Politics has a weird way of distributing people into ideological camps. ‘Ideological’ here is being used as a concession to describe the different variations of love as well as hate that surrounds any popular political leader. And Imran Khan, in this regard, is perhaps the strongest political stimulant in the current landscape of our democracy.
What prompts such strong reaction, for and against the Kaptaan? Why is there such disparity between those who hate him, and those who would follow him to whatever is the political equivalent of the gallows? Why can’t reasonable people agree on their opinion of Kaptaan? And what does this mean for the society that Kaptaan has inherited in his premiership?
Let us try and understand this phenomenon: there are four kinds of people who love, support or follow Imran Khan. One, those who are charmed by the charisma and life-story of the world cup winning Kaptaan; Two, those who are optimists (or are too young to be cynical) and therefore, view the Kaptaan as an island of hope amidst seas of corruption and incompetence; Three, (the seasonal) political supporters who expect that Kaptan’s rise to power will bring them material success; And four, those who hate the likes of Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif, end up loving Khan for his belligerent agenda against these tainted personalities.
Similarly, those who dislike Imran Khan can also be divided into four categories: One, the political supporters and allies of Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif; Two, those who believe in some sordid version of civil-military imbalance, in a way that makes them hate everything that the military supports (while living in their houses in DHA, of course); Three, those who are perpetual cynics, and start every other sentence with ‘yeh mulk theek nahi ho sakta…’; And Four, an army of Twitteratis who believe that they are smarter than they actually are, and are under the (wrong) impression that their opinion matters more than it actually does.
There is not much that can be done or said about those who oppose the Kaptaan because of their own links and alliances with the Sharif/Zardari clans. After all, what argument – for a better Pakistan – can be given to someone whose personal ambition is linked to the coat-tail of a corrupt past? What reason can be done with those whose survival and influence was linked to the subsistence of the status quo that ruled over a starving nation? All that we can hope for is that such people find the moral courage to follow a leader (any leader, not necessarily Imran Khan) who believes in enriching the people over his own coffers.
Turning to the perpetual cynics, who are convinced that this nation and her people will never recover from their debilitating circumstances. You find these people in posh drawing-rooms that clutter the urban landscape of our country. Mostly in their post-retirement years (with someone like Roedad Khan as their mascot), this group is famous for making doomsday projections about all that is wrong with this country. Their argument, mostly, for why this country will never change for the better follows some story (from their heyday years) when they tried to bring about change, and failed. And since they failed, it must mean that no one will can succeed. Least of all a cricketer who has no experience in governance, and has come in riding on the wave of an establishment-sponsored accountability process. Yeh mulk iss tarah theek nahi ho sakta…
More serious, in terms of argument, are those who oppose Imran Khan because of his (alleged) alignment with the ‘establishment’. Their contention is that Kaptaan has signed on to become a proxy for the khakis, and is being ‘used’ by them to target all anti-establishment elements. They further argue that Kaptaan’s pro-establishment rhetoric is making a mockery of the due process of law, and perhaps more nefariously, is turning jingoistic patriotism into an instrument of targeting dissenters.
Fair enough. This argument may have some merit, and we certainly do not want a government that is merely a proxy of undemocratic forces. However, is it reasonable to oppose Kaptaan on the basis that the military or judiciary (for the lack of a better word) ‘support’ him? Should that be the sole test for political choice? Does khaki ‘support’, alone, warrant opposition of an individual? Should we not, instead, first asses what Kaptaan’s plans are for the economy, industry, social sector reform, and foreign affairs? And if he is a better alternative than the likes of Sharif and Zardardi, does he still warrant our wrath because he is not staging a stand-off with the deep State? Put another way, would such people stop supporting Nawaz Sharif if he reached a truce with the ‘establishment’? Is Zardari dearer to such people because of his threat to knock the foundations of the State? And if Imran suddenly got up and challenged the Army Chief of the Chief Justice to a wrestling bout, will he suddenly be more fit the rule the country?
Lastly, and this is important, let’s talk a little about the army of Twitteratis, who consider themselves smarter (or purer?) that all others. The handful of ‘social media activists’, who are under some misconception that they are the torch-bearers for the rest of Pakistan. Here is some news for them (us) all: the bottom half of our population, which is in the direst need of governmental help for even the most basic of amenities, cares very little about the social media brigade. They want clean water, and do not care about whether the government providing it is pro or anti-establishment. They need healthcare, education, and jobs… regardless of whether Nawaz Sharif gets his air-conditioner in Adiyala or not. They don’t follow the Twitter trends nor do they troll their opponents. And so the social media fanatics need to come to a simple realization: they/we are not nearly as important as we think we are, and our opinons are far less consequential than we think they are.
Maybe Kaptaan is not going to solve any of the problems faced by our country. Maybe he will be no better than the Sharifs and the Zardaris. Maybe he will turn out to be a real stooge of the establishment, with no spine of his own. Maybe Pakistan will continue to suffer from the evils that are entrenched in our society. And if that happens, we should all criticize the Kaptaan, and never vote for him again.
But till then, let us muster the courage to give this government a chance. And hold on for a just a moment, before throwing our stones at the idea of Naya Pakistan.
The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore. He has a Masters in Constitutional Law from Harvard Law School.