Imran Khan is a frequent guest on talk shows, yet I am not sure whether the regular appearances on TV are helping his cause. His understanding of history and politics appears muddled and although Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf fans are unmoved because of their yearning for change, I find it difficult to support change for the sake of change alone, for there are several instances in world history when corrupt regimes have been toppled and change has come, but the arbiters of that change have failed to deliver to the people. More importantly, to be in a position to change things drastically, Imran would have to inspire large numbers of people, not just the unemployed youth but also poets, professionals and the politically astute, who would then jointly work towards common goals to deliver to the masses.
In a recent television interview, Imran, always shy to talk about his team, stated that if he were in government “experts could be hired”. It appears therefore that Imran’s idea of a sound government is one in which he would be heading a team of hired technocrats. And yet, he insists that he will only come in through the ballot. Given our parliamentary system, the two scenarios are mutually exclusive. Nevertheless, Imran, given a free hand by most anchors, waxes eloquent about the accomplishments of Mahathir Mohamad. Mahathir, who was prime minister of Malaysia from 1981 to 2003, was a dictator and not a democrat. While I do not believe that a dictator can do no good, and certainly Mahathir is an example of a dictator under whom Malaysia prospered, one must also note that during dictatorships, dissent is crushed. In Mahathir’s case, although Malaysia rapidly modernised and grew economically, political opponents such as Anwar Ibrahim were persecuted, civil liberties were curbed and an independent judiciary was not tolerated. Yet, I am absolutely astounded that in all, the talk shows that Imran has said Mahathir is his model, no anchor has cross-questioned him on Mahathir’s clampdown of the judiciary, which was not too dissimilar to Musharraf’s.
More recently, Imran has begun to count Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan as a hero as well. This is interesting because Erdogan is a highly charismatic, democratically-elected leader. Involved in politics from an early age, he had contested local elections to become mayor of Istanbul in 1994. Although his performance as mayor was laudable, having addressed water, traffic and pollution concerns, the Welfare Party, led by Necmettin Erbakan, and of which Erdogan was a part, was ousted from power by a “judicial-military alliance”. Turkey’s secular army did not appreciate the radical rhetoric of the Welfare Party and the judiciary shut the party down after declaring it a threat to the ‘Kemalist nature of Turkey’. Erodogan, along with others, was sent to prison. A few months later, Erdogan emerged from prison to set up the Justice and Development Party and merely a year later, the party swept the election. This simply goes to show that if a political party is popular among the people, there is little that the powers-that-be can do to stop its success. So Imran’s cries about flawed electoral rolls and an independent election commission sound more like excuses than legitimate reasons for his political failure.
Furthermore, instead of becoming bitter and anti-system, Erdogan became more pragmatic after his political persecution. He distanced himself from the Welfare Party’s anti-American rhetoric and vowed to uphold Turkey’s secular credentials. Although he has now been prime minister for more than eight years, Erdogan has focused on improving Turkey’s economy and enhancing its international relations, without involving himself in mundane sloganeering, as Imran is wont to do. Erdogan continues to woo the European Union, has not pulled Turkey out of Nato, recognises Israel and openly espouses the benefits of secularism. Yet, at the same time, he has also moved Turkey closer to Iran, Arab countries and Latin America, and has emerged as a beacon of stability and democracy in the Muslim world. If Imran read up further on his heroes, he may understand that ‘revolutionary ideology’ must inspire the electorate and not those who seek to bypass it.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 17th, 2011.