Imran Khan is often depicted as a tiger. But tigers are bold and dangerous. They are fierce and independent. Imran Khan isn’t really any of these things. Salmaan Taseer was bold and dangerous. Imran Khan tells people what they want to hear. He’s not fierce and independent, either. Benazir Bhutto was fierce and independent. Imran Khan has, throughout his political history, always sided with the powerful – Gen Zia, Gen Musharraf, religious parties, the military. A more fitting animal to represent Imran Khan would really be the chameleon – a small creature that changes what it looks like to match whatever it’s near.
The popular belief is that Imran Khan is boldly challenging the status quo. According to news reports, though, Imran Khan is choosing what to say based on surveys. In other words, he asks people what they want to hear, and then he turns around and repeats it to them. On the one hand, there’s something to be said for listening to what the people are saying, and I give that to him. It’s about time somebody listened. On the other hand, real leadership means that sometimes you have to tell people unpleasant truths. Watching interviews with Imran Khan is like watching rhetorical gymnastics. He says that the war on terror has become viewed as a war on Islam, but when pressed on whether that’s true or just jihadi propaganda, he repeats himself saying that this is how it is viewed. One minute, he’s talking about how the war on terror is mishandled, but when asked to condemn terrorism, he gets visibly uncomfortable and offers, instead, general condemnation of “anyone who is involved in terrorism”. When asked about Hafiz Saeed, he starts talking about target killings in Karachi.
We are also told that PTI is against the status quo, which raises the obvious question how PTI can be against the status quo when it is swelling with members of the status quo? Shah Mehmood Qureshi is a lot of things – some good, some bad. But it is undeniable that one of them is status quo. For example, how does PTI reconcile supporters with posters praising Aafia Siddiqui while SMQ sits in the number two seat? In a recent episode of Out of Bounds show, Faisal Qureshi asked Dr Awab about these issues, and its well worth a watch:
As for Imran Khan’s own ideas, what are they? Most recently, he claims he wants to transform Pakistan into an Islamic welfare state. Sounds great, until someone asks the obvious question – what’s an Islamic welfare state? S. Iftikhar Murshed, publisher of Criterion quarterly, wondered this himself recently. He quotes the Munir Report of 1954 which found that even the Ulema could not agree on what this is supposed to mean.
The hollowness of the demand for an Islamic state was laid bare in the 387-page Munir Report of 1954. This was the outcome of the inquiry conducted by Justice Muhammad Munir and Justice M R Kayani into the anti-Ahmedi disturbances in Lahore in 1953. It asks: “What is then the Islamic state of which everybody talks about but nobody thinks?…The ulema were divided in their opinions when they were asked to cite some precedent of an Islamic state in Muslim history.”
Imran Khan has repeatedly pointed to Britain (in his book) and Scandanavia (in speeches) as examples of an Islamic welfare state. This raises another obvious problem – neither Britain, Denmark, Norway nor Sweden are Islamic. They are all, however, secular liberal democracies with strong social welfare programmes. Is this what Imran Khan wants Pakistan to be? If so, it would seem that religion has nothing to do with the answer.
I can’t help but suspect that I’m asking the wrong question. Perhaps Khan saheb is not asking “how do we make Pakistan into Denmark”, but “how do I get elected”. The answer to the second question could very well include, “tell liberals that you want a social welfare state, but say it will be Islamic to please the religious parties”. All things to all people.
This is one of my biggest concerns about Imran Khan. When you try to be all things to all people, you end up standing for nothing.