CAN you create a naya or new Pakistan if your mind is rooted in the past? Despite the fact that Imran Khan is, apparently, well educated, his thinking does not reflect the changes that have taken place in his lifetime. “Intelligence,” as Stephen Hawking once remarked, “is the ability to adapt to change.”

Take, for instance, the firestorm he caused recently with his misogynist remarks by saying in a TV interview that he ‘disagreed with Western feminism’, and that it caused a ‘degeneration of motherhood’. He was ignorant of the fact that the Suffragette movement led to women finally getting the right to vote. And he was blissfully unaware that it was feminists who fought for, and obtained, basic rights like paid leave from jobs to have babies.

Much progressive, pro-women legislation around the world has been passed as a result of the pressure exerted by determined and organised women’s organisations. Khan is clearly oblivious of the incredible effort that goes into child-bearing and then the care that mothers everywhere lavish on their children. To declare that any feminist loves her kids less because of her activism is a calumny.

Why does Imran Khan want to be elected to parliament?

But let’s move on. In a recent interview on BBC’s HARDtalk, Khan expressed his admiration for the jirga system prevalent in the tribal areas, and imposed by the Afghan Taliban in Afghanistan. According to him, it consisted of a jury that handed out quick justice, and could serve as a model for the rest of Pakistan.

Really? These stone-age, so-called juries include no women, and have no knowledge of the law, nor recourse to modern investigative methods. They have often ordered young women to be handed over to aggrieved parties as punishment for the crimes their fathers are supposed to have committed. Granted that our judiciary is totally dysfunctional and currently has almost two million pending cases. But the way forward is surely to reform the existing system rather than impose a backward institution.

Recently, Imran Khan pledged to create 10m jobs over the next five years if he was elected prime minister. I know politicians lie to voters before an election, but surely this is a whopper too big to overlook. In the event, his promise was overtaken by Asif Zardari who declared that, if voted into power, he would create a government job for every Pakistani family that did not currently have a member who was a state employee.

Again, really? And who will pay for this artificial growth in employment? Let me remind the two leaders of a Club of Rome study in the 1970s that estimated the cost of creating a single industrial job to be around $20,000 over 40 years ago. Let’s double the cost now, and it works out to $400 billion. Try running that past the IMF.

And if Khan, like Zardari, is talking about recruiting millions into an already bloated bureaucracy, the public exchequer doesn’t have that kind of money. Even if he manages to raise tax revenue and reduce corruption, this will hardly pay for this populist gesture. His party didn’t succeed in creating many jobs in KP over these last five years. Agricultural land is being fragmented, and the large farms are rapidly mechanising.

In the absence of coherent manifestoes that spell out the costs of programmes, I suppose it’s easy to throw around any figure that will make a good sound bite on TV. This does not mean it will make good policy. Thus far, Khan’s rise has been largely media-driven, and his personal charisma has certainly helped. People are desperate for change, but to make irresponsible and impossible pled­ges erodes the PTI leader’s credibility.

But as he said recently, he is willing to do anything to prevent a PML-N victory in next month’s elections. ‘Anything’ apparently includes issuing tickets to the so-called electables who have flocked to his flag, seeing him as the establishment’s candidate. And if this upsets his many supporters, well, too bad.

Over 10 years ago, Khan wrote an article in which he dismissed Darwin’s theory of evolution as ‘half-baked’. I took issue with him in a column and asked how he was qualified to reject a complex scientific explanation for the slow, gradual evolution of life on our planet. Over the last 150 years, a mountain of evidence has been painstakingly collected by thousands of scientists around the world in support of Darwin’s pioneering work. To simply dismiss it as ‘half-baked’ reveals either ignorance or a lack of humility, or both.

As I watch Khan’s single-minded march towards the Prime Minister’s House, I wonder why he wants to be elected to parliament in the first place. His attendance record was the poorest in the National Assembly over the last five years. And he sent 100,000 curses on that body not long ago. Surely he wouldn’t want to be elected to a parliament he clearly despises.

Published in Dawn, June 30th, 2018



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