Friday December 08, 2023

The strange case of Imran Khan

August 11, 2022

We have seen many politicians in our country and witnessed many different dramas involving the political scene and happenings within it. But the phenomenon of Imran Khan needs to be understood a bit better in both the social and political contexts.

Despite extremely bad governance, numerous displays of incompetence, the liberal use of abusive language, a denial of the truth time and time again, the building of wild conspiracy theories such as the alleged American ouster of his government, he has remained a popular figure with the people – at least with his own hardened supporters. The foreign funding case with the details published by the Financial Times, would have been enough to destroy most politicians around the world.

In the beginning, it was reasonable to believe in Imran Khan as many did in the hope that he was a man who could move away from the corrupt politics of Pakistan and put in place a system more in line with his humanitarian ventures such as the superbly run Shaukat Khanum Hospital and NUML University. But instead, he veered on strange paths with an apparent failure to choose a cabinet that could offer him any valid guidance.

It is also believed that in the beginning his success was due to the support he got from the ever-powerful in the country. He fell as this support vanished during the vote of no-confidence and at present some affiliated with the PTI are facing legal trials in the matter involving the social media campaign's run on the Lasbela chopper crash tragedy. Such incidents are tragic and should never be mocked or made a subject for humour.

We have seen how every allegation, every report, every insinuation of wrongdoing or foul play, slips off Imran Khan as if he was made of plastic. He may in the beginning have been a puppet but many believe the support he received from powerful elements is now a thing of the past. But people continue to believe in him and trust him for reasons that are somewhat mysterious. Yes, it is true the present government led by Shehbaz Shahbaz has also not been able to tackle inflation and the fall of the rupee, although there are some signs that this may be slowing down. However, the degree to which Imran Khan and his loyal men and women destroyed the country's economy is fairly shocking.

Their use of NAB as an institution to inflict revenge on the enemies made things even worse and turned accountability into a kind of farce. The same was true of the appointments which were made and the muzzle placed on the press with no one permitted to write anything, even on social media, which could discredit the government unless they wished to face the very real possibility of abduction and then unknown consequences. Those who returned from such ordeals have rarely spoken out and are clearly terrified of what they faced.

The question is whether the Imran Khan phenomenon will fade in the coming months. There is as yet evidence borne out by recent by-elections in Punjab that he is still a force to be reckoned with as is his party. Why is this so? For some, Imran Khan is the childhood hero who inflicted havoc on rival teams in the cricket field, and brought home the 1992 World Cup. For those in their middle ages he will forever be the tousle-headed fast bowler with astonishing charisma and a shy smile. His inswingers are still remembered by many. And before Waseem Akram and Waqar Younis took over, his bowling determined Pakistan’s fate in one test match after the other. In Pakistan and of course in neighbouring India sporting charisma stays with the person for a long time. His standing as a man who could woo Jemima Goldsmith and mix with the elite of Britain added to the entire aura surrounding him. This did not change even with the alterations in his outlook and approach in more recent years.

It is astonishing that despite the scandals he has faced, such as the Farah Gogi affair, the rumours about the involvement of his spouse in various matters notably those in Punjab, and other issues that we all are now extremely familiar with have not shaken the faith of people.

To understand all this, we should remember that Imran Khan is not a true politician. He was propped up by those who often act from behind the scenes. Unlike Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, to whom he frequently compares himself, he does not have the same political acumen or the same level of charisma that Bhutto commanded at his peak in the 1970s.

But despite this, Imran has other factors which go in his favour. People still believe that his conspiracy theories, which have become wilder and wilder over the years, are somehow true and that he was truly thrown out by the Americans. The fact that people once extremely close to him, say that he would rush to Washington if Joe Biden makes so much as a phone call of a few minutes, does not alter the opinion of people.

Imran Khan is then protected by a mysterious phenomenon. How long he can live with this and survive in the political scenario of Pakistan is unclear. But for now, despite all the knowledge of his political naivete and his lack of ability to run the country, he remains a figure to be reckoned with and could be a force on the political playing field in the coming years, unless recent moves are to be broadened.

The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor. She can be reached at: