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Is Imran Khan really Pakistan’s Donald Trump?

September 21, 2015

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It’s one thing to deal with a man often referred to as Im the Dim. It’s a very different thing altogether to deal with a man who merits the moniker of Donald the Dangerous.
It’s one thing to deal with a man often referred to as Im the Dim. It’s a very different thing altogether to deal with a man who merits the moniker of Donald the Dangerous.

In a recent Dawn op-ed, Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy argued that Imran Khan is the Donald Trump of Pakistan. I beg to differ.

Yes, there are many striking similarities between the two men. Both are celebrities-turned-politicians with sky-high egos.

Both espouse very conservative views and exploit the deep anti-government grievances of right-wing constituencies. And both are as far as one can possibly get from camera-shy wallflowers.

And yet, these convergences are merely superficial. In the end, the analogy simply doesn’t hold for me.

Political scale

First, Khan occupies a significant position in Pakistan’s political hierarchy. He’s elevated the PTI to great prominence in quite rapid fashion, and he boasts a track record of electoral success.

In short, Khan is a bonafide political star. Trump, to put it mildly, is not.

Trump is a wildly successful businessman, but he’s barely gotten his feet wet in politics. And don’t be fooled by his high-flying act as a leading Republican Party presidential candidate.

In US presidential campaigns, fringe candidates often ride on the coattails of populist anger to rush to the front of the pack early on, only to quietly fade away later on.

Naïve not nefarious

Second, Khan may harbour some misguided and troubling views (I’ve written previously in this space about his disturbingly complacent attitudes toward anti-state militancy). Still, they pale in comparison to Trump’s. Trump says such outrageous things that he makes Khan sound like Abdul Sattar Edhi.

Let’s face it: Naya Pakistan may be naïve, but it is neither nasty nor nefarious.

Also read: Imran Khan says will come out on streets against ECP

It’s certainly fanciful to promise an end to corruption in 90 days, but it’s downright cruel and bordering on racism to call for a “Great Wall of Trump” to keep Mexican immigrants out of America.

Also, when was the last time we heard about a cancer hospital developed and funded by Trump — or, for that matter, about any type of Trump charitable project?

Trump claims to contribute to many different charities, and I’m quite sure he does. Yet, he’s no prodigious philanthropist. In fact, an investigation by The Smoking Gun website has concluded that Trump may be the “least charitable billionaire in the United States.”

The supporters

Third and finally, let’s consider the supporters of Khan and Trump.

Not to state the obvious, but there are many admirable and well-informed Insafians out there. Generally speaking, they are a well-intentioned (even if sometimes naïve) lot.

Yes, some will troll you viciously on Twitter. Some can be quite intense in person, too, and especially when railing about drones or other US-patented evils.

But even the most unpleasant Insafians can’t hold a candle to Trump’s partisans.

What’s so scary about Trump’s supporters is not necessarily what they say or do — but rather what they don’t say and don’t do.

It’s worth watching the video of Trump’s town hall meeting in New Hampshire a few days back. At one point, a supporter in the crowd asks, “when can we get rid of” Muslims. Trump’s response: “We’re going to be looking at that.”

This brief exchange was sickening enough. But so was the way in which the audience reacted — or more accurately, did not react.

From the time the question was posed to the time that Trump uttered his terse response, the people seated behind Trump barely batted an eyelid. They simply sat there; several appeared to be smiling.

Also read: Trump in trouble for not stopping anti-Muslim remarks

It was as if the terrible things said in such a shocking back-and-forth were somehow commonplace, and didn’t merit one iota of concern.

Contrast this with Khan’s jalsas, when scores of supporters cheer him on as he thunders about drones or vote-rigging, or even when he grandstands atop a container while saying nasty things about Nawaz Sharif.

These supporters may be endorsing some questionable viewpoints and highly distasteful remarks, but at least they’re not acquiescing in the most base and ugly form of prejudice (this is not to say, alas, that all Khan supporters are unabashed champions of Pakistan’s imperiled religious minorities).

It’s one thing to deal with a man often referred to as Im the Dim. It’s a very different thing altogether to deal with a man who merits the moniker of Donald the Dangerous.

Are there troubling dimensions to the politics of Imran Khan? Absolutely. But are they as troubling as the politics of Donald Trump?

Absolutely not.

So, who should be known as Pakistan’s Donald Trump? I’ll let others answer that question. At any rate, it’s not Imran Khan.