Dear PTI Supporters, It Was Merely A Speech
To be honest, I liked Prime Minister Imran Khan’s speech at United Nations General Assembly. Despite my difference with Imran Khan, his competency (rather lack thereof) and his dubious mandate, those 50 minutes completely belonged to him.
Although the content of the speech was wide-ranging from Islamophobia to climate change, the strongest portion clearly pertained to the ongoing and in fact escalating Kashmir issue.
In that part, Imran reminded the world about Modi’s RSS connection and the infamous Gujrat riots which had happened (and some say had been endorsed by him), under his administration.
I think it was a good move as Modi often tries to project himself as the ‘development’ guy, when visiting the western countries whereas at home, his rhetoric even after becoming the PM remains inflammatory and divisive. Imran’s complain from the world about giving India a pass despite brutal repression owing to its market size also touched the right chord and so did his fear that Pakistan would be blamed in case of any Pulwama-like attack.
Likewise, Imran rightly warned the world about the impending turmoil once the inhuman curfew was lifted. Moreover, Imran delivered it well, passionately, and without any notes.
Yes, the speech was quite good, and Imran deserves appreciation. But did it really make a difference in the international arena?
Unfortunately, the international politics is largely shaped by realpolitikal concerns and economic ground realities. Countries don’t change their stances on speeches delivered in front of bureaucrats, in half empty conference rooms. The sad reality is that despite having a normative advantage (after all there is no way Indian actions like revocation of the Article 370 without even consulting Kashmiris and continuing lock-down of the valley can be endorsed), Pakistan is virtually isolated in the global community.
Even our traditional allies, the important Gulf states, are either quiet or implicitly supporting Indian stance. The United States, despite offering mediation, considers India a more important player as evident by Trump’s decision to attend Modi’s rally in Houston.
Even more embarrassingly, so far, we have not even managed to gather minimum votes (just 16 members) required to file a request for a resolution on Kashmir at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva
The combination of our past mistakes-like using militants – and our economic insignificance vis a vis India (a larger market and a global economic powerhouse) has left us in a much weaker position.
Moreover, in contrast to what PTI supporters think, our current foreign policy is completely ineffective as evident from the silence of the Gulf countries. And no speech can unfortunately change it. At the end, it was just a speech, (albeit a good one) and the international community has completely forgotten about it. It is always a good idea to remain grounded in reality.
However, being grounded in reality is something which eludes the supporters of Imran Khan. Before the speech, one of my ex-teachers had remarked, “They (PTI supporters) will be on steroids for weeks if Imran delivers even a barely passable speech”. I think he was understating their reaction. Right now, the reaction which I am seeing from his followers is something which is bordering on lunacy and is sounding like a nonstop orgasm.
Social media posts, eulogizing the “great” leader and in fact elevating him to a God like status are rampant. Many, including apparently educated and famous in their own right have made such ridiculous posts, that make you cringe.
One of the most hilarious posts which has been making rounds is about some. Senator Tony Booker who allegedly praised Imran Khan in the following words
“If he is selected, he might be the best selection ever, and if he is elected then Pakistanis are the most wise nation in the world.”
The above post went viral and since in my family and friends, I am considered a hater of the great leader, it was sent to me also at least 8 times from different individuals. Some of them quietly forwarded it and some with mocking comments, calling me biased.
The fact that there is no such Senator, did not bother them and in fact they did not even try to find out. When you are in slavish devotion, then anything, no matter how fantastic, is simply believed if it reinforces the instinctive basis for that devotion.
One of my very close friends, who happens to be an Ivy League graduate, and one of the most brilliant individuals I have known and with whom I frequently argue over Imran Khan, also sent me the same post. At that point I realised the power of the cult of Imran Khan. If supposedly the most educated and brilliant amongst us are vulnerable, then I have little hope left for lesser mortals.
Of course, constant mocking and insults of the former Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, are also rampant. I have seen countless memes comparing how Imran Khan read without a “perchi” (chit) and spoke perfect English while nihari-eating Nawaz Sharif had to read from notes.
The fact that the Indian Prime Minister did not even speak English while addressing the UNGA and yet was able to convey his point of view effectively in merely 15 minutes (as opposed to Imran’s 50 minutes) has simply been overlooked.
The most common claim coming from teary-eyed PTI supporters is, “For the first time, someone has represented Pakistan so well.” One of the major problems is that for many supporters of Imran Khan, including those who happen to be extremely educated, age of ‘enlightenment’ starts with him and before him is considered ‘Zamana Jahliya’ (age of darkness).
Before Imran, many leaders have represented Pakistan well. Zulifikar Ali Bhutto, Benazir, Musharraf and even Nawaz Sharif have all represented Pakistan ably. In fact, during their tenures, Pakistan was not so isolated that a speech had to be given so much importance, the way Imran’s speech is being given now. P
PTI supporters make a lot of fun of Nawaz Sharif while forgetting that during his regime, Vajpayee came to Lahore and acknowledged that Kashmir issue had to be resolved through negotiations. Now India is not even willing to talk. And if giving a good speech in English is a criterion, then both Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto did far better jobs than PM Imran Khan.
I would have overlooked all this manic adulation of Imran in general and the speech in particular, had it been a harmless thing. Unfortunately, it is not. Right now, Imran Khan’s government should be under a lot of pressure due to extreme incompetence, pathetic governance, curbs on media and attacks on judicial independence.
However, one 50 minute speech (which I have already explained did not change anything) has somehow given Imran Khan a new lease on life and put his every misdeed in the background. This gives a perverse incentive to the government as they know that in future, they can easily get away by similar type of theatrics.
What they have ascertained is that Pakistani urban middle class, their main support base, and the class which unfortunately has a disproportionate effect on the political trajectory of the country, is fickle and can easily be swayed by mere spectacles of a handsome man speaking in English.
The author is currently pursuing his Ph.D. in political science at Maxwell School, Syracuse University. His research interests are the political economy of development, civil-military relations, and political Islam.