The demagogue in Khan

October 07, 2012

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TALIBAN Khan is back. Today, Imran Khan and his band of angry Khanistas will be in full cry.

They will rail against the state. They will decry the spilling of blood in Fata. They will wring their hands and speak of peace. They will claim state policy is endangering Pakistan and Pakistanis.

They will be lying. Not in a well-meaning but-they-don’t-know-better way. They will be lying through their teeth.

Khan knows what he’s doing. He’s being exactly the cynical politician he curses and spits on every hour of every day on every TV channel.

In Fata, the drones fall in North Waziristan, and occasionally South Waziristan. Khan is going nowhere near where the drones strike.

Why?

Because drone missiles may rain down on Fata, but they resonate in Pakistan proper. A made-for-TV dog and pony show that will be high on drama and low on substance will resonate with Khan’s base.

In Punjab, they love their nationalism. Chest-beating, drum-banging, fire-and-brimstone nationalism. Pakistan is under attack! The imperialist Americans are out to destroy Pakistan! Imran Khan is standing up for what’s good and right. We must support him.

Ergo, a few more votes come election time and some red meat to keep the base from thinking too much about factionalism and infighting in the PTI.

The same goes for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. They’re afraid of the Taliban. They don’t like the army. But they’re also suspicious of the US and bitter about what their Pakhtun brethren have suffered in Afghanistan and Fata.

So Khan rattling the American cage stirs up the right kind of emotions. In a province where so many parties are jostling for votes, every little bit counts.

And because this is Khan, arrogant, head-in-the-clouds Khan, he probably thinks protesting drones and military operations — though mostly just drones — will boost the PTI’s chances in new electoral terrain.

Fata for the first time will be contested along party lines at the next election. That’s 12 seats in parliament up for grabs. Twelve seats that were nominally independent but that will now go to some party or the other. Twelve seats out of 272 directly elected seats in an assembly that will be fragmented and where every seat will count come government-formation time after the elections.

The problem with Khan isn’t that he’s playing politics. Bashing your opponent, promising milk and honey, pandering to the lowest common denominators to reap the maximum electoral benefits — all of that is par for the course, here or anywhere, in politics.

The problem with Khan is that he’s endangering Pakistan and Pakistanis.

Yell loud enough, mock long enough, condemn emphatically enough — and what you say can begin to sound like the truth here.

But there is also an objective truth. We fight in Fata because there is a terrible and tenacious foe there, a hydra-headed enemy that craves destruction and is fantastically good at it.

Mercifully, those who understand the enemy and put their lives on the line fighting it will not be deterred by Khan’s antics. The army will fight on because it knows it has no choice.

Also mercifully, Taliban Khan’s antics won’t provide comfort to the enemy, his lies in South Waziristan and on Fata will not swell the enemy’s ranks, and there isn’t going to be a surge in militant violence because Khan wants to play politics with Fata.

But Khan’s march today will have pernicious effects. Complex effects that the glib Khanistas will try and swat away with high-sounding pabulum.

Stripped of the hype — and the lies — Khan’s antics amount to buttressing and mainstreaming resistance to a modern and progressive Pakistan.

Khan may have Asad Umar and Jahangir Tarin who want to fix the economy. He may have Shafqat Mahmood who wants to bring some professionalism and competence to governance. He may have Shah Mehmood Qureshi who wants to use diplomacy to improve ties with the outside world.

But all of that is meaningless if we don’t get rid of the militants and the infrastructure of jihad.

And we will never be rid of the militants and the infrastructure of jihad until Pakistanis understand who the enemy is, why it is the enemy and what the enemy wants to do to Pakistan.

And Pakistanis will never understand any of that if mainstream politicians parrot the lies the security establishment told us for years until the lies blew up in its face and took down the rest of us as collateral damage.

Do Khan’s lies make him worse than the dangerously delusional security establishment and the wickedly cowardly politicians who have betrayed this country and its people over and over again? No.

But it does set him alongside them. It makes him yet another demagogue whispering seductive nonsense into the ears of Pakistanis while the enemy creeps up from behind, sword in hand.

What if the people don’t think they’re being seduced or anaesthetised for harm, the PTI will ask. What if it’s the critics who are brainwashed and the pontificating analysts who have walked this country into a cul-de-sac with no way back, the Khanistas will shoot back.

But that’s what happens when demagogues play politics and distort the undeniable. While the false argument rages, the real threat — the problems of militancy, extremism and radicalism and the enabling environment Khan is helping perpetuate — will grow in plain sight, ignored by the wilfully ignorant.

The obvious problem: what we refuse to see, what we refuse to accept, still has very real effects. Militancy and the extremist mindset are as real as real can be.

Today, Taliban Khan and the little Khanistas will bask in the warm glow of adulation. But it will come to be remembered as the harsh glare of truth.

The truth that the demagogue who preached about saving Pakistan helped make Pakistan and Pakistanis that much less safe.

The writer is a member of staff.

cyril.a@gmail.com Twitter: @cyalm