Monday January 30, 2023

Khan’s contradictions

November 16, 2022

Former prime minister Imran Khan’s recent revelations that he no longer intends to criticize the US for its alleged role in his ouster from power may have surprised Western political commentators.

Pakistani analysts, however, are not surprised by his statement. During the last 12 years, they have witnessed him change his political positions so many times that they cannot even remember the exact number of U-turns Khan has taken since 2011.

In a recent interview to ‘Financial Times’, Khan implied that he no longer wished to continue his anti-American tirade and expressed his desire to have good relations with the country. It was only recently that we saw Khan venting his anger against Washington, and his supporters also unleashing criticism towards the sole superpower, asserting that the PTI was waging jihad against foreign interference in the political affairs of the country and protecting the sovereignty of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

Former federal minister Shirin Mazari carried out extensive research to find out the number of coups the US orchestrated across the world to prove that Khan was the reincarnation of the anti-imperialist leaders of the developing world. It is not clear if these PTI loyalists have also been shocked by the recent U-turn by Khan who is accustomed to changing political positions every now and then. It is difficult to understand how they will pacify zealot PTI workers who are ready to go to any extent to counter the US hegemonic designs and its alleged interference in the affairs of the country. Since Imran Khan’s political positions have always been indecisive, it cannot be said that the conspiracy mantra will not be repeated. But for the time being, it seems to have evaporated.

Khan was not accustomed to taking such positions at the time of forming his party. For a long time, he was consistent in his criticism towards non-democratic forces in the country, revealing some bitter truths about the way they operate. He was also right in pointing out that invisible powerbrokers used to keep checks on corrupt practices of several people to use them at the right time and force them to ditch their leaders. The Patriot group of the PPP and the PML-Q agreed with these allegations.

But after years of struggle, when he realized that he could not get power without the help of interventions, he decided to ignore the principles of politics for the sake of power. Not only did he create a situation where the veteran leftist leader, Meraj Mohammed Khan, had to part ways with him, he also sidelined all those who might have wanted to bring political change to empower the people, redistribute wealth and run the economy in a way that could benefit the over 200 million people of this country instead of favouring a tiny section of the oligarchs.

In 2011, he opened the gates of his party for conservative feudals, middle-class bigots, the ultra-modern elite, and retrogressive elements of society. The party that emerged had a variety of supporters – rigid clerics to music fans – all of whom decided to join the ranks of the revolutionaries. Although Khan had taken some contradictory political positions prior to 2011, like throwing support behind Musharraf, he was more or less consistent that the future of the country lied in a democratic process and the will of the people. After his massive Lahore jalsa in 2011, he appeared comfortable about the idea of going to any extent for coming to power.

So, the invisible powers of the state, whose political role he deeply despised, were welcomed by him as he enjoyed their patronage and political manoeuvring. PML-Q leader Chaudhary Shujaat Husain openly complained that his parliamentarians were being asked to switch loyalty and forced to join the ranks of the newly emerged PTI, but Khan, who used to have similar complaints of pressure being piled up on his parliamentarians, did not bother to ask those new entrants whether they were joining the ranks of the PTI out of their freewill or if they were being asked to do so. Khan, who once spoke against the feudal elite in the past, greeted feudals in his party – from Shah Mehmood Qureshi to Mumtaz Bhutto.

Even after coming into power, Khan’s habit of making contradictory statements did not change. Soon after coming to power, he made a passionate speech on poverty and stunted growth of Pakistani children. But he turned out to be a blessing for the super rich of the country, doling out bailout packages for stock exchanges, export lobbies and automobile importers, besides throwing support behind the owners of healthcare and educational institutes. Despite the tall claims of bringing neutral umpires in cricket, he would always insist on appearing on TV channels which favoured him.

None of his promises was honoured – from turning the PM House into a university to creating millions of jobs and constructing several million houses. When Nawaz Sharif and Asif Ali Zardari used to complain about the lack of authority they could wield, he would taunt them and ask Zardari to resign. But now the PTI chairperson has been complaining for some weeks that he was powerless during his term in office, asserting that the country’s powerbrokers controlled NAB and that he was not allowed to exercise his authority.

Khan’s recently developed a softer stance towards Washington should be seen in this historical context. It is clear that he has issued this statement to appease certain powers that were furious over his irresponsible statements that had created a lot of financial and economic problems for Pakistan at the international front. Pakistan is heavily dependent on Western powers to save it from a possible financial meltdown, and any tirade against the same powers will not go down well with Western capitals. Some might see Khan’s recent statement as an olive branch to those who brought him into power in the past.

It is quite possible that once Khan realizes that his way to the power corridors of Islamabad is blocked, he will again resort to the same anti-West and anti-American rhetoric. Since Khan has thrived on contradictory political positions, it is unlikely that he will stick to this soft stance for long. At public gatherings, he has already hinted at continuing with the anti-American tirade to maintain his support base.

The writer is a freelance journalist who can be reached at: