All romantic quests face a mortal threat. They can succeed. When they succeed, the aspirant is delivered a flawed mortal – when a flawless deity had been ordered.
If a jeep delivers Imran Khan, the prime minister of Pakistan, on July 25, his followers may finally discover how naïve his political narratives are and how villainous his knights of the roundtable. They may find that Naya Pakistan is merely a badly refurbished version of old Pakistan. The urban middle class, the backbone of his support, may discover that while they had signed on for Imran Khan 1.0, they have been tied to Imran Khan 2.0.
Imran Khan is different from all other Pakistani politicians in one big way. He was a national hero even before he decided to set sails for the troubled waters of politics. However, converting cricketing capital into political capital proved an impossible task. He had to spend two decades in the dark woods before he clicked with a different generation in a different time for different reasons.
Imran Khan the politician, let’s call him Imran Khan 1.0, was born at the most glorious point of his life, around the year 1992. That was the year he turned 40, his teamwon the Cricket World Cup for Pakistan and a girl named Tyrian Jade was born to his friend, Sita White. In the same year, he started raising donations to build Shaukat Khanum Cancer Hospital which was inaugurated two years later.
The 40th year of life is associated with midlife all over the world. It is a period that tears life apart – into two parts. Freshly separated, the two parts of life often collide violently and give birth to that huge psychological tumult that is known as the midlife crisis. Midlife is a time when, for the first time, you can see the other side of the tunnel and come face to face with your own mortality. It is a time that forces you to ask existential questions and define your life in your own terms, rather than the terms that you were assigned in the lap of your mother and by society.
Midlife crisis may resolve itself or it may linger, keeping the two parts in a perpetual conflict. The youth that has gone may keep invading old age like a djinn or a ghost that can be assuaged by offering raw meat only temporarily. Old age may demand the dignity, wisdom and spirituality it deserves and may call upon nightmares to deliver its message. With loss of traditional, cultural means to resolve the crisis, the world has become a planet of psychotics, of teenagers in their sixties, seventies or even eighties.
The youth in the world is facing a similar crisis in graduating from childhood to responsible adult life. Alongside un-old old men, the world is overpopulated with overgrown children. This may be too harsh a comment, but in my opinion the whole genre of undead creatures (Draculas, Vampires etc) symbolises this crisis of failed rites of passage in our world. It is natural for the two groups to find some affinity with each other.
Coming back to 1992, for Imran Khan it was an exceptionally tumultuous year. It was during this year that he started showing signs of becoming a born-again Muslim. At this juncture, Imran Khan had also developed some rudimentary ideas about politics. He believed that his exposure to the West had enabled him to understand what was wrong with Pakistani society. In his mind, he had solved a puzzle that entire disciplines of development economics and sociology of development are grappling with, the problem often termed as ‘Getting to Denmark’. He had solved it simply because he had played cricket in Britain.
He had also resolved the problem of class conflict in Pakistan with the help of his mentor General Hameed Gul. Turning Marx and Engels on their heads, General Gul argued that Pakistan’s problems could be solved if corrupt politicians could be replaced by the middle class and a third political option is found to substitute the two major political parties. The good general conveniently forgot that it was his class of middle-class men who had ruled this country all along without solving anything. Imran took his narratives hook, line and sinker and made them an act of faith in the party he founded in 1996.
The class he was working for failed him again and again. They did not support him when the two leaders who had dominated Pakistan’s politics in the 1990s were forced into exile after Musharraf’s coup in 1999, emptying the arena for Imran Khan. Musharraf refused to give him a fair share in seats in the 2002 election and refused to make him prime minister. The corrupt politicians themselves did not find much interest in his party.
His moment finally came in 2013 when his popularity swelled due to a complex set of reasons, one being the fall of the PPP. The urban youth, fired up with the social media, finally got mobilised. His vote bank swelled 1700 percent in an election he then declared as rigged.
Between 2013 and 2018, Imran Khan ruled the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and learnt the harsh realities of Pakistan’s politics. He decided that he did not want to live and die like his hero, Asghar Khan, who, according to Imran Khan, had never compromised on his principles for the sake of power.
Imran Khan has changed his views about the structural shift in the division of political power. Now he believes that no election can be won without using electables and wealth. Socio-politics tells us that it is the powerful interest groups and socio-economic classes supporting a leader who have the last laugh rather than the leader himself. Naya Pakistan now hinges completely on one superhuman who will deliver us into a different galaxy because only he won us a cricket world cup in 1992.
Imran Khan 2.0 looks merely like a new version of the original Nawaz Sharif who was favoured by General Hameed Gul. If it is the horn of the jeep that we hear outside, Irman Khan is here to rule a fragmented Pakistan – a Pakistan he himself has fragmented. He will inherit political and economic instability – instability he has himself has stirred. He will face a culture of abuse – a culture he himself has promoted.
Nawaz Sharif is facing his own karma, the results of his past actions, with fortitude. Let’s see how Imran Khan fares. Perhaps, he will finally be able to resolve his midlife crisis, though Pakistan may still have to wait long to find a rite of passage to turn itself into a mature democracy.
The writer is an anthropologist and development professional.