By AJ Philip
The success of cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan in the just-concluded elections in Pakistan is proof that, ultimately, it is perseverance that pays. Twenty-two years after he formed the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (Pakistan Movement for Justice), he has emerged as the hope of Pakistan (Land of the Pure).
True, Khan did not get a clear mandate. He will have to cobble together an alliance to successfully run his government as the PTI did not get 137 seats in the National Assembly, necessary for a clear majority. However, that does not diminish the importance of his victory.
Reports from Pakistan suggested very clearly that Khan was the favourite of the voters. In a tight, three-cornered contest, a marginal advantage was all that was necessary for an upset win. And he had it in abundance.
The PTI won nearly double the seats Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (PML) won, pushing Bilawal Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) to the third position. There are enough Independents and smaller parties from whom Khan can solicit support and become the Prime Minister.
In 1997, when he contested from two constituencies — Mianwali and Lahore — he was at the zenith of his popularity as a cricketer. It was just five years earlier that, under his leadership, Pakistan won the Cricket World Cup, a feat it is yet to repeat. Yet, he lost in both seats giving rise to instant predictions that his political career was sealed.
Many remember the year he lifted the World Cup, not for his prowess on the field but for his prowess on the bed. It was in the same year that a lovechild was born to British heiress Sita White. He disputed her paternity without, of course, undergoing a DNA test but the child’s mother was able to win a suit in a US court.
What mattered to Khan, on whom a biographical film titled Kaptaan: The Making of a Legend was made, was that a Pakistani court did not take cognisance of the foreign verdict which it rejected with utter contempt.
That, of course, did not prevent the British woman from claiming that he wanted her to go in for an abortion, as she was carrying a female child.
Controversies of this type followed him while he carried on his Movement for Justice. His has been a steady progress from a non-entity to Opposition Leader to, now, Prime Minister. In between, he had to face arrest and incarceration and a threat to his life forcing him to take shelter in a bullet-proof vehicle. Finally, victory is in his hands.
It is significant that the PML, which questioned the legitimacy of Khan’s victory during the initial rounds of counting of votes, ultimately, accepted defeat and showed readiness to sit in the Opposition.
It was evident that its claim that Khan’s success was the result of rigging did not find acceptance among the voters. The PTI made an impressive performance even in Punjab where the PML enjoyed supremacy and Sind, considered the stronghold of the PPP.
But, then, it is a practice followed religiously by all political parties in Pakistan to attribute any party’s victory to rigging. Khan had himself claimed that the PML won the 2013 elections only because it resorted to large-scale rigging. Political observers in Pakistan could not have but taken note of the fact that both the PML and the PPP were down in the dumps.
The arrest of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his daughter in a corruption case could not have come at a more unfavourable time to the party, just when it was to face the national elections. That he was arrested on the basis of a judicial verdict lent greater legitimacy to the punishment. The PML could not attribute the arrest to political machinations, except at the risk of inviting the court’s opprobrium.
Bilawal Bhutto, the grandson of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and son of Benazir Bhutto, is considered a baby in politics, who is yet to establish his credentials as a person who can be trusted with political power. Pakistani voters would also have found that when it came to the brass tacks both the PML and the PPP resorted to the politics of dynasty.
For instance, the PML was led in the elections by the brother of Sharif, rather than someone with grassroots support. In contrast was Khan who stood apart as a dogged fighter whose pursuit of power was relentless. In short, he stood as the one who did not turn back after he put his shoulder to the wheel. He had credibility which his rivals lacked.
Khan’s critics claim that he had the clandestine support of the army. Nobody denies the influence of the armed forces in Pakistan. Unlike in India where the bright and the meritorious want to pursue a career in the civil services or have a dream of making big in Information Technology or engineering, the Pakistani elite wants to be in the army.
The army’s interests are not limited to defending the national borders as it also runs a vast business empire. Small wonder that for any Pakistani young man who wants to establish himself in life must become an army man. If the army has steered clear of politics and allowed two civilian governments to complete their term, it is because of the realisation that the people are also tired of military coups.
If Khan is believed to have enjoyed the support of the army, it is because of his willingness in the past to legitimise the army’s interference in politics. Once he justified the army’s role in politics by thunderously arguing that when politicians lost their moral authority to rule, the army enjoyed the physical authority to rule. Shorn of the subtleties, his was a powerful argument in favour of the army. It is a different matter that it did not show him in a good light.
At one time, he was a strong supporter of President Pervez Musharraf whose only authority to rule stemmed from the gun he wielded. As regards his morality, the whole world saw how he drafted soldiers in civilian clothes to occupy the Kargil heights when India had withdrawn its forces from the area during the winter as had been the practice hitherto.
Even so, it is highly unjustified to claim that Khan’s victory was on account of the support he received from the army. Nonetheless, it also remains to be said that no political leader can afford to antagonise the uniformed because the latter is the ultimate hope of many in Pakistan.
While there is considerable gloating over the fact that the army stood aloof from three successive general elections, there is also the dampener that the Pakistanis have been becoming weary of democracy. Only 51.8 per cent of voters took part in the elections. In other words, nearly half the voters preferred to sit at home than go to the polling booths and exercise their franchise.
It is 22 years since Khan has been articulating his political and other views. Yet, it is very difficult to straitjacket him. Is he a liberal which, in the Pakistani context, means modern, irreligious etc? Take the case of the Blasphemy Law which has been used to harass the minority Christians, Hindus and Sikhs in the past.
It is by common consent one of the darkest laws in the world. Any Christian or Hindu of Sikh can be accused of committing blasphemy and thrown into the jail. Not much proof is required for conviction. Someone just has to claim that the person concerned used improper language while referring to the Prophet Mohammed or did not show respect to the Holy Quran. That an all-powerful God needs such a law to protect His name in the land of the pure is outrageous, to say the least. To expect him to tone down the law is to expect him to end corruption.
Khan’s stand on the blasphemy law is in sharp contrast to his promise to usher in a state that Mohammed Ali Jinnah dreamt of. In India, Jinnah is considered the originator of the two-nation theory while the fact is that it was “Veer” Savarkar who first articulated that Hindus and Muslims were two nations and they could not coexist.
Jinnah was able to spread the fear among the Muslims that when India attained democracy, the Muslims would be deprived of their say in the administration, as numerical majority alone mattered in elections. He was able to get East and West Pakistan carved out of the Indian state.
Jinnah was not a fundamentalist, let alone a communalist, as he was portrayed. In fact, he was not a great practising Muslim. He enjoyed his drinks and relished food that the prudent considered as un-Islamic.
In a landmark address to the nation soon after Independence, Jinnah said, “You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this state of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the state”.
Not only that, he also visualised, “Now I think we should keep that in front of us as our ideal and you will find that in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the state”.
No, Jinnah did not describe Pakistan as a secular state. When BJP leader Lal Krishna Advani used these quotes to claim that Jinnah was “secular” it caused a tsunami in the BJP putting him on the defensive. He has still not been able to convince the doubting Thomases in the party about his theory though he devoted several pages in his autobiography for this purpose.
Few gave allowance to the fact that Jinnah was a Shia in a Sunni-majority country. Less than a decade after Jinnah’s death, Pakistan declared itself an Islamic state where only a Muslim could become the president. Does Khan have the mandate or the necessary political courage to make Pakistan what Jinnah dreamt of?
The answer seems to be in the negative, given his willingness to lent his shoulder to elements like the Taliban to shoot not just at the American drones but also those who do not want Pakistan’s policies to be dictated by the Pakistani intelligence agency ISI. Even if there is a bit of truth in what one of his ex-wives Reham Khan said about him in her autobiography, he does not come across as a decent human being.
What is more important is that the people of Pakistan paid no heed to the wild charges she made against him. The fact remains that Jemima Goldsmith, whose marriage with him lasted a decade, was right when she said that her sons’ father was due to become the Prime Minister of Pakistan. If Reham Khan is right, there are five children, some in India, who, too, can claim that their biological father has achieved his political ambition.
Be that as it may, Khan has promised to unite the country under his leadership. He has promised to usher in a corruption-free system of governance. At 66, he is not in the prime of health but he has the pan-Pakistan appeal that transcends his Pashtun ethnicity.
Corruption is so deep-rooted in Pakistan as in India that it will be an uphill task for him to root it out. His promise to shift to a smaller house than the Prime Ministerial mansion and use the stately governor houses for purposes other than as the residence of the governors might have resulted from his initial enthusiasm but it makes it obligatory for him to walk the talk.
Nobody knows for sure what Khan’s view on Kashmir is. Except for repeating that the issue should be settled once and for all through talks between the two countries, he has not said anything of significance. He is now in a position to review the Kashmir policy Pakistan has been pursuing for the last seventy years without any positive outcome.
Needless to say, it has cost the two nations heavily. There are vested interests in Pakistan as there are in India who would not agree to any settlement of the issue for it will deprive them of their right to existence. They would, therefore, like the two nations to remain at loggerheads with each other.
Imran Khan will now have to prove that he has the wherewithal to find lasting solutions to the problems that plague the nation from terrorism to growing unemployment to the free rein that the fundamentalists enjoy. As Indians, we can only wish him Godspeed in the fulfilment of his promises to the electorate. After all, a happy, prosperous Pakistan is in India’s eternal interest.
Courtesy: Indian Currents