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The froth of Khan

BY  ON 01 28TH, 2010
The froth of Khan

What can one say about Imran Khan? A great former cricketer, a compassionate philanthropist … a sorry excuse for a politician. But his continuing forays into bad politics and tactical blunders can be excused, for he is yet to understand that politics is not a game of cricket, and that the democratic election process does not follow the selection policy he enforced as the captain of the Pakistan cricket squad.

The truth is, Khan’s penchant for picking up talented players seemed to have gone haywire when he decided to pick his early political mentors.

Coming from a highly educated, cultivated, and somewhat liberal background, Khan had slipped into reverse gear by the time he decided to enter politics in the early 1990s. In other words, instead of looking forward to becoming an integral part of a new, democratic, and General Zia-less Pakistan, Khan struck an ideological partnership with shadowy characters who were hell-bent on keeping the country stuck in the 1980s – a decade when Pakistan pulled and damaged all of its important political, economic and social muscles under the stressful weight of a myopic dictatorship and the damaging jihad that a dictatorship sponsored in Afghanistan.

By the time Khan officially entered politics sometime in late 1995, it wasn’t his pristine education at Oxford University, or a more insightful understanding of Pakistan’s political history, that was informing his political make-up. On the contrary, his ideology was weaved from the usual reactionary claptrap one expects from former ISI men, especially those who got emotionally involved in Pakistan’s counterproductive Afghan jihad project.

One such chap was General (retd.) Hamid Gul, who is squarely responsible for shaping Khan’s rather warped understanding of Pakistan’s political history and dynamics.

The next natural step for him was, of course, going further down the reactionary rabbit hole, where a world brimming with the most outlandish ideas and concepts of history, politics and society continues to thrive. This hole is the same into which a number of urban, middle-class Pakistanis have decided to fall, becoming an isolated cult of sorts with its own set of prophets that include certain music and fashion celebrities, TV personalities, cricketers, journalists, televangelists, et al.

This cult also has its own understanding of Pakistani politics, society and faith, one that is a highly animated concoction of the distorted content still present in many of the country’s history and religion text books. This world view espouses a narrative patronised by the post-Zia military and intelligence agencies that puts Pakistan at the centre of the universe around which malicious anti-Pakistan and anti-Islam forces are constantly trying to undermine the country’s political and cultural wellbeing. As such, this narrative is highly anti-democracy, and thus looks at Pakistan’s ethnic and sectarian diversity and plurality suspiciously and akin to being a danger to Pakistan’s ideological singularity premised on the belief that there is only a single, homogenous strain of faith and nationalism that thrives (or should thrive) in Pakistan.

Alas, this train of thought does not emerge from the figurative masses. It stems from the Punjab-dominated, military-bourgeois-religious elite and its many fans among the large sections of the province’s urban middle-classes. Mind you, it is the same elite that was highly pro-America during the Cold War and played a leading role to continue undermining democracy and populist political parties through the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. And if the decade of the 1990s is anything to be learnt from, one can also suggest that it is this elite that becomes highly vocal and animated whenever Pakistan slips away from the clutches of a military dictatorship and plants itself back in the more democratic domain.

To put it simply, it is ironic watching and hearing men such as Khan, Gul, Munawar Hassan and Zaid Hamid spout populist lectures and speeches on corruption, sovereignty and patriotism, when the truth is that much of what these gentlemen are spouting is nothing more than a slippery version of the narrative propagated by the above-mentioned elite whose roots are not in the so-called masses, but in the smoky corridors of Pakistan’s intelligence agencies and in the comfortable drawing-rooms and TV lounges of the country’s urban middle- and upper-income groups.

There is no doubt that men like Hamid, Hassan, and Gul are (in a Machiavellian manner) pretty conscious of this dichotomy and not bothered at all as long as it helps them keep a large section of the country’s urban bourgeois entertained and thrilled by long-winded myths and tall tales of “Muslim supremacy” and assorted tirades against democracy and rational politics.

But I do wonder if Khan is conscious of the fact that much of what he chants in the name of the poor people, free judiciary, national sovereignty, and Islam is largely a by-product of the nonsense generated for years by the country’s economic, military and social elite groups? However, since Khan has not been above hypocrisy and contradiction himself, blundering over and again by questioning the moral make-up of everyone from President Asif Zardari to Mian Nawaz Sharif and Altaf Hussain, only to be faced by some ugly reminders of his own not-so-moralistic past, one can assume that he too is conscious of the above-mentioned dichotomy.

What’s more, though one would have imagined that a man like him was likely to have avoided certain disturbing exhibitions of xenophobia and sheer racism that have now crept in the narratives and mind-set of men like Hamid and his bourgeois elite following, Khan blundered again by deciding to actually appear on a controversial TV show on which Hamid and his warped sidekicks make a mockery of history and politics, peddling nationalistic chauvinism as patriotism, and paranoid fiction as ‘fact.’

If Khan takes himself seriously, what on earth was he doing on a show in which it was claimed that Einstein’s equation ‘E=MC2’ meant nothing and was actually another step by the Zionists in their march towards world domination, and that Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry too was ‘planted’ by western and Israeli agencies. This is only the tip of the iceberg made from the insane yet comical absurdities that do the rounds on that show. And yet Khan, who calls his party a mainstream political organ, decided to appear on a show that operates like a millennial, end-of-the-world cult?

The more tenacity mainstream political parties in the present parliament exhibit in the face of a rabid onslaught against its character by the Taliban, the media, and assorted drawing-room cranks, the more frustrated these gentlemen get, consequently becoming more audacious and absurd in their attacks.

The same thing might have happened recently with Khan. Perhaps getting more aware of the lack of any worthwhile electoral ability of his party (even though it has now been around for a decade), he proved himself to hold the same xenophobia and racial superiority that large chunks of the urban middle-classes have started to suffer from.

During a speech in Lahore, he lashed out at President Zardari and MQM’s Altaf Hussain, using the most worn-out critical clichés that the two men usually face on TV screens. But this was not the problem. Khan wasn’t saying anything new or offensive in this respect. However, while winding up his rhetorical tirade, he got carried away and revealed the true extent of his xenophobia. While attacking MQM member and a minister in the PPP-led coalition government, Babar Ghauri, Khan sarcastically equated him with African children.

Ghauri, who, like most MQM leaders, rose from a lower middle-class background and worked his way through the ranks amidst a number of crackdowns on his party by the state in the 1990s, has a dark complexion. And it is this that the mighty Khan (‘man of the masses’ – most of whom are not as fair as Khan himself), chose to ridicule. Speaking in Urdu, Khan said, “Ghauri was sitting (talking to me) on TV, so what should I say to this guy? I (wanted to tell him), Babar Ghauri, if I go to Africa, I can show you a hundred kids that look like you!”

I wonder if Khan spoke the same way about West Indian greats such as Viv Richards or Clive Lloyd? And is this why the great Khan chose to marry a white British woman instead of a ‘brown’ Pakistani girl? And was the great reborn Muslim and ‘honest politician’ so peeved with late Benazir Bhutto only because she could speak better English than him and have an equally fair complexion?

We can go on and on ridiculing Imran in this respect, but one would have to crouch as low as men like him have stooped just to bag applause from bored TV viewers.

A man with such a fantastic cricketing career, and an impressive record of philanthropy, a man who once seemed to possess all the right ingredients to become a truly enlightened and loved politician, has, unfortunately, landed on his face. He now sounds like an awkward cross between a freckled member of the Ku Klux Klan and a frustrated shrew who treats his country as a lowly damsel in distress who can only be saved by a fair prince like him, instead of those who come into power with the votes of the common, albeit dark Pakistanis.

nadeem_80x80 Nadeem F. Paracha is a cultural critic and senior columnist for Dawn Newspaper and Dawn.com.

 

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