Après moi…?

Imran Khan remains his party’s only major asset; he is also being seen now as a major liability

Après moi…?


nly a few days ago, a passionate Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf supporter sat with me in a plush F6 café telling me that Imran Khan’s crossing of the Indus would turn out to be Julius Caesar’s crossing of the Rubicon. He also likened Khan’s declaration that “no obstacle can stop us; we will cross all the barriers and will reach…Islamabad” to the great Roman general and statesman’s presumed phrase, alea iacta est (the die has been cast). Amused, I wondered why a degree in politics from a reputed British school had failed to inculcate critical thinking in the young man. Khan was still on the other side of the Indus and some of the party organisers in Islamabad were employing all sorts of expletives for better known party stalwarts for dashing off to Peshawar rather than helping muster a sizeable presence in the capital.

Khan’s “short” Long March on May 25 was no veni, vidi, vici moment. Mounted atop a truck and flanked by second-tier party leaders, he remained adamant to press on with a flawed plan. Images of burning palm trees in the Blue Area, projectiling tear gas shells, refuge-seeking PTI supporters and hordes of social media zealots recording the mayhem for their online channels left no doubt about the way Pakistan was heading unless the situation was controlled quickly. The delay in Khan’s arrival and his unexplained decision to avoid D-Chowk dampened his supporters’ zeal. By the time his supporters started finding their way home, Khan had retreated to the safety of Peshawar. His 300-kanal estate in Bani Gala is no longer safe enough for him.

Public posturing aside, Imran Khan is probably feeling cheated, defeated and abandoned. Important party youth leaders admit that Khan is not happy with the lot he is left with. There is much bickering against one another. There are reports of him losing patience with some of the party bigwigs and openly accusing “close” comrades of organising only poorly attended public rallies and lacklustre gatherings. That could be one reason Imran Khan has changed his mind about hitting the road again. He seems to have understood that he can no longer do what he is known best for doing – street protest. There are still people who want to listen to him and believe his narrative but the numbers are smaller. In a country lacking in affordable public recreation, people have long settled for monotonous TV talk shows and jalsa-jaloos. But the stream is drying fast and Khan has started accusing most media outlets of being a tool in the hands of those brought to power through a “foreign conspiracy”.

The most painful realisation for Khan seems to have been a “neutral” Rawalpindi. The garrison town has been a twin to the federal capital and frequently credited with “running” Pakistan. Khan has called those he once cherished as his same-page allies all sorts of names. He is aware that most of his political associates are mere liabilities. But he is also mindful that these are all he is left with. Ensconced in Peshawar, he must be feeling feeble seeing the PMLN-PPP led unity government threatening to start all sorts of legal battles against him and his associates. What if he is called to appear before a court in Islamabad for breach of law? Will he feel safe travelling without the KP Police and the provincial political leaders escorting him? What will happen to his “bold and brave” face if he chooses a permanent refuge in Peshawar? What would be his course of action if the government sticks to its plan of denying him an early date for the next elections? Most importantly, what if he is arrested and put behind bars?

It is necessary for Imran Khan to understand that historical, political, social and societal realities have changed since the age that he keeps referring to. 

The great German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, once said that while insanity is an exception in individuals it is the rule in groups, parties, nations and epochs. Pakistani politics, the way it is being practiced today, reminds one of how apt political critical thinkers were centuries ago. Imran Khan’s political career was built for a particular purpose – to eliminate Nawaz Sharif from Pakistani politics. It seems that he has partially delivered that purpose. However, this has created new fault lines in the polity. His political mantra, “I did a few wrongs but I was made to do those by others. And never forget I did it for you,” is still popular with hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis.

In January 2016, Donald Trump reportedly told his electoral campaign that he could stand in the middle of the Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody without losing his voters. Imran Khan may still be thinking of himself in similar terms. However, this belief has brought him pretty close to losing it all. Writing for The New York Times on August 26, 2017, Peter Wehner said: “The damage Mr Trump has inflicted on the Republican Party is already enormous. If the party doesn’t make a clean break with him, it will be generational.” To stay relevant in the political arena, Imran must step back, recalibrate his politics and start afresh. He remains his party’s only major asset but he is also turning out to be a major liability.

He needs to understand that his political jargon is dated, his political strategy is limp, his political capital is waning and his personal appeal may not last long if the “unity” government starts delivering on economic and social fronts. During his Aitchison, Worcester, Oxford days, he must have heard that history keeps repeating itself. Only those who read it, learn from it and are capable of applying the lessons benefit from it. His political mindset seems to have fossilized. Someone in his party needs to shake him hard enough to make him realise that the party may already be over.

It is necessary for Imran Khan to understand that historical, political, social and societal realities have changed from the age that he keeps referring to. Hannibal and Julius Caesar live only in history books now. Tamerlane and Babur are no more. Siraj ud Daulah and Tipu are long dead too. Selective anecdotal lollipops from an age of empires, kingdoms and dynasties won’t deliver today. Khan needs not only to understand the value of democracy, democratic norms, constitutions and laws but he must also recognise the primacy of the most important modern political phenomenon in statecraft – political tolerance.

Like Russians who avoided annihilation at the hands of Napoleon and Hitler by using winter as their biggest fighting tool, Imran Khan should understand the strength of Pakistan’s sizzling summer. Exposing his foolhardy followers to extreme weather will only deplete his chances of putting together a potent political threat. Public sympathy is evaporating fast. The situation within his party cadres is not very healthy. To last longer, he must shed his unidirectional assault on his political opponents and start serious introspection.

He must also start reorganising his party cadres; trust the youth leaders; forget about electables; cast off his burlesque mélange of historical facts; and reignite his political endeavour. To be anywhere near meaningful again, he must drop his narcissistic demeanour. Recall what EJ Dionne Jr wrote in The Washington Post on May 21, 2017, while describing Donald Trump: “Moving an incorrigible narcissist towards self-criticism is as likely as changing the course of a river or the trajectory of the Earth’s rotation around the sun.”

But if he fails to overcome his weakness, the story of Imran Khan’s political struggle from here onwards could very likely be: veni, vidi, sese (I came, I saw, I retreated).

The writer works for the Jang/Geo Group. He tweets @aamirghauri

Après moi…?