A PHOTOSHOPPED picture of Imran Khan has adorned my Facebook page for the last few weeks, which I am planning to remove. The frame is an election-time caricature shared by an irate friend. It shows Imran’s beaming face donning a general’s cap, which is placed over a judge’s wig.

The message endorses the claim by his Indian and Pakistani critics that certain institutions somehow colluded to put the former cricket star at an advantage against his rivals.

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Not privy to any evidence to back the allegations let me limit my comment to what I feel less uncertain about. Now that the battle’s lost and won, to quote the witches in Macbeth, it’s perhaps time to start grappling with the business of governing a deeply troubled nation. That business includes improving relations with India among other foreign policy challenges.

Will Imran Khan’s pursuit of the dream turn out to be any different? He deserves a chance to triumph or lose the plot, hopefully the former.

A good reason I would remove the errant picture of Imran from my page lies in a re-reading of his 2011 memoirs: Pakistan, a Personal History. It cuts through the decibels surrounding the persona of Imran Khan. I looked hard to find traces of Imran’s alleged truck with the military but managed to get evidence to the contrary.

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Imran tells us furiously how Ziaul Haq had wrecked democracy, a factor in his turning down the dictator’s move to induct him in his government. Imran also claims to have been approached by Pervez Musharraf.

The fact that Musharraf has denied offering the former cricketer the prime minister’s job shows what, collusion or chasm with the military? He lists a catalogue of Musharraf’s major indiscretions, critical for Indian and Pakistani scribes to understand Imran’s priorities.

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The nub of the issue facing Pakistan under Imran Khan’s watch would seem to revolve around key assertions he has made. The first is he wants to recast Pakistan after Quaid-i-Azam’s dream. Which liberal friend of Pakistan could quibble with that? 

The most resolutely secular promise made for Pakistan had come from Jinnah in 1947, and a diehard critic like L.K. Advani has lauded it, staking his political career for holding the unusual view.

The problem with this dreaming business is pervasive, however. Like rival claimants to the legacy of Marx, Mao, Gandhi or Mandela, there have been different and opposite interpretations of what Jinnah would have liked his country to be. The Quaid’s self-proclaimed followers have shunned his own testament in the process.

Will Imran Khan’s pursuit of the dream turn out to be any different? In either case, he deserves a chance to triumph or lose the plot, hopefully the former.

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Musharraf in his cavalier political style left behind the debris of the Lal Masjid tragedy and a deeply alienated Balochistan. Imran says it proves that Musharraf was a wannabe Shah of Iran and Mustafa Kemal Ataturk rolled into one.

By seeming to disapprove of Ataturk, Imran is perhaps unknowingly challenging Jinnah’s hero and his dream. A calm discussion should stave off panic attacks among Pakistan’s liberal lobbies when Imran makes such assertions.

What he appears to be saying is that the zeal for modernisation in Pakistan should not come swaddled in Western idioms. By ignoring this caution, the Shah of Iran created grounds for the rise of the Muslim clergy because the poorest Iranians were religious. And the poor were not on the Shah’s radar when he held a landmark carnival amid the ruins of Persepolis to showcase the legacy of the Persian Empire and its mingling with Western modernity.

Imran frowns at the fetes with alien motifs Musharraf held at his residence. He also feels that programmes such as Blind Date emulated on TV in Pakistan were offensive to the orthodox Muslims.

I was watching a TV report on Queen Elizabeth’s 1961 visit to Pakistan. It revealed a cheerful and colourful pageantry in which the orthodox culture was on display in harmony with schoolgirls and village belles offering traditional dances.

Religion and the culture it spawns have emerged as a major challenge for impatient liberals across South Asia. They should look at the most popular poem of Faiz that is sung across India and Pakistan by leftist groups. It is Hum dekhenge, a leftist song that invokes Divine help.

Here, a greater dilemma has dogged India’s communists, which may be of interest to Pakistan’s Imran-baiters. Far from promoting dialectical materialism in 70 years, their cadres are borrowing Hindu symbols to canvass support for their socialist ideals.

And what did Zulfikar Ali Bhutto the overarching liberal do with religion? And when did Nawaz Sharif give up the idea, if he ever did, of becoming ameerul momineen, a religious title he borrowed from the Afghan Taliban?

Imran has been accused of being anti-women. A woman critic also berated him for marrying a woman half his age. In her reference to Jemima she accused her of being a Zionist. This is like the calumny heaped on Sonia Gandhi in India. As for the age disparity, who is being a moralist here?

A more serious charge is that Imran sees Western feminism as degrading motherhood. I’ve heard his interview and it shows Imran as neither anti-women nor anti-feminist.

Western feminist mothers are themselves sharply divided whether they should be compelled to breastfeed their babies. According to Unicef they must, as other than women’s rights, a child’s rights are also at stake. The debate about motherhood and feminism is a healthy debate, as simple as that.

Imran has expressed concern for democracy on two fronts: a free media and horse-trading of elected deputies. He is short by a few deputies in the National Assembly. And the media has been getting the short end of the stick.

It’s just the right time to hold the future prime minister’s feet to the fire.

The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.


Published in Dawn, July 31st, 2018



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