An incomplete justification: On Ayesha Siddiqa’s review of Imran Khan’s book

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:

23 responses to “An incomplete justification: On Ayesha Siddiqa’s review of Imran Khan’s book”

  1. How can we “loose” Imran Khan to religious extremists when they are themselves taking care of his security?

  2. Taliban = Pakthuns?

    Nothing could be more further from the truth.

    Imran Khan is an ISI’s child. His liberalism, his shariat is fi sabil-e-ISI.

  3. Guys you might be interested in this:

    Some Imran Khan quotes about Shariah in Pakistan

    From Kal Tak with Javed Chaudhry 21/1/2009

    [This is his answer to the first question in which he talks about shariah in general terms, and not specific to Swat (although I suppose it’s open to interpretation)]

    IK: dekhiyay, sharamnaak baat yeh hai keh hum kehtay hain… hum musalman hain aur shariat say dar jaatay hain. Shariat kya hai? Shariat nabi (SAW) ka rasta hai. Yeh aap ki… agar aap musalman hain tau aap shariat pay chalna chahtay hain.

    humain khauf hai shariat ka naam laytay huay dartay hain. yeh jo badkismatay hai kay jo mulk kay parhay likhay laug hain, woh kamaskam batayain tau sahi keh shariat kya hai. main aap ko batata hoon keh meri nazar main shariat kya hai. Shariat khilafat-e-rashidun hai. Uss ki kya bunyaad thi? Adal aur insaaf; aur falahi rryasaat, aur aik khuddar ryaasat jo kisi aur power kay saamnay na jhukay. yeh shariat nizam ki bunyaad hai. hum kyun dartay hain shariat ka naam laytay huay?

    Jawab Deh with Iftikhar Ahmed, 1/2/2009 (great interview btw)[this had nothing to do with Swat .. 23:00 into the video]

    Iftikhar Ahmed: aap shariat kay haami hain?
    IK: main bilkul samajhta hoon kay shariath honi chahiyay. Aur shariat jo mainay study ki hay woh khilafat-e-rashidun main jo shari nizam hai woh jo aap nai shuru main tehrik e insaaf ka manshoor bataya tha: khuddari, insaniyat, aur insaaf. yeh teen. yeh shariat ki yeh bunyaad hai

    Iftikhar Ahmed: is mulk main kis fiqah ki shariat par amal kiya jayay ga?

    IK: main to nahin jaanta, main to apni ki [shariah] define kar raha hoon. main to yeh keh raha hoon jo main … study kiya hai, aik islami ma’ashray main insaniyat honi chahiyay aik falahi ryaasat honi chahiyay, udhar adal aur insaaf hona chahiyay.

    after this there is a great section in which he rationalizes suicide
    bombing, etc.

    Meray mutabiq with Shahid Masood 2/22/2009

    IK: …aik hamari so called liberal class hai, woh dar gayi hai keh shariat aagayi hai, ab pata nahin shariat aagayi hai to kya honay wala hai, haath kaT jayain gay. Shariah to adal aur insaaf hai, insaan ko insaan banati hai aqalmand jaanwar say insaan banta hai. Shariat to aik ma’ashray kay andar adal aur insaaf, aur insaniyat, falahi ryaasat ka naam hai

    Shahid Masood: yeh kaam acha kiya phir hukumut nay?

    IK: main yeh keh raha hoon, in logon nain to pressure main kiya…

    SM: Laikin kaam acha kya, na?

    SM: aik aisa kaam karti hai jo unke manifesto main nahin tha. yeh ajeeb si baat nahin hoee?

    IK: yeh jo laug lay kay aayay thay iss hukumut ko woh liberal alliance bananay aayay thay, main bataadoon, woh Negroponte aur Boucher nain jo liberal alliance banayi thi, Musharraf ki aur PPP ki, ab Allah ki shaan dekhain kay liberal alliance Shariah lay aayi hai (laughs) yeh bhi Allah ki shaan dekhain (laughs again). Udhar ANP bhi liberal thay. Ab dekhain na, Holbrooke ki statement kitni ghalat hai keh yeh jo shari nizam hai yeh baRa bura ho ga. Kya ab woh hamain yeh bhi bataayaiN gay keh hamain kaunsa Islam laana hai?

  4. Abdul,

    Thanks for writing this critique. I was also baffled after reading Dr. Siddiqa’s article. Imran Khan is a complete and utter hypocrite! Whether his childhood mentor was a Brehlvi, Ahmadi, Shia or Deobandi is largely irrelevant. His book is full of cliches, half-truths, ISI fed hogwash and sometimes a combination of all three.

  5. Abdul, thanks for the review of what Dr. Ayesha wrote. reading this article, my faith on Imran’s being a hypocrite is has been strengthened.

  6. Imran Khan is the representative of unfettered neo-liberal capitalism camouflaged in religious attire. He is the most dangerous demogouge that the far right has produced in the history of Pakistan. He was Zia Ul Haq’s public relations ambassador who toured the world with a cricket team to mend the image of the military junta during the 1980’s.
    Fight him !

  7. Ayesha don’t go astray the path you have rightly chosen.
    This is an advice from someone you met in 1993.I was then working in Charing Cross Hospital London, & you were doing your postg graduation in King’s College. Regards & Best wishes

  8. A person who openly claims taliban didn’t attacked a single girl school , and its all government propaganda ( Zardari propaganda ) is not a naive person , he is hypocrite of highest order .

  9. Imran Khan is created by ISI to attract secular people by his clean shaved look and them make them Taliban

    He is the MOST DANGEROUS existing person in politics

    Yout must be aware of his agenda

  10. Yes Mr Taliban Khan has done PHD in hypocrisy.
    Pakistan ney pada kiay 2 shaitan
    Zia Ul Haq & Imran Khan

  11. I also noticed that NFP agreed with Ms. Ayesha’s analysis. But, it should be remembered that whwereas Ayesha is an academic, NFP has been a clever student politician in the 1980s (with both PSF and NSF). He was instrumental in getting an allaince done between PSF and APMSO at college just to push out the Jamatis rom the campus, and now I bleieve he has softened his criticism against IK because he wants IK to disturb PML-N’s standing in the Punjab.

  12. @Ursilla

    NFP or Ayesha or both don’t have enough readership (except urban elite) to affect voting choices of masses.

    Further, the way to dent Nawaz Sharif’s vote bank via Imran Khan is to enforce and project Imran Khan’s right wing, not liberal, credentials.

  13. The author is extremely biased against Sir Imran Khan who is the only hope of Pakistan. This website as is commonly known is financed by Hussain Haqqani and CIA.

  14. @Shahid,

    Can I give you my account number? You can give to Hussain Haqqani and CIA. Would love to receive the cheques someday!

  15. @Ahmed I,

    Cheques are obsolete. Perhaps you are receiving money via Western Union and don’t want to admit?

    A lawyer friend told me recently that this website is not Let Us Build Pakistan. In fact, this is ‘Let U.S. build my bank account’. Right?

  16. @Shahid

    These PTI retards cant think beyond dumb conspiracy theories. Only kids of PTI dont know that army formulates foreign policy; the same army which is now supporting PTI. Whether its SEATO CENTO, Afghanistan Dollor jihad or War on Terror; its the army which fills its pockets. Ask your mentor Hamid Gul who build transport companies on the blood of those children who were indoctrinated and dumped in Afghanistan and Kashmir.

    Ask your hypocrite Dharna khan to identify the real culprits i.e. the army and ISI.

  17. Good one. The PTI may increase it’s standing at the expense of the PML-N, but these will be marginal gains.

    I think (not sure) that the PPP may actually come out with equal or more seats in the elections of 2013. The offer for a Seraiki province may definitely shore up votes in the Punjab. Progressive provincialism, if articulated over the next few years, may actually be a good ideology for the PPP to adopt and would be an excellent counter narrative against the overly centralised, monolithic ideology of the ISI/Islamists/Army/Zaid Hamid/PTI Fanboiz.

    I think the PPP should please consider some plan for getting the votes of urban citizens of Pakistan. This country may be the most urbanised country in all of South Asia (33%) and the proportion of the urban population only looks like it will increase in the future.

    As for Mr Nadeem Paracha and Ms Ayesha Siddiqa, they’re trying to bring in sanity into an urban debate that is wildly skewed towards the right wing, and I commend them for it. Good job Nishapuri sahab.

  18. I think Imran & his movement is part of global Islamic youth Uprising because of which Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt & Tunisia , Moderate Islamist in Libya & Turkey & Malaysia are successful today . I am an Moderate Islamist so I am supporting Imran .

  19. You could certainly see your enthusiasm within the paintings you write. The sector hopes for more passionate writers like you who aren’t afraid to say how they believe. Always go after your heart.