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Our Pied Piper

Our Pied Piper
Irfan Husain

IN the legend, the Pied Piper led the children of Hamelin away to their doom by playing a tune on his magic flute.
Imran Khan, our own version of the medieval Piper, has not only misled a large proportion of Pakistan’s urban youth, but also a sizeable section of those inhabiting our media bubble. At the height of the famous dharna, or sit-in, in Islamabad, I saw a couple of well-known TV personalities positively salivating over the prospect of a military intervention.
Months of hype, hoopla and hysteria over charges of a systematic conspiracy to rob his party of the majority in the 2013 elections, and him of the prime ministerial role he feels entitled to play, paralysed the country. But finally, Imran Khan’s soaring ambitions have been dashed by the judicial commission’s finding that there was no diabolical plot after all. Ouch.
The bullying nature of the dharna underlined Imran’s contempt for democracy.
But why are people surprised by this latest display of irresponsibility and immaturity from Imran Khan? For years, he defended the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan, and opposed the military operation that has now largely routed terrorists in the tribal areas. So staunch was he in his support that he came to be dubbed Taliban Khan.
Then there was his strident opposition to the American drone attacks against ‘jihadi’ killers. Seeking to halt these strikes, he and his party mounted a massive campaign. In the process, coalition supplies were held up for weeks, drivers roughed up, and solemn commitments made by the government trampled underfoot. But the drones kept taking out militants, and continue to do so. Not a peep out of Imran Khan now, though.
In the build-up to the 2013 elections, Imran Khan opened the doors of his party to the very people he had denounced as corrupt opportunists. Understandably, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) loyalists who had stood firm during the party’s time in the wilderness were dismayed and disappointed. But clearly, Imran Khan’s ambition trumped his principles. So what, many people wondered, was the difference between the Kaptan and other politicians?
When he finally got a chance to show that his party was a cut above the rest after it led the government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, he failed the test. With virtually the entire provincial government camped in Islamabad for weeks to support its leader’s dharna stunt, the Peshawar administration, never the model of efficiency, ground to a halt. And after the recent fiasco over the local bodies’ elections with all the violence and charges of rigging, even PTI supporters were put on the defensive.
But it was the bullying nature of the Islamabad dharna that underlined Imran Khan’s contempt for democracy. After all the opinion polls pointing towards a PML-N victory, and clean chits from foreign and local election monitors, for Imran Khan to claim he was cheated was clearly a bid to delegitimise Nawaz Sharif’s government. For many, it was also an invitation for military intervention.
Partly because of the government’s sensible refusal to get drawn into a violent reaction, and partly due to the army chief’s reluctance to intervene, the dharna farce fizzled out, much to the nation’s relief. But consider the damage that was done. At least two presidents from friendly states, China and Sri Lanka, postponed their visits; billions were lost; thousands of daily wage workers lost their income; and the people of Islamabad were put through huge inconvenience. And yet, there has been no hint of an apology from Imran Khan. He and his sidekicks continue to mutter that the commission did not complete its job, as somehow there is still evidence of rigging waiting to be uncovered. The people Imran Khan malig¬ned day in and day out are still waiting for an apology.
But then, macho men like Imran Khan never say ‘sorry’. Had he made similar unpro¬ven allegations in, say, Britain, he would have had to sell his Bani Gala mansion to pay libel damages and legal costs. In Pakistan, however, our judiciary has never awarded any such claims, at least to my knowledge, thus encouraging slanderous mud-slinging.
I must say that none of Imran Khan’s words and actions have surprised me. Although I have admired his cricketing abilities and his philanthropic activities, he has always been a political novice. Arrogant, rigid and convinced that he’s right and anybody who does not agree with him is an idiot, he is poorly equipped for the daily compromises that are at the heart of politics.
So those who saw him as a messiah who would lead Pakistan out of the wilderness are living in the same fool’s paradise he is. This is a pity, given his appeal for millions of young Pakistanis, as he had a golden opportunity to translate this support into a genuine party of reform.
As it is, he has painted himself into a corner. Personal integrity by itself isn’t going to make him prime ministerial material: common sense and a little humility are desperately needed.
Published in DAWN 1 August 2015


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