Dr. Ayesha Siddiqa, along with Kamran Shafi, Dr Mohammad Taqi, Nadeem Paracha and a few others, is one of those writers who I respect because of their principled stance on the military state, right wing extremists and urban-centric liberal-nationalists.
However, I have a few comments about Dr. Siddqa’s recent article titled ‘An Incomplete Dialogue’ on Imran Khan which she wrote after reading IK’s recently published biographical book.
Dr. Siddiqa identifies something what she describes as ‘the real strength of the book‘ :
Refreshingly, Imran’s ideological politics does not follow the Taliban. In fact, after reading the book one is sure he is not a Taliban as many accuse him to be. … his discourse on religion and the state does not seem to have followed the Jamaat or Hamid Gul script. While some may call it naïve, which it is partly, I would call it an unfinished conversation in which the author has struggled to find the liberal forces within religion. For instance, for Imran, the role of the state in Islam is that of a welfare state.
In fact, the pursuit of liberal forces in Islam and a tolerant interpretation of religion is not a new idea by any standards, not even within South Asia, where we have scholars such as Dr. Muhammad Iqbal, Javed Ahmad Gamidi, Dr. Riffat Hassan amongst many others who presented and supported liberal views on religion. Within politicians, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s approach to Islamic socialism and musawat is an example of how religion might be interpreted to promote and actualize modern concepts to achieve a welfare state.
Dr. Siddiqa writes:
Clearly his inspiration is not Wahhabism or Deobandism but comes closer to the Sufi-spiritualism
How can anyone who is “inspired by Sufi-spiritualism” not utter a single word against the Taliban who proudly bomb Sufi shrines on a regular basis?
This is how Dr. Siddiqa explains Imran Khan’s (sympathetic or apologist) stance on Taliban and the Pashtun tradition, i.e., his suspicion of the US designs:
His sympathy for the Taliban and what he considers as Pashtun tradition, and anger against the US is driven by his suspicion of the damage that American presence has done to the region…In any case, many of the liberal-nationalists have similar views. Over the years, many Pakistanis, like Imran Khan, have become ever more confused on what to make of Taliban and Talibanisation.
In my view, Dr. Siddiqa may wish to pay more attention to the possibility that Imran Khan himself is, per choice, a liberal nationalist. In the military state of Pakistan, it is not only Islamist right wingers who serve the strategic and political interests of the Jihad Enterprise, equally important is the role of urban-centric liberal elite (liberal-nationalists) who dutifully support and justify actions and directions of the military state. For example, Imran Khan’s role in politics may not be differentiated from Ejaz Haider’s role in English media. This Tariq-Ali-esque view on Taliban = Pashtun nationalism is also shared by Khaled Ahmed, a view which in turn reinforces what the military establishment and its subsidiaries such as the Jinnah Institute would like us to believe.
It is problematic to conceive that Imran Khan’s ideological politics is different from his actual politics: Taliban apologist, Jamaat Islami-Hamid Gul-ally, US-phobe. It is hard to ignore that many people in and around Imran Khan’s ACTUAL politics are ISI’s assets. Through his opportunist and pragmatic dharnas (sit-ins) on drone attacks on AQ/TTP hideouts in FATA, his similar opportunistic stance on Raymond Davis and Kerry-Lugar Bill issues, he is trying to ride the anti-American wave just like the MMA did in 2002. This makes him a very pragmatic ideologue!
Then, there is a whole culture of conspiracy theories which is reinforced and spread by none other than Imran Khan himself, such as his stance on Black Water and foreign agents defaming Taliban. Here is Ali Azmat at a PTI rally talking about ‘liberal fascists’ and ‘the fact’ that suicide bombers are Chechens and Indians
Imaran Khan’s approach to moderate Islam and liberal values can’t be gauged from cosmetic liberal narratives he inserted in his “written for Western audience” book. In our minds, memories of Sipah-e-Sahaba and JI flags in Imran Khan’s public meetings are still afresh, and of course very disturbing.
Obviously Taliban and LeJ-SSP terrorists can tell their ideological allies from their ideological foes. Therefore, they are quite selective in attacking political leaders and jalsas. Is it a coincidence that the PPP and ANP are the two main parties to have lost hundreds of their leaders and workers to terrorism while there is no evidence of such attacks on PTI, JI or PML-N jalsas?
The last two lines in Dr. Siddiqa’s article are rather ambiguous.
Imran has to find a way of critiquing his Jamaat companions and using his stature to bring greater rationality. Not to forget, we don’t want to loose [sic] another politician in the Taseer way.
What’s the message here? Should Imran Khan learn from Salmaan Taseer’s death and therefore take a more careful stance on certain sensitive issues? How can Khan criticize his Jamaat companions rationally, take a clear stance on sensitive issues and still escape the wrath of right wingers is something Dr. Siddiqa does not explain.
In Dr. Siddiqa’s view, Imran Khan’s book is written for western audience to project a tolerant and peaceful image of Islam:
Like Benazir Bhutto’s last book, Imran’s has also been written for a foreign audience as an effort to disabuse non-Muslims (and Muslims) of their ill-founded perceptions of Islam as being a religion of violence. His constant citation from the Holy Quran is aimed at highlighting its rationality and inherent call towards peace.
In my humble view, more than anything else the cosmetic liberal discourse in Imran Khan’s book can be explained through two reasons: (a) Khan needs to adopt a liberal stance on Islam in order to reconcile not only with his colourful past but also his current life style. Of course, how else could he justify his penchant for music and dances, western cuisine, children’s relocation to UK and social interaction with liberal elite in Pakistan, UK and US; (b) He also needs to build his image as a tolerant, moderate Muslim to the Western audience in order to enhance his acceptability as a future leader of Pakistan. This message is not much different from what Nawaz Sharif tried to convey in his first speech after taking oath as Pakistan’s Prime Minister (i.e., I am not an extremist).
Clearly, Khan is NOT seeking “to find the liberal forces within religion”. He is seeking to justify his personal lifestyle in Pakistan and repair his political credentials in the West. This is not a case of ‘incomplete dialogue’, this is a case of incomplete justification.
PS: For Imran Khan’s candid views on liberalism and Islamic shariat, watch his interview (in Urdu) with Dr. Shahid Masood, in which he uses clichés and sentences borrowed from ISI’s Haroon-ur-Rasheed’s columns: