Does Imran Khan know something that we don’t, for a change?
International wire Agence France Presse released an interesting feature on Khan last week, with a poser about whether he would stand for election the next time. This is what the legend said:
“Stand for election? We will sweep the election. What are you talking about — ‘stand’? The next party in power is going to be Tehreek-e-Insaf. I’m taking bets with anyone. You know I played five World Cups, never did I ever tell anyone, except in the last World Cup, that we would win it.”
That is some statement, some analogy to make. If wishes were horses — or to be more precise — politics just cricket in the way the charismatic former captain plied his trade, he would be crowned and all would be well with Pakistan.
But for all the glorious uncertainties surrounding the game we love, the possibility of Khan making the cut in politics is as remote as a coup in China. Not that he lacks in passion and perseverance. But perspective has run out.
A get-together in 1995 at a senior journalist’s residence in Islamabad was my first real interaction on politics with the cricketer-turned-philanthropist-turned politician.
Khan was making similarly tall predictions even then. He suggested that the forthcoming elections would be historic and the biggest since circa 1970!
I couldn’t resist the temptation to finally, challenge his claim that Tehreek-e-Insaf would win the polls. My premise was simple and it stands even today. Demagoguery apart, I asked him if he had his math right; in a 242 seat-House where and how he would conjure up a simple majority, let alone a two-third permutation, to form a government.
He got a little miffed when I suggested that while he was great at hoisting long and hard sixes, he was on a completely different wicket here. His response? “You wait and see how history will be made”.
Sixteen years on, little has changed both in terms of Khan’s statistical gains — he won his party’s sole National Assembly seat thus far, in the 2002 polls — and outlook.
This is not to suggest the World Cup winner is a non-starter but clearly, good intentions alone can’t pave the way to nirvana. Or else Air Marshal (retired) Asghar Khan would have taken off beyond an imagined flight.
And yet, it makes one sad because for all his realpolitik naïveté and rather obtuse theories of inclusivity with the Taliban for peace by disowning the war on terror and standing up to “imperialist” America against the run of play — forgetting that if Pakistan hadn’t defaulted time and again it was pretty much down to the US bailing it out — Khan appears to be a man who genuinely cares for his country and wants to make a difference.
Of course, in an ideal world, Pakistan would snap out of the vicious cycle of American dependency but that is not going to happen any time soon given the trappings of a near-dysfunctional state caught in a myriad of illnesses.
Much as we might hate the reference, former US secretary of state was only stating the obvious in describing Pakistan as an “international migraine” — it almost seems soft in comparison to what has evolved into a scarred national psyche following a series of humiliations starting with the Abbottabad episode.
There is an interesting paradox which is manifest in Imran Khan’s political avatar. A recent finding of the US pollster, Pew Research Center, gives him top billing. With a 68% approval rating, Khan is the country’s most popular “leader”. In contrast, Zardari’s stands at a miserly 11%.
These are interesting figures in that they appear to back popular sentiment, especially given the PPP co-chair’s history of alleged corruption and Machiavellian manipulation against Khan’s integrity. But these are lost in translation when it comes to the rough and tumble of Pakistani polity.
If the stats held good, Brand Zardari as we know it, would have been nipped long ago — he would either be rotting in jail or cooling his heels in the plush confines of anywhere between the US, UK or UAE while Khan would be the knight in shining armour.
But what we see isn’t what we get. When these facts are presented to Khan, he swats them away with that familiar revolution speak and when it is pointed out that his cult alone would not fetch the necessary numbers in parliament given the lack of any worthwhile second name in the party, he argues that even Bhutto started out alone.
The analogy is absurd: the first popularly elected prime minister was a near-sensation once he had worn the colours of defiance and continues to be relevant to the political narrative 32 years after his execution.
Ironically, Khan has spent nearly half that time, trying to find his calling.
The writer is a newspaper editor based in Islamabad and can be reached at [email protected]