’ (or making sure Khan’s PTI lost on at least 35 seats in the Punjab).
Sethi has been vehemently refuting the allegations, suggesting that Khan, who was convinced that he would sweep the election, just couldn’t swallow the defeat his party received in Pakistan’s largest province and was now making unsubstantiated allegations and looking for scapegoats.
Sethi also lodged a case against Khan in the courts. During the proceedings at the Supreme Court where PTI was asked to provide evidence for what it alleges is a ‘stolen election’, Khan and his lawyers did not mention anything about Sethi and his 35 punctures.
Believing in malicious rumours and gossip can sometimes be bad for your own reputation
Finally, during a TV interview last week, Khan casually dismissed his own accusation against Sethi as ‘merely a political statement’. His comment was lambasted in the media and the very next day a senior PTI leader, Dr Arif Alvi, tweeted an apology for PTI’s accusations against Sethi, saying the party had just commented on what it had heard from others.
Things then turned even more bizarre when Alvi was derided by some other senior leaders of the PTI for publically rendering an apology, so much so that Alvi then had to actually apologise for apologising!
Khan and his party have so far failed to provide any evidence whatsoever in this regard. And so haven’t the two controversial TV anchors who were echoing Khan’s conspiratorial mantra.
One anchor even claimed that he had a recorded tape that has a conversation in which Sethi himself boasts of having rigged the election in Punjab. Sethi took the anchor to court as well and no such tape emerged.
Things continued to get bizarre, though, when after facing severe criticism in the media and from some of his own supporters for confessing that his ‘35 punctures’ allegations were derived from what he had heard from some other people and that the accusation was just a political statement, Khan rebounded to now claim that Sethi did not apply 35 punctures, but 71!
Though by now the media is largely treating his new statement as a farce, various political commentators have suggested that Khan has become a hostage of bad advice being provided to him by some of his closest associates in the PTI.
At least two such commentators claimed that Khan has ‘weak ears’ (Kachay Kaan) and he readily believes in whatever is fed to him by his close confidants in the party.
This is an interesting observation because this is exactly what veteran cricket journalist, Qamar Ahmed, said in Karachi a few months ago. Chatting with his old BBC Urdu colleagues, Mohammad Hanif (author / journalist) and Mazhar Zaidi (former journalist and now a film-maker) and me at a party, Qamar was giving us details of a book that he was writing (on his 40-plus-year career as a cricket journalist).
He also brought up an episode that Javed Miandad mentioned in his autobiography in which he claimed how some time in the 1980s, Imran and Qamar, almost came to blows over some trivial issue in England.
Qamar Ahmed who has been settled in England for decades was the go-to man for most Pakistani cricketers arriving in that country to play county cricket. He would graciously let them stay in his apartment and would guide them about the ins and outs of life in England.
Khan and Miandad too stayed with Qamar when they began their county careers in the late 1970s and Miandad wrote in his book that this arrangement came to an end when Khan and Qamar had a serious falling out.
Qamar told us that Miandad (for some odd reason) confused the time period in which the altercation took place. According to Qamar, the squabble between Imran and him actually ensued during the 1992 Cricket World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.
‘Imran was a great cricketer and captain, but very vulnerable to rumours fed to him by his close colleagues … ’ Qamar told us. He and Imran had been very close, until he bumped into him in the plane that was carrying the Pakistan team from one Australian city to another during the 1992 World Cup.
Qamar waved and said hello to him only to receive an angry reply and an order to stay away from the team. Taken aback, Qmar responded in kind.
Meanwhile, Javed — who was sitting on one of the seats in the row that separated an angry Imran from a shocked but seething Qamar — jumped up and rapidly moved towards Qamar, telling him ‘Iss sey duur raho, Qamar Bhai, chor doh …’ (stay away from him, let it be).
According to Qamar, Miandad intervened again when Khan and Qamar were about to clash again at the baggage claim area, and this time Miandad bounced in to say: Yaar Qamar bhai, aap koh bola tha iss sey duur raho …!’ (I told you to stay away from him, Qamar Bhai).
Later in the tournament, Miandad informed Qamar that some journalist had told Imran that after Imran’s team had lost a game and Khan had gotten injured, Qamar was seen dancing and rejoicing in the commentary box.
Qamar told Miandad that nothing of the sort ever happened, but Miandad (in his own distinct style of speaking) kept telling him, ‘Chor den, Qamar Bhai, Chor den …’
As a consequence, on Imran’s instructions, Qamar Ahmed, the most senior Pakistani cricket journalist, was boycotted by the Pakistan team throughout the World Cup.
It took another 10 years for the misunderstanding to clear. Qamar says that in the early 2000s, long after Khan had retired and become a politician, he met Qamar at a gathering and finally apologised to him.
Qamar said: ‘He saw me, but I ignored him, because I was still angry with him. But he approached me, smiling, and said, forget about it Qamar, it was just a misunderstanding … ’
Yes, just like that.
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, July 12th, 2015