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View from US: A rally does not a victor make

November 20, 2011

If you think Imran Khan to be a super saint who will only allow saints to join him, think again. Granted IK is untainted, untried and unfamiliar to statecraft, he alone cannot save Pakistan as many of us, me included, wish. Even if he is the messiah we have waited for, where does he get his team of disciples from? People who could be called true to life, true to reality, true-dealing, true-devoted, true-disposing, true-souled, true-spirited and truehearted.

I can wager right now that none can pass the truth test. Old skeletons rattle in their closets. Open and they will fall out in plenty. We already hear of old guns, who served dictator Musharraf loyally, wanting a trip to New Atlantis on IK’s wooden ark. He’s the Noah and these fellas are the herd who want to be saved from the Great Flood. Better for IK to let them drown.

Here’s a sample of the menagerie that the cricketing legend may collect. That chap with flashing eyes and foul temper, Musharraf’s former Faisalabad-bred law minister, and people who advised the Gen to sack the Chief Justice; retired generals who kowtowed to their chief but stabbed him. Pretty Pollies dressed to kill but empty-headed. Bribable bankers and expert book-fiddlers. Sleazy businessmen with sleaziest deals.

I don’t need to direct you to the junkyard where the gangsters await recycling. You know them well, but does IK? Don’t forget, Pakistan is a country whose leaders lack shame, memory and brain. Old recycled crooks are always available for rehire and resale. Why go far? Look at Zardari, who has within two years taken back the Chaudhry clan after calling them the Qatil League before the world!

‘Oh wow, Oh wow! Oh wow’, to quote the Apple icon Steve Jobs who uttered these two words, three times, before falling silent forever. Perhaps he saw heavens open and angels arrive to escort him back to a place much better than the earth, in his view. But I borrow Jobs’ last word for living human beings, our rulers, who have no fear of death, only love of life and loot.

Going by Murphy’s Law, “Anything that can go wrong, will.” So, while I don’t want to sound a prophet of doom, “If there are two or more ways to do something and one of those results in a catastrophe, then someone (IK) will do it that way,” says the Law. Seriously, can you all exercise your brains and come up with a few good men and women available to serve IK? I can’t.

Masood Sharif Khattak does not agree with me. He has joined Imran Khan whom he addresses reverently as the “Party Chief”. Before he joined, I asked Khattak in an email if he would still support him should IK usher in trainloads of crooks? Calling my question “hypothetical,” Khattak fired back, “I have unflinching confidence in Imran Khan that, no matter what the political costs may be to him, he will never accept crooks in the fold of the PTI. Acceptability of crooks in the PTI is an impossibility in the light of my understanding of the PTI and its dynamic chief Imran Khan.”

Khattak began his career in the army. The last post he held was as the chief of Intelligence Bureau during BB’s second term. When her government fell, he was thrown in jail. Later, he was made a member of the central executive committee and a vice president of PPP. He was known to be close to the former first couple but had a falling out weeks before BB’s assassination.

Another man who thinks the world of IK is Lionel Barber. Were you to read his adoration printed a year ago in Financial Times, you’d say Imran Khan arrived not today but yesterday! The hardboiled British editor drops his starchy snobbery to write a full page paean on “one of the finest cricketers of his generation”. He gushes like an excited schoolboy meeting his hero and allowed quality time at IK’s perch. “Fixing a time and location for our sporting encounter has proved a challenge. ‘I almost didn’t make it,’ says the great all-rounder and six-hitter, by way of confirmation,” writes Barber on return to London.

On the other hand, the FT editor disdains presidential overtures and government trappings during his trip to Islamabad. Barber boxes Zardari’s interview into the corner and instead goes for a full spread on his fellow Oxonian. “Imran and I were contemporaries at Oxford but we never met at the crease (thankfully – Ed). “Really?”’ exclaims the maestro. ‘What years? And which college?’ Imran has obviously become accustomed to every Tom, Dick and Harriet claiming to have been at Oxford with him in the 1970s. But he appears satisfied by my own credentials (St Edmund Hall 1974-78).”

Imran then takes his interviewer outside for a friendly game of cricket, described with delight by Barber in his write-up. He can’t resist going overboard on IK’s looks: ‘He is tall, sinewy and, at 57, still strikingly handsome… As I take notes, I look briefly around the room: three tribal swords from Waziristan on the wall, two beautiful carpets hanging to the left and right – but not a cricket trophy in sight.

‘I auctioned them all for the cancer hospital,’ explains Imran. He never realised his own sons would share his passion for the game. As we bid farewell, I sense that I have been in the presence of not merely a (great) player but also a gentleman. The product of a bygone age, not just in cricket but also in politics.”

Yours truly too was lucky to spend a couple of hours at IK’s perch way back in summer of 2009. Here’s how I began my column on this space: ‘Slouching towards oblivion is a phrase I’ve borrowed. Never mind. It sits well on Imran Khan, my interviewee for the next two hours. I must know if he’s fast becoming history? While IK, as all call him, gains the stature of a rock star when cranking up issues that hit you in the heart, his buzz doesn’t last long. The chief justice’s restoration has left him by the roadside. Why? We’ll get to it in a moment.

‘Today, he sits in splendid isolation serenaded by the magnificent Margallas facing him directly... the interview is hardly a scoop. Imran is an open book. His pronouncements are like threadbare clichés. He’s anti-America; Taliban-tolerant and an NRO-basher. Drone attacks are his catchphrase. So what else is new? To fire up things, I sprinkle some more truth that bedevils IK’s ascent to the very top...’ More on this another time.