A Bharat Ratna for Imran Khan? – S Iftikhar Murshed


Young supporters of Imran Khan take their picture with a mobile phone during a Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf rally in Islamabad.
Young supporters of Imran Khan take their picture with a mobile phone during a Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf rally in Islamabad

If the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf leader really wants to establish a ‘new Pakistan,’ he will first have to change himself


[dropcap]P[/dropcap]rime Minister Narendra Modi would be justified in conferring India’s highest civilian award, the Bharat Ratna, on Imran Khan. Last Sunday at the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI) rally in Islamabad Imran threatened to shut down Lahore on December 4, Faisalabad on December 8, Karachi on December 12, and, finally all of Pakistan by December 16 if his demands were not met.

The Bharat Ratna was instituted in 1954, and, in the 60 years since then it has been conferred on only two foreigners – Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan (1890-1988) in 1987 and Nelson Mandela (1918-2013) in 1990. Mother Teresa (1910-1997) also received the honour in 1980 but she had become a naturalized citizen of India. However, Imran Khan stands out in a category by himself in promoting India’s national security and foreign policy priorities.

His container-top rhetorical outburst in Islamabad on November 30 was one of the many outlandish statements that Imran is in the habit of making. The next day the vice chairman of the PTI, former foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, told the media that the Lahore event had been postponed to December 15 and countrywide demonstrations would now be held on December 18.

He was also at pains to explain that by ‘shut down’ Imran Khan had never meant that the major cities and the entire country would come to a grinding halt. What had been planned were massive rallies on the thoroughfares of important urban centres and business transactions would not be disrupted.

In the rough and tumble of politics, leaders sometimes say and do absurd things. Shah Mahmood Qureshi is particularly adept in making notoriously inaccurate statements. His claim that commercial life will not be interrupted by the huge PTI demonstrations in the major cities of Pakistan defies logic. But Qureshi has always been a dreamer and his imagination often runs riot because of his inability to think things through rationally.

Subsequently, he told the media on Tuesday that the PTI could consider postponing the launch of countrywide protests if the government agreed to resume the stalled negotiations on his party’s demands. Though this has been readily conceded it is far from certain what the eventual outcome will be.

Imran Khan has probably realized that he was carried away by his own rhetoric. He has admittedly galvanized massive public support as was evident from the unprecedented turnout at the rally in Islamabad. But it is just not possible for the PTI alone to paralyze the entire country, or, for that matter even the major cities. Imran has bitten off more than he can possibly chew, and this is what has prompted the offer of negotiations with the government.

Politics is a game of snakes and ladders where the main players are serpents. The Pakistani variety is particularly deadly and will go to any extent to reach the top even if this implies damaging national interests and disgracing the country before foreigners.

Last week Imran Khan proudly told thousands of his supporters: “I made it clear to the Chinese ambassador that we have no objection to Chinese companies doing business here, but we want to make sure that the Sharif family doesn’t have any personal stakes in these businesses – that’s simply not acceptable.”

But the PTI leader is not the only politician to have stooped so low as to malign his own government before an envoy of a country that has taken a decision to invest heavily in Pakistan. The sense of national pride and self-respect often falls by the wayside in the frenzied race for power.

Thus barely three years back at the height of the Memogate affair, then prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani told a correspondent of the Peoples’ Daily of China that the former COAS General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and the director general of the ISI at the time, Lt Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha, had violated the constitution and had acted illegally by submitting affidavits to the Supreme Court on the scandal without the approval of the government.

This is probably without parallel as never before has any sitting prime minister gone to the extent of vilifying his own army chief and head of intelligence in an interview to foreign correspondent. Even worse, the accusations were made at a time when General Kayani was on an official visit to Beijing and had been received by the Chinese premier.

The shame and embarrassment that had been caused to the country was of little consequence to the prime minister who justified his disgraceful comments by claiming that the interview had taken place after the COAS’ return to Pakistan.

Three times prime minister, Nawaz Sharif has been even more indiscreet in his dealings with foreign correspondents. In an interview to Kim Barker, the Chicago Tribune’s South Asia bureau chief from 2004 to 2009, he disclosed that Ajmal Kasab, the only terrorist involved in the Mumbai attacks to be captured alive was from Faridkot, a small town in the Okara district. In her 2011 book, The Taliban Shuffle, Barker writes: “For us, this was big news – a senior Pakistani confirming what the government had publicly denied: The attackers were from Pakistan.”

At other places the author succumbs to journalistic sensationalism. For instance Barker claims that during one of her several meetings with Nawaz Sharif, he said: “I’m fat and I’m old. But I would still like to be your friend.” In February this year there were reports in the international media that the book will be adapted as a feature film, and on June 30 Paramount Pictures announced that it had short-listed directors.

The Wikileaks cables show that Maulana Fazlur Rehman approached US Ambassador Anne Patterson, who was accredited to Pakistan from 2007 to 2010, and sought her help in becoming prime minister. In return he promised to promote American interests in the country.

The crooning leader of the MQM, Altaf Hussain, who provides frequent entertainment through his speeches from far away London, went to the extent of writing to the British prime minister on September 23, 2001 urging the dissolution of the ISI. The letter, which was delivered to 10 Downing Street by Nirj Deva currently a member of the European parliament for Southeast England, reads: “The ISI secret agency must be disbanded otherwise it will continue to produce many Osama bin Ladens and Talibans in (the) future.”

Such is the depressingly low integrity of those who arrogate to themselves the role of leaders. Despite their claims, none of them are capable of transforming the country. Even then, Imran Khan emerges as the best out of a bad lot but the problem is that he has an undergraduate mentality.

If the PTI leader really wants to establish a ‘new Pakistan,’ he will first have to change himself. This has to be followed by rectifying the fundamental flaw in the 18th Amendment by instituting constitutional checks and balances in the powers of the president and the prime minister. Without this there cannot be any real transformation of the country.

Imran Khan’s plan to shut down Pakistan is crass stupidity. He and the leaders of the other political parties have failed the country in the past. But is there any genuine remorse for the bleeding wounds they have inflicted on the nation? Have they reformed? Or is a new force, yet incipient, emerging that can put the country back on the track of political, economic and social equilibrium?

In the last seven years there has been significant change inasmuch as an independent judiciary has been restored. The massive popular outpouring prompted by Pervez Musharraf’s March 9, 2007 presidential reference against the former chief justice, Iftikhar Chaudhry, led to the latter’s reinstatement on July 20. The political parties were mere bystanders in the countrywide lawyer-led upsurge.

This was the first sign of a spontaneous wakening of civil society from its slumber and could have been harnessed into a popular political force. But the opportunity was squandered. Can Imran Khan reignite such a movement? Till now he has only said and done silly things. Will he change? Or is this only a forlorn hope?–The News International


All opinions and views expressed in columns and blogs and comments by readers are those of individual writers and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Caravan


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