Mr Khan and ideological ambiguity

Published: 11 November, 2011 07:16 IST | Mehmal Sarfraz |

October 30 was a day of reckoning for Pakistani politics, or so said the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) supporters

October 30 was a day of reckoning for Pakistani politics, or so said the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) supporters. But was it? Consider. The day marked the 'arrival' of PTI chief Imran Khan, ironically 15 years after his political party was formed. PTI's Lahore jalsa (rally) was a huge success, with more than a hundred thousand people in attendance at Minar-e-Pakistan. The ruling party in Punjab, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), could not match these numbers at its rally a couple of days before PTI's jalsa.

In fact, there were hardly 30,000 people, at the most, at PML-N's rally on October 28. Thus it was a big achievement for PTI to stage a mammoth rally in Lahore, the Sharif brothers' stronghold. The PML-N is now surely concerned about the next general elections, given Mr Khan's appeal with the electorate.

Mistaken as messiah? Imran Khan is misguiding an already confused,
apolitical youth

However, to call Mr Khan a 'game changer' is not just an exaggeration but also an oversimplification. Lahore is no more the heart of Punjab, much less Pakistan. To bank on an overcrowded rally in Lahore would be a bit premature when it comes to the actual D-Day: the Election Day.

"Imran Khan's appeal is less of a charismatic leader and more of a successful role model in this land of so many despicable characters," wrote Mr Imtiaz Alam last week in The Express Tribune. This is the crux of the matter. He was a legendary cricketer and is a great philanthropist. But make no mistake: Mr Khan is no reincarnation of Jinnah and he is certainly no Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Mr Jinnah's politics was of a different era in a different landscape.

As for Mr Bhutto, the mass support for his Pakistan People's Party (PPP) was mobilised against General Ayub Khan's dictatorship. At that time, there was also a definite polarisation between the Left and the Right. Even if the PPP did not deliver on many of its 'socialist' promises, it did give a voice to the masses. When it comes to the PTI, there is no military dictator to overthrow and the Left is missing from Pakistani politics -- all we are left with are parties that are either at the centre, centre-right or extreme right.

The masses continue to suffer while Pakistan is fast turning into a pariah state. Those who support the PTI think that Imran Khan is a messiah who can save Pakistan. They are of the view that the Zardari-Bhuttos, Sharifs, Chaudhries and Altaf Bhais of this world have not delivered and it is time for change. What will happen to Mr Khan's squeaky clean image if (and when) the PTI opens the doors for opportunists? In the case of electable candidates, there is no guarantee of an unblemished past. Is that the 'change' we are looking for?

Mr Khan represents ideological ambiguity. It is a tragedy that this ambiguity has somehow translated into populism when his politics has no clarity. Granted that he has mobilised the youth but the travesty is that he is misguiding an already confused, apolitical youth. Our textbooks teach a distorted history to our younger generation, which is why most of them remain ignorant about the ground realities of Pakistan.

If Mr Khan's only target is the incumbent political class and not the root cause of our miseries, the Pakistan Army, then he is doing a great disservice to the masses. Change may be in the air but it is not clear what sort of change and for what purpose. Young minds need a clear, cohesive view. They do not deserve to be led astray by the likes of Mr Khan.

When PTI supporters gleefully tell the 'liberals' that they were wrong in dismissing Imran Khan as a wannabe politician, they overlook one of the most important factors in Mr Khan's rise to popularity: the blessings of the military establishment. PTI will mostly make a dent into the PML-N's vote bank in Punjab and it will serve the purpose.

The establishment does not want to see Mian Nawaz Sharif serving as prime minister again; ironic because Mian Nawaz Sharif was a protege of General Zia-ul-Haq but is now considered to be an anti-establishment politician who wants to end the imbalance in civil-military relations. Those asking for change will be disappointed when their newfound hero, Imran Khan, fails to translate his crowd-pulling rallies into an electoral victory.

The writer is Op-Ed editor, Daily Times, Pakistan. Reach her at

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