Flirting With Right Wingers Or Simply Heartless? Khan’s Stance On Hazara Killings Remained A Mystery
In 2014, Pakistani cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan opposed the military operation against the Taliban while sitting in the opposition. His purported support for the hard-liner Islamist group earned him the title of “Taliban Khan.”
During his rule in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa after May 2013 elections, Imran Khan called for peace with the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and cutting ties with the US in the war against terror. He explained the phenomenon of peace with the Taliban by saying that as long as the Taliban saw the country fighting with the US against them, we would serve as a threat to the Taliban, and it could declare a Jihad on the country and its people.
For Khan’s supporters, who had an image of a liberal person coming from the University of Oxford with the British press always discussing his love affairs, this call for peace with the Taliban was nothing but a shock.
So how did a person like Khan, who maintained a playboy image during his cricket career for decades, changed his demeanor and creed to fit in the force alongside Bhutto and Sharifs to be accepted by the post-Zia ul-Haque Islamic Republic?
The observers see Khan as someone with a devious character who has taken a very sharp turn to fit into the political mainstream while also being backed by the right-wing groups for having a “soft” corner for the extremist Islamist groups. In 2014, Amima Sayeed, a development researcher from Karachi, in her interview to an international publication, said that Khan most definitely supported right-wing extremists.
It was also observed that Khan was the first politician to support it when in 2009, the Swat peace deal between the government and the Taliban was introduced. During that time, his relationship with the Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami party is also a proof of his right-wing agenda,” Sayeed had said.
A journalist from the Wall Street Journal in Karachi had also pointed out that Khan, who would oppose the military crackdown on the militants, on the other hand he would dismiss the idea of increased homegrown extremist culture in the country. He said that if not supportive, Khan indeed had sympathies for the militants.
In the year 2013, however, when the militants attacked Hazaras, Khan, being in the opposition, made many promises to the Hazara community regarding the crackdown against militancy in Balochistan, especially against the forces involved in killing Hazaras. Khan visited the bereaved families of Hazara and called out the ruling PPP for maintaining a discriminatory face towards the Hazara community. “where is the state?” Khan questioned via a tweet that was to be hurled back by the countrymen towards him in 2020 when eleven Hazara miners were slaughtered, and he was nowhere to be seen.
Having no corruption charges against him, Imran Khan, for many people fretted by the corruption of the PMLN and PPP governments, was the only hope during the 2018 elections. Many Hazara and Shia community members voted for Khan, remembering his support during the sit-ins in 2013 and his visits to Imambaras and community events. While the Shia community, which has faced most persecution at the hands of Taliban and extremist groups in Pakistan, had by now a changed picture of Imran Khan in their minds, and a sizeable majority of Shias also voted for Khan.
Last week, when the Hazara community started a protest against the killing of 11 Hazara coalminers in a targeted attack, they had high expectations from Imran Khan for his speeches and support in 2013.
Hundreds of Hazara protesters, members of a community that has endured more than 20 years of targeted attacks losing hundreds, blocked a Quetta highway. One of their demands was that Khan must visit them personally like he did in 2013 and resolve their issues as he had promised.
But even after six days of sitting in sub-zero temperature with the dead bodies, Khan did not visit and sent his party members instead. When the pressure from the protestors built, Khan referred to a demand to visit them before they bury their dead as “blackmail.”
This statement by Imran Khan, the prime minister of the country, reminded the community of the time when he used to sympathise with their killers. Many tweeted their regret for voting in his favour. They questioned his sympathies expressed by him while he was not in the government and seemed to have come to the realisation that it was nothing but a political move.
Hazaras buried their dead without Khan visiting has damaged his image within the Hazara community forever. While also weary of supporting or voting for Khan in the future, many Hazara community members and Shias called him out as “Taliban Khan”, who they think has been exposed once again.
The author is a freelance writer, photographer and videographer.