Pakistan’s Imran Khan: Who was the future once!
Another ambitious and Oxford-educated messiah of hope was rising fast in the East, who promised to restore native pride.
When the precocious 39-year-old David Cameron took over the leadership of the Conservative Party in 2005, he struck a grandiloquent note by accusing sitting Prime Minister Tony Blair of being “stuck in the past” and thundered that Mr Blair “was the future once”. By 2016, the 49-year-old Eton-Oxford bred Prime Minister of Great Britain for nearly five years, David Cameron, had thrown in the towel following the Brexit debacle. He still retained the old-fashioned charm and poise to enjoy a bittersweet moment of self-deprecatory humour, and said: “I was the future once”! Mr Cameron soon rode into the political sunset, and the Brexit mess created by him continues to haunt the UK till this day. The short history since hasn’t been kind to the man who promised “the future” once, and besides the taints of elitism and opportunism, Mr Cameron, who was literally to-the-manor-born, has been described by Charlie Brooker as “a hollow Easter egg with no bag of sweets inside”. Initially, Mr Cameron’s “new style of leadership” had struck a resonating note with his “modern compassionate conservative” promises and reformist agendas, a chimera that the Washington Post later described as having “sped away without glancing back”. Later, the reality of the political damage of the Cameron years sunk in, after gobbling the careers of his fellow Tory Prime Minister, Theresa May, as also leaving the incumbent Boris Johnson gnawing at his nails.
Another ambitious and Oxford-educated messiah of hope was rising fast in the East, who promised to restore native pride. With an obvious nudge from the “establishment” in Rawalpindi (read, the military), Imran Khan was busy concocting a deadly political aphrodisiac of flamboyance, “honesty” and theatrical flourishes that routinely took on post-colonial “evils” like the United States and the International Monetary Fund in the electoral run-up — the Pakistanis on the streets were enthralled. Imran Khan, or “Taliban Khan”, was seamlessly flitting between multiple identities that were seen invoking Jinnah’s forgotten secularity to the middle-class, to pandering to latent and puritanical emotions by marrying a religious pir in the middle of hectic campaigning. Soon, Mr Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaaf stormed the electoral hustings and the air was rife with the imminence of “Naya Pakistan”. Having seduced the polity of Pakistan — the immediate challenge of walking the talk began. Populist moves made in the initial days almost convinced the world at large about the “future”, as was getting posited. Eight buffaloes in the Prime Minister’s house were supposed to have been sold and the austerity drive saw him shift to a three-bedroom house — in the midst such meaningless posturing, more worrisome moves made by Mr Khan went unnoticed.
Mr Khan had almost immediately forsaken his promised secularity by removing an Ahmediya to his economic advisory council, owing to regressive pressures of implied bigotry. His economic-geopolitical grandstanding took an unashamed U-turn as he baited the International Monetary Fund and the United States, as the initial bravado against both was soon forgotten. Mr Khan’s brief tryst with statesmanship that was in full display in his opening speech by supposedly seeking good relations with India with, “You take one step forward, we will take two,” was made a mockery of with the unwanted Pakistani footprint in Pulwama and its aftermath. Even against the Pakistani generals with a penchant for power and wielding the puppet strings, against whom Mr Khan had railed in his days of political doldrums, were sheepishly rewarded with a three-year extension of tenure in a most unprofessional and undemocratic manner. The man who once wrote a personal account titled “Warrior Race” in an ode to his Pathan pedigree and fancied himself as a modern-day Lothario, was soon seen personally driving assorted princelings from the sheikhdoms as he desperately sought money from them. Clearly, the amateurish attempts at crowd-funding the $14 billion needed for the Mohmand and Diamer-Basha projects were non-starters.
Like all of the previous leaderships of Pakistan which had invariably resorted back to the time-tested political efficacy of “Kashmir” to deflect attention from their failures, leadership crises and public dissatisfaction — Mr Khan soon ditched all meaningful imperatives of his transformational promise of a “future” and focused solely with the rote old track of “Kashmir”. The self-appointed brand ambassador of “Kashmir” tried to retrofit the cause into the realm of the ummah and alluded to genocidal implications — only China nodded and, embarrassingly for Mr Khan, almost all consequential Islamic countries like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Iran, Afghanistan, etc either disagreed or remained silent. His moral dishonesty was reflective in the face of his opinions on the fate of co-ummah Uighurs in China, when he said, “Frankly, we have been facing so many of our internal problems right now that we haven’t… I don’t know much about this problem,” and added: “But I will say one thing about China: For us China has been the best friend” — the implausibility of not knowing about a million Uighurs incarcerated in concentration-like camps blew the lid off his commitment to the ummah!
With the Damocles sword of formal “blacklisting” hanging on Pakistan’s head for not doing enough on curbing terrorism, and with the incorrigible behaviour of the ISI-Taliban in Afghanistan leading to the reneging of “peace plans”, the essential narrative of Pakistan is the same as before. If anything, the still-wet-behind-his-ears politician has been brandishing the “nuclear threat” feverishly to draw international attention in a desperate bid to capture headlines in an increasingly disinterested world. Old mates from England recount the fables of “Im the Dim” to contextualise the man whose intellect and maturity may not have kept pace with his obvious success in Pakistani politics. The only issue besides “Kashmir” that he has ruthlessly pursued is the demonisation of his political opponents and has sent many behind bars. For the world at large and the region, the man who had charisma, talent and commitment from the cricketing fields behind him did not automatically translate it into leadership success in the Prime Minister’s role — in this respect, he too “was once the future”.