Monday, April 1, 2013

Imran Khan: Pakistan’s Hybrid of Barack Obama and Michelle Bachman

Before I proceed writing this article, I’d like to put out a few disclaimers. The first is that though I have never liked Imran Khan the politician, I greatly respect him and what he has already done for Pakistan. The second is I know this article is the definition of drawing room politics, as I write from the comfort of my apartment in DC while most of my friends are still drying off from attending the figurative and literal ‘tsunami’ of Khan sahab’s speech last week. That being said, I have a few observations to make, feel free to agree or discard them.

Like most of Pakistan I watched Imran Khan address a packed crowd around Minar-e-Pakistan on Pakistan Day. Actually, it was more than just Lahoris, a close friend of mine from DC went over to join the festivities. Almost everyone I know from Aitchison had either found their way onto the stage by Imran Khan since his nephews were our classmates, or were content dancing in the rain with everyone else. Salman Ahmed, with the help of the one and only DJ Butt, help lift the spirits and keep things moving (though to be quite honest, ‘Naya Pakistan’ is nothing short of garbage music).

To get that many Pakistanis braving the elements to jump and scream with joy in the hope of a better tomorrow is really something. No matter what one thinks of Imran Khan, you have to tip your hat to the level of optimism and enthusiasm shown at a time where the electricity seems to be gone more than it is supplied, inflation has bent the back of even the most well-off families and the most corrupt government in the history of Pakistan has just completed 5 years. It is similar to the enthusiasm I saw sweep across the US when Barack Obama was running for office. George W. Bush’s tenure was finally up, and the Americans were probably as relieved to see him go as we are to see the back of Z. America was also in the midst of the greatest economic crisis since the great depression, so the campaign slogan of ‘Hope’ really galvanized the country.

Fast forward 4 years and the election was nowhere near as exciting or uplifting. Instead of voting for hope and change, people seemed to be voting for the guy who wasn’t the Mormon. Ok, maybe that’s an over-simplification, but the hype that had been built up around Obama ended up working against him. Even though the country was in better shape than when he took over, unemployment was still high, Republicans and Democrats still didn’t get along, and Guantanamo remained open. In the same way, if we fast forward 4 months, sadly Imran Khan will not be Prime Minister, corruption will still exist, and all of Pakistan will be a hot sweaty mess because load-shedding is here to stay. I’m no polling expert, but to go from the one seat PTI has ever won to 170+ in order get control of the National Assembly is a jump not even the most optimistic supporters can truly believe in. That’s not to say that Imran Khan has been wasting his time. Even his staunchest enemies concede that he is likely to get at least 20-30 seats. That would be no mean feat. In the previous near two decades of PTIs existence, they have won only one seat: IK’s seat in Mianwali. Anything over 15 seats would be a huge success, and a massive step forward.
On a quick, slightly irrelevant, side note, it seems that Barack Obama is quickly approaching the levels of hatred in Pakistan his predecessor enjoyed. My only question is why it took this long for people to realize Obama’s inept foreign policy initiatives. From his very first interviews as a candidate back in 2006, Obama vowed to take a dump on Pakistan by violating its sovereignty, if necessary. His expansion of the drone policy is simply fulfilling his campaign promises.

The other American politician I see traces of in IK is a much less flattering comparison (not that the last one was meant to be flattering). Michelle Bachman, to my dear Pakistani friends not aware of her, is a crazier lesser known version of Sarah Palin. Unfortunately I don’t have time to elaborate on the dozens and dozens of examples of her wackiness, but the one thing I remember most about Bachman is her constant references to Church, and how apparently her Lord Jesus had wanted her to lead the American people. You see, to the conservative right of America, this ‘socialist left’ regime of Barack Obama is as bad as Z being in power back home, so she was God’s answer to save America. She didn’t last long. The reason I bring her up is because the actual content of Imran Khan’s speech, at least the part till DJ Butt started taking over, was quite awful. Every 3rd line seemed to be some version of Surah Fateha: the first tid bit of the Quran every Muslim learns. He kept referencing Islam in the strangest way possible, clearly forcing his right wing roots to try and appeal to his base. Imran Khan is an extremely cocky man, which is fine, he did win us the World Cup after all, but in his demeanor, it would appear that he also views himself as divinely appointed to rule. Don’t get me wrong, next to Z and Nawaz Sharif, IK is as good as Ricky Ponting, Steve Waugh, Kapil Dev and Imran Khan rolled into one when it comes to leadership. However, it would be foolish to think he can part the sea and lead us to the promised land.

Imran Khan’s constant references to religion is about as blatant a ploy as there is to appeal to the main voting block of Pakistan: conservative. This is politics after all and I can’t really fault him for that, but that doesn’t excuse the excessive references to religion. There is a better of way of bringing religion into play. For the record, I believe in Jinnah’s original idea of a Pakistan where people are free to live, irrespective of cast, religion, etc. However, that was 1947, and now we are the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and the idea of a secular state is as plausible as Shiv Sena winning the next elections.. in Pakistan.
I am a big believer of hope, and personally a believer in religion. However, religion is personal and though I don’t think it should be a big part of politics, the fact of the matter is that Islam is part of the constitution. Hope also needs to be tempered with realism. With a few adjustments, Imran Khan can avoid appearing as loony as Michelle Bachman, or as disappointing as Obama.
In the meantime, please vote and get everyone you know to vote!