Imran Khan and the ‘liberals’


Addressing a lawyers’ gathering at the Rawalpindi Bar on Saturday, the leader of Tehreek-e Insaf, Mr Imran Khan, once again belaboured a certain section of society as “liberals”. They fly in the face of national emotion and hurt the state of Pakistan, he alleged. He particularly condemned their interpretation of the phenomenon of the Taliban and their support to the war against terrorism “at the behest of America”. He blamed them for the state’s attack on the terrorists of Lal Masjid in 2007 by “pressuring” the Musharraf regime into taking action against “innocent” seminarians.

This is not the first time Mr Khan has castigated the “liberals”. He once called those who espouse universal human rights as “liberal fascists”. His diatribe this time was extremely bitter and needs to be examined. Since Pakistan is clearly not dominated by “liberal fascists” (far from it, it is dominated by illiberal fascists and arch reactionaries), it is obvious that he is attacking the “liberals” in order to allow himself the opportunism of ignoring the violation of human rights by those (Taliban, extremists, militants, call them what he will) who operate against the writ of the state in the tribal areas.

Good old liberal days?

Unfortunately, the truth is that Mr Khan can never stop being the favourite of many of the very liberals that he berates. He is an icon whose achievement as a social worker they recognise to strengthen their own liberal arguments. No matter how insanely lethal he becomes in his attacks on this shrinking community that insists on crying foul from the margins of society, the fact remains that they defended him in the days when he himself was attacked as a Westernised liberal married to a Western liberal. There was a time when the leader of the Jama’at-e Islami, the religious party closest to him these days, called him “a liberal at heart”. Indeed, his political opponents at that time (who are his close political allies today) leaned on the unworthy practice of referring to his social past; but no liberal ever did anything like that.

Imran Khan’s girl friend Sita White and daughter Tyrian Khan

Islamists don’t love dogs. Do you, Mr. Khan?
The so-called “liberal” voice as the gnawing conscience of the nation has bothered others too. Pakistan’s top Urdu columnist published a plaint against the liberals on February 3, 2001 and accused them thus: “The ‘liberals’ are busy demonising the Taliban and predicting Talibanisation of Pakistan. On the other hand, Islamic movements have a way of becoming moderate after reaching a certain level of intensity, as it happened in Iran and is bound to happen in Afghanistan”. According to him, Pakistani society was altogether of a “different sort” and would not succumb to Talibanisation “after the Taliban have completed their conquest of Afghanistan”. In fact, he wrote that Pakistan was a “cosmopolitan” society and would remain “cosmopolitan” and never allow the religious fanatics to take over even if the latter become stronger than at present! In his next column (February 9, 2001), the same columnist rebutted the “liberal exaggeration” that, after the jihadi outfits are done with Kashmir, they will turn upon Pakistan and establish control over it in tandem with the Taliban extremists from the West. He even quoted a Quranic verse in Sura Al Kafirun and its message of tolerance as proof of Islam being a “liberal” religion. As for the general accusation that Pakistani liberals sided with General Musharraf, a call of appreciation he received from a general — who later became governor of Punjab under Musharraf — is quite revealing: that his “rebuttal of the liberals” was truthful and that he agreed that the liberals were wrong in their assessment and were “damaging to Pakistan in so far as they had spread the word abroad and created a wrong impression about the country”.

Imran Khan manhandled by the student wing of Jamaat-e-Islami in Lahore

Taliban flog an alleged narcotics smuggler in Charbagh tehsil in Swat valley on Monday. The Taliban lashed three people in a public trial for their suspected involvement in drug trafficking. A military operation has been going on in the valley to oust the Taliban. 16 Dec 2008. afp

Eight years down the road, the marginal “liberal” has been proved right. Now one has to be in denial mode to prove that he is wrong. But judging from the way the critique of Talibanisation has spread around the country, one has to concede that liberalism is not a political creed but a bent of personality that may be found in elements in all political ranks. We realise that Imran Khan has to bend to the call of vicious Pakistani politics and thus justify the plank he has chosen. But people know that he has not defended the rights of the minorities and women in Pakistan. Instead he has clutched at the convenient device of blaming Talibanisation and the plight of the unprotected exclusively on America. A “liberal” interpretation of his position would be: “confusion worst confounded”. (Daily Times, 9 March 2009)

Also read:

Liberal Fascism versus Religious Fascism: An interesting conversation

Imran Khan demands the imposition of shariat in Pakistan

Imran Khan’s PTI vows to follow the Mullah Fazullah militancy model…

Is Imran Khan the new choice of agencies (ISI) in Pakistan?

How we lost Swat — Nasir Abbas Mirza

Pakistan’s left towards rights. Partners in crime?

Read the following op-eds by Abbas Ather:



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