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Vote for the faith healer

May 09, 2013

AT the risk of annoying left-liberal friends in Pakistan with their obvious scorn for Imran Khan, let me say that I can now see in him a more agreeable prospect for their country than they would grant.

And it is not in a rush of sympathy after his unnerving injury at Tuesday’s rally that I strayed towards the current albeit tentative conclusion.

Without going into how many hospitals he has built or how many wickets he has taken in a fabulous cricketing career, I wish to focus on the two great men who have featured in Imran’s autobiography as his inspiration.

I am not sure if any other existing leader in Pakistan has collated his thoughts in a book. The men who have inspired him are Allama Iqbal and Ali Shariati, one an anti-colonial Muslim poet, the other an anti-imperialist Muslim sociologist.

Given their respective ideals, both would strike a chord with the mass mood in Pakistan today, chiefly a quest to dissolve the sectarian knot that has tightened menacingly around the country’s neck. At the same time, Iqbal, a liberal Sunni and Shariati, an eclectic Shia, would back a much-delayed move to address the travails of the impoverished dehqan and his ravished khet.

As an Indian scribe I should desist from offering opinions about what is good or bad for Pakistan. However, what happens in Pakistan affects India, though not necessarily in the way that much of the Indian establishment formulates the nexus.

Every serious contender in Pakistan’s elections wants good relations with India. That is a heartwarming thing, but the main foreign policy issue for Pakistan after the elections will be Afghanistan, and not necessarily India.

If the crisis in Syria spreads, or should Israel do something adventurous with Iran, there’s no knowing where it would land Pakistan. Who is best equipped to negotiate the Iran-Saudi rivalry that often plays out in Pakistan with debilitating consequences?

Few Indian ‘experts’ on Pakistan, self-absorbed as they usually are on TV, have spared a thought for this huge challenge in the neighbourhood confronting the next government — the chances of further instability if things go wrong in Kabul with the US troop withdrawal.

The key issues at home for the new government, which again only a few Indians usually care to discuss, is the economic loot compounded by a largely self-induced religio-sectarian strife.

The Indian establishment’s interest in Pakistan is a bit like the self-absorbed mannerisms of the Mumbai movie hero, one who seems more worried about his good looks on the screen than in spontaneously looking into the eyes of the heroine for a truly engaging moment. (Scriptwriter Javed Akhtar says this is where thespian Dilip Kumar scored over his rivals — by making that crucial eye contact when he spoke to his interlocutors.)

The limited agenda in Delhi for Pakistan with a standard prescription, pertains to three perennial issues that Indians, or rather their TV channels, are perpetually playing up.

Leave the fate of Jammu and Kashmir exclusively to the Indian security forces; all terrorism in India is Pakistani in origin; and while we need plenty of cross-border trade, let’s not spoil things by pondering easy visas for the non-descript millions on each side who genuinely need them.

Religious and ethnic bigotry has global resonance. India is not untouched by the menace. As an Indian scribe, I was startled to read about two ideological teams in Pakistan’s electoral fray — the self-proclaimed secular parties, and presumably the religious or communal ones.

Muslim extremists would target the secular parties, reports said. By this they meant the Awami National Party, the PPP and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement. Ask the Ahmadis which of the three parties is secular and you might get a different answer.

In my view, the PPP, like the Congress in India, has been living off its early and brief flirtation with left-liberal populism. Equivocal support for women’s interests and a few other similar gestures of liberal appeal are like a coat of make-up to mask an essentially parochial soul.

Bhutto flirted with the Muslim right as Indira Gandhi and her son did with the Hindu right. As for the MQM, it is at best regarded as a better-armed and more intrusive variant of Mumbai’s ethno-chauvinistic Shiv Sena. The erstwhile leftist ANP has been so badly wounded by religious Pakhtuns that it has preferred to forfeit its anti-imperialist edge to confront the challenge.

On the other side of the equation, Nawaz Sharif, once shored up by the army was hoist with his own petard. In between he flirted with the idea of declaring the prime minister the amirul momineen. Imran Khan flirted with the army and had made some regressive noises about hijab.

The ethnic strife in Balochistan is no longer a left-right confrontation. A cursory reading of the autobiography of Mir Ghaus Bakhsh Bizenjo, edited by B.M. Kutty, my friend and comrade of the late Baloch leftist, shows up a darker history.

Amir Abdur Rehman Khan of Kabul promised to help Bizenjo’s grandfather against rivals if he first vanquished the Hazaras. “Unfortunately, he never made to Rask,” recalls Bizenjo. “He was killed in one of the battles against the Hazaras.” The left-right lines are again garbled.

“Who is an enlightened soul?” asked Ali Shariati in one of his groundbreaking treatises on global society and politics. He goes on to describe a leader who is self-conscious of his “human condition” in his time and historical and social setting, and whose awareness inevitably and necessarily gives him a sense of social responsibility. Does the description fit Imran Khan? Or will the readers only remember what I wrote about his worrying penchant for soothsayers and faith healers?

As for the latter, they are usually in demand when the patient has tried every other cure without a promising outcome. Even here Imran Khan has an edge.

The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.