The Speech At Capital One Arena: Imran Khan Out-Trumped Trump
Ahmad Faruqui analyses Prime Minister Imran Khan’s speech at Capital One Arena in Washington, DC before a charged crowd of over 20,000 where ‘he repeated his oft-stated promise of bringing such prosperity to Pakistan that people from throughout the world will come there looking for work’.
Proving once again his messianic qualities, Imran Khan drew a crowd that vastly exceeded anyone’s expectations, including his own. The crowd is estimated to have exceeded the 20,000 capacity of the stadium in which the speech was given.
He began on a scholarly note, analysing the relationship between democracy and meritocracy and between dynastic rule and corruption. So finally the Oxford graduate in him was going to make itself known. He had studied philosophy, politics and economics there.
But his historical analysis was mired in contradictions. On the one hand, he said India was a superpower during the Mughal period but did not seem to realise that imperial rule is the antithesis of democratic rule. He stated that Pakistan made tremendous strides during the sixties when it was ruled by Field Marshal Ayub, Pakistan’s first dictator, once again forgetting that dictators do not typify democratic values.
He stated that the only leader he admired in Pakistani history was Quaid-e-Azam Jinnah, who had ruled the country for just 13 months. There was no mention of Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan and his contributions to the democratic development of the country. He denigrated the rule of Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.
He was full of praise for China, saying that official placements were based on meritocracy. But he conveniently forgot to mention that China was a communist dictatorship headed by a president who may rule indefinitely.
Thus in his speech there was scant evidence of the thesis that democracy supports meritocracy. And while saying proudly that none of his relatives or friends were in high positions, he overlooked the fact that half of his cabinet was part of the previous regimes of whom he was so critical.
He tried to portray himself as being above from all existing and prior politicians, who were either too religious or too secular or too corrupt to have governed the country. But his speech was littered by religious references and once again he reiterated his desire to recreate the original Muslim state in Medina, saying that his goal was to create an Islamic Welfare State. He was clearly playing to his base.
Toward the end, the speech took on a dark and vindictive character. He projected himself as the most honest politician in the country who was going to restore the rights of the downtrodden by not only locking up his political opponents but by making sure they did not get air conditioning or TV in their prison cells. There was no magnanimity in his words. He said everyone is asking for three words, N-R-O, but they are not going to get it. The audience cheered. Clearly Imran knew that they were all his devout followers and he was playing to them.
Much of the speech had the quality of a political rally. There was self-adulation in every third sentence. In that regard, he was doing what every populist leader in the world does these days. But Imran managed to do the unthinkable, he out-trumped Trump.
The American president is well known for his self-adulation and appealing to his base every time he speaks in the US. He often comes across as if he is still running for office. But even Donald Trump has not held political rallies with American audiences living in foreign countries. That’s exactly what Imran Khan did.
His speech was short on substance because the prime minister has no results to show anyone, while Trump can at least point to the significant economic growth that is taking place during his tenure (whether it’s due to him is another matter). While Imran accused his predecessors of quintupling the size of the debt in just ten years, he has himself proceeded to get billions in loans from the Arab states and even done what he had said he would never do, i.e., borrow from the IMF.
There was no reference to Kashmir. None what so ever. There was no reference to the mega-dam that was going to be built with crowd sourcing.
Of course, he repeated his oft-stated promise of bringing such prosperity to Pakistan that people from throughout the world will come there looking for work.
He said he will take up the Afghanistan issue with Donald Trump and assure him that there is no military solution to the conflict. And he reminded everyone that it was his idea to begin with.
Interestingly, there was no sign of the army chief or the head of the ISI. One can rest assured they will show up in the meetings with the Trump administration. As usual, the army is calling the shots, this time from behind the scene.
Ahmad Faruqui is a defense analyst and economist. He has taught at the universities of Karachi, California at Davis, and San Jose State. Faruqui is the author of “Rethinking the National Security of Pakistan” (Ashgate, 2003). Contact him via Twitter @AhmadFaruqui