Imran Khan Just Gave You A Reason To Argue With Your Friends
The Dutch historian, Pieter Geyl, famously averred: “History is an argument without end.” Fast forward to today. Ever since he assumed the high office of prime minister, Imran Khan has become an unavoidable source of argumentation among friends.
In the beginning of his tenure, some of his followers were moderately supportive of his actions, some were very supportive, and some were his devotees. His one year anniversary is around the corner. He has little to show for it except bluster, grand-standing with Donald Trump, the Saudi Crown Prince, and the President of China, and the acquisition of $16 billion of new loans. And so his supporters have closed ranks. They are now all his devotees.
They cannot hear anything critical about him. Every question is met with an emotional outburst, not directed at the argument but at the person asking the question. He or she is called a supporter of corruption, a proponent of dynastic rule, a puppet of Nawaz Sharif or Asif Zardari, or, worst of all, an Indian agent.
The critic is considered a threat to democratic rule based on the principles of meritocracy espoused by Imran. Imran’s devotees brush aside assertions that the Pakistani economy is in distress, the currency is at an all-time low, and the budget and trade deficit continue to be a challenge.
Soon after he was elected to office, a debate began on whether he was elected or selected. The use of the world selective was banned in the National Assembly. If there was no truth in it, why would need to ban the word? This seemed like something out of Alice in Wonderland.
Media censorship began in earnest because “confusion” was being generated in the public mind. Programs were blacked out during transmission. Even while stating during an interview at the United States Institute of Peace that the Pakistani press was freer than the British press, the prime minister conceded that a couple of channels were creating difficulties that required intervention by the media monitor. What could be more Orwellian than a “media monitor”?
President Trump must be envious of Prime Minister Imran Khan. All Trump can do is turn to derision by calling media channels that oppose him as being the purveyor of fake news, the Pakistani prime minister can just turn off those channels at will. And while Trump can only talk about locking up his opponents, Imran has actually locked them up in jail, and as if that was not harsh enough, he promised during the “jalsa” in Washington, DC to turn off their air conditioning and take away their TV sets.
How do Imran’s devotees respond to the criticisms that are being made about him day-in and day-out in the media? Here’s a sampler.
His supporters do not deny the problems that Pakistan is facing today but shift the blame to his predecessors. One person will say the problems have been 10 years in the making, another that they were 20 years in the making, and yet another that they were 40 years in the making. Of course, it’s not clear how much reading of history undergirds these statements. Probably none. They are simple rhetorical in nature.
Second, give him more time. Let him complete his first term. Maybe he should get a second term. Pakistan’s problems are deep rooted.
Third, his honesty is unmatched in Pakistani history and he has been sent to complete Jinnah’s mission. Fourth, he’s a cricket legend, a philanthropist, a hospital builder, and a glamorous man who can pack a stadium like a rock star.
Fifth, so what if he was selected by the army? It was the Pakistani army that appointed him, not the Indian army. The army always acts in the national interest.
If you continue your line of questioning, you may evoke a downright personal, Pavlovian response: “Your mind is already made up. You are biased and conceited. You cannot appreciate that others have views that are different than yours.”
When you say that he cannot make tall promises without delivering on them, they will say that every politician has to do that in order to get elected.
When the issue is raised about his U Turns, the answer is that he did not know the extent of the problem he was getting into.
To his devotees, Imran is an honest, incorruptible man of sterling character, a man of integrity, well-intentioned, highly educated and very competent. He cannot make mistakes. And if he does make a mistake, just get over it: “To err is human.” In other words, give him a pass every time he makes a mistake.
When it’s pointed out that his cabinet is mostly drawn from the very governments he was criticizing, the answer is who else is he going to bring into the government except the tried and tested? When you question how will the results will be any different, you will be told because Imran is in the driver’s seat.
If you write articles that are critical of him, be prepared for this response: “Say something good about him. It will improve your credibility.”
But what really left me stunned was what a really close friend said to me recently over dinner. “You have a Ph. D. but the mind of a 5-year old.” This line was so brusque that I did not feel insulted. Just looked puzzled. So he elaborated: “The 5-year old wants everything right away. Give him time.” When I asked how much time should I give him, he said at least five years. Maybe more.
I cut to the chase. What do you think are the chances of success? He said five percent. At that point I dropped the discussion.
The sad reality is that Imran has created a cult not unlike what Trump has created in the US. Despite his horrible rhetoric and hateful actions on the Mexican border, and his derogatory remarks about minorities, women and the people of other countries, Trump’s hold on the Republican Party continues to be in the 80+ percent range.
The base of neither populist leader is ready to admit that their “guru” has feet of clay. They give him the type of loyalty that the members of a tribe are expected to give their leader.
Regardless of how historians rate Imran’s tenure, one things is almost certain. He will go down as being one of the most divisive rulers in history. He has divided families and friends like no one else before him.
Ahmad Faruqui is a defense analyst and economist. He has taught at the Universities of Karachi, California at Davis, and San Jose State. He has also given guest lectures at MIT, Stanford and other universities. He has authored “Rethinking the National Security of Pakistan, Ashgate, 2003.” He can be reached @AhmadFaruqui