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Analysis Politics

Of Imran’s surrender

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Princeton economist Atif Mian is the latest victim of bigotry that Imran Khan helped incite during the 2018 election campaign.

In another U-Turn Imran Khan removed an Ahmadi as an economic adviser since he could not face the pressure of religious lobbies. Pakistanis seem to have forgotten how Khan incited religious passions that are now consuming his government.

Imran Khan’s government selected an Ahmadi as a member of the Economic Advisory Council (EAC) and later dropped him after an outcry by Mullahs, opposition parties and the right wing opinion makers.

We live in a country where Gen Zia ul-Haq is alive. Zia used the Islam card to gain legitimacy and sponsor jihad in Afghanistan. But he also strengthened Pakistan’s draconian blasphemy laws. It was under his watch that the declaration of faith was made compulsory for any Pakistani willing to contest an election. Zia died on August 17, 1988. But during the last year or so, Pakistan’s street and electoral politics, to a great extent, has revolved around the same declaration of faith he introduced back in 1984.

Election Bill 2017 – much ado about nothing

For starters, an amendment to the constitution, dubbed as Election Bill 2017, was passed in October last year by the parliament. This amendment recommended some ground-breaking changes to the election rules in the country. But what the country rather chose to focus on was the slight change to the Khatm-e-Nabuwat clause in the election form.

What was the change? Here are the two amendments that were made to this clause: First, the Khatm-e-Nabuwat clause was moved from point (i) to point (iii); and secondly, the wording of the clause was changed from “I solemnly swear” to “I believe”.

That’s it!

So in essence there was no change at all. And even that little change in the wording was removed during the following month. But Khadim Rizvi’s Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) launched a nationwide protest against the amendment (that had already been retracted.) The TLP went on to stage a sit-in at Faizabad Interchange and literally cut Islamabad off from the rest of the country. Imran Khan announced that his party barely managed to stay aloof as many of the party leaders advocated joining the TLP sit-in.

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Imran Khan used the Khatam-e-Nabuwat card against his rival Sharifs

Since the end of TLP’s dharna, Imran included the slogan of Khatm-e-Nabuwat in his election campaign. He repeatedly attended Khatm-e-Nabuwat conferences, alleging that PML-N tried to change the law upon ‘directions from somewhere’ in his speeches. Throughout the fifty or so days of the election campaign, Imran kept hammering the point. He didn’t stop when a shoe was thrown at Nawaz Sharif. He didn’t stop when ink was thrown at Khawaja Asif. And he didn’t stop even when Ahsan Iqbal was shot by a religious fanatic. Imran was warned by Pakistan’s liberal circles against this pandering to the far right, as it would only strengthen the extremists, but he did not stop.

The ambition was too high. Even though TLP did not gain many seats it emerged as the fourth largest party in terms of votes. But Imran Khan’s party won the controversial election and according to media reports the Khatam-e-Nabuwat card made PML-N lose at least 12 seats in the Punjab.

In a bitter irony, on the 30th death anniversary of General Zia ul-Haq, Pakistan’s parliament elected Imran Khan as its new Prime Minister.

Atif Mian’s appointment was welcomed by many

With a few weeks of assuming office, Khan took a U-turn from his pre-election rhetoric on Khatm-e-Nabuwat and appointed Atif Mian, a globally recognized economist, to his Economic Advisory Council. It was a pleasant surprise. Mian is an Ahmadi by faith. When Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry strongly defended the decision, for a day or two I actually wanted to start believing in Osman Samiuddin’s thesis that just like Imran Khan-the cricketer, Imran Khan-the politician will also prove everyone wrong and a new Khan would emerge out of the PM’s office – one not as bigoted as his pre-election self.

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The surrender

But after having made a moving speech on September 6 about how his cousins had built bunkers outside their home during the 1965 war to fight the Indian paratroopers, Imran surrendered on September 7.

Atif Mian was asked to step down. He obliged, gracefully, as was expected of him. And thus the dream to see a new Imran Khan was shattered. This time, perhaps, permanently.

For the PTI followers, if the previous week of defending Atif Mian’s appointment was tough, the last 3 days have been nightmarish. From ‘jahil Pakistani awaam’ to ‘desi liberals’, they’ve blamed almost everyone, but not the man himself.

Fact is that Imran Khan wasn’t faced with any challenge on the issue whatsoever. Especially when you look at what happened last November and how the then Interior Minister handled the pressure for days before being ditched by his own institutions, the criticism against Atif Mian’s appointment was not even remotely comparable. Whatever the outrage, it was limited only to social media. But PTI couldn’t even handle that.

Time to hold Imran Khan accountable for fanning religious passions

Imran’s followers – some of whom are nasty social media trolls – need to realize that instead of blaming the ‘desi liberals’ and ‘jahil Pakistanis’, they should have taken their leader to the task when he was fanning the religious sentiments of the masses. Imran Khan was the one to have discussed Atif Mian’s faith first in the public, some four years ago, at the height of his sit-in, when after having named Mian in his shadow cabinet Imran had retracted his statement upon being confronted by a bearded interviewer.

The PTI diehards need to make peace with the fact that ‘khooni liberals’ were brave enough to stand with their principles. While their leader chickened out, again!


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