Imran Khan Must Not Let Himself Be Reduced To A Guest Star
French historian of Pakistan’s political history, Christopher Jaffrelot once wrote that Pakistan’s history is defined by four coups and three wars—rest all the characters and episodes and events are mere add-ups, some political observers would add. But there are very powerful characters in Pakistan’s political history, who, during the last 73 years have changed the course of history or influenced political developments in Pakistani society in substantive manner.
There is almost a consensus among the academics that Pakistan’s political history cannot be understood without understanding the Cold War dynamics of International System. This would mean, at the practical level that some of the characters on Pakistan’s political chessboard were mere pawns at the world stage—but paradoxically it is also true that these pawns substantially influenced the shape of politics and political culture for years, rather decades, to come at the domestic level.
The prime example of this type of character in Pakistan’s political history is military dictator, General Zia-ul-Haq. He acted as a pawn of Cold War warriors in American military and intelligence establishment from 1979 to 1988. But at the same time left dreadful and lasting imprint on the political culture of Pakistan—drug money and weapons became widely available to be used in political power games, sectarian, ethnic and religious violence became endemic and came to define the terms of political culture, mercenary character of Pakistani state was reinforced and last but not the least political instability became rampant.
So the first lesson of Pakistani history is that even pawns can bring change for the worst (if not for the good). In Zia’s case we have a pawn who was extremely powerful domestically and who mustered enough support internationally to cause damage in the surrounding areas of the region with the use of violence, with impunity.
Contrast Zia with another kind of pawn—pawn who is a pawn of the pawns. Yes, I am talking about Prime Minister Imran Khan. In his case the situation is in complete contrast—he seems to be not in control, domestically, and he is surely to have assumed power at a time when Pakistani state’s outwards regional reach have been drastically cut short by the those for whom it acted as a pawn in the past.
So Imran Khan and his government are completely dud as for as regional politics and security situation are concerned.
There could be two criteria through which we could judge the importance or impact of any political character on our political history—first ideological influence or the impact his or her thoughts or style of governance have made on the political and social culture of the society, secondly we can judge the importance or impact by way of the reforms any particular character have introduced in governance or economic and political structures of the society.
As far as ideological influence is concern the name that comes to mind—in terms of the impact it has made on the state and society (at this point we are not concerned with the morality of the impact, or rights and wrongs of the impact)—is none other than Maulana Maududi of Jamat-e-Islami. He is an ideologue par excellence of our history, who single-handedly and negatively influenced the way we thought about and utilized and enforced Islamic principles in our governance and the way we understood society and its political dynamics, as a state and as a society.
There is nothing in the history of Islamic political thought that should incline Muslim societies towards the notion of complete reliance on the scriptures for making of laws governing the society. There are many instances from early Islamic history when Muslims rulers relied on non-Muslim sources of law to define and enact legislations. Even in the present era there more than 50 Muslim states and very few have made sharia the supreme law of the land. On the other hand Maududi’s insistence on making Quran and Sunnah the sources of all laws in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan was accommodated in most of the constitutional and legal documents that were enacted during 73 years of our political and constitutional history.
On the count of reforms in governance or economic and political structures of the society, the name of elder Bhutto comes to mind—he is the founder of modern political structures in our society. Bicameral legislature is his invention as far as Pakistan’s political history is concerned. He bequeathed modern, federal, parliamentary constitution to Pakistani state and last but not the least he designed and inserted the modern military and strategic institutional decision making in the structures of Pakistani state.
How would history judge Prime Minister Imran Khan and his impact on the course of our political history? I think if we take our history as a Lollywood feature movie, Imran Khan could be described as a guest appearance in the movie—a guest star whose appearance on the screen is the function of some influential person making a phone call to the producer of the movie, “He is my man please adjust him in some scenes or make him deliver some dialogues” would be the gist of influential persons’ phone call to the producer of the movies.
I am using the word guest star for Imran Khan because guest stars make no impact on the minds of viewers. Similarly they or their dialogues don’t determine the course of the movies, they are there just as fill-ins or a stop gap arrangement. Compare this with the circumstances in which Imran Khan was brought to power—ten years of civilian governments led by those political leaders who, despite their ineptness, were determined to keep military out of politics. And this was followed by the military backed government of Imran Khan.
There is another character of our history who was supposed to be a guest star. Yes, I am talking about former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif—a protégé of General Zia, who later created a space for himself in the history by defying the powerful military and the military backed President. Later he made the developmental projects the hallmark of his politics, leaving an imprint on the minds of people of central Punjab at least. So in the course of his three tenures this footnote of history or guest star transformed himself into an influential character of Pakistan’s political history.
Imran Khan has been unlucky as well. He has assumed power when Pakistani state has little financial strength to spend on the extravaganza of development projects.
Time is running out for Imran Khan—if he continues his current course and his current speed he will be nothing more than a guest star in the script, which will see the return of democratic but inept forces back into power in Islamabad as a denouement
Umer Farooq is an Islamabad-based freelance journalist. He writes on security, foreign policy and domestic political issues.