Why we must not elect Imran

Imran Khan“He is a symbol of hope for all Pakistanis,” I said in the opening line of my satire column last week (Why we must elect Imran published in this space on October 12).

It turned out, at the end of the first paragraph, that I was referring to Quaid-e-Azam and not Imran Khan. Surprise is the secret to funny, and it worked.But the problem with hope is that it is always distant, transcendental, and fantastic. It must be a promise, not an outcome, or it will not work. That is why Pakistanis associate it with Jinnah. If it were here and now, people would begin to see problems with it.

Like we can now see problems with Imran Khan.For those who insisted Imran Khan must be taken seriously, here’s a close look at the problems with the promised land that he claims he will make Pakistan into:

1) Imran Khan says he will end the state’s use of force against its own citizens.

A consequence of that policy will be that the state’s writ will erode. At the core of the state’s existence is its monopoly on violence in the area it claims to control. This violence is exercised through police, the judiciary, and the military. If the state will start to share this exclusive right with local and Afghan insurgent groups associated with Al-Qaeda and Taliban, it will not be sovereign any longer.

The same groups are also involved in sectarian violence in Pakistan. Where will the concessions stop? Will they also be extended to criminals who do not associate themselves with religion?

2) Imran Khan says he will make the judiciary independent.

But the movement for the restoration of judges sacked by former President Pervez Musharraf, of which Imran Khan was a part, has only politicised the judiciary. The assumption he is selling is that some individuals with no political or ideological affiliations are capable of dispensing ideal, platonic, justice. But ideological and political affiliations solidified during the Lawyers Movement, and Imran Khan was also concerned with more than just the letter of law. Will he call for high treason proceedings against the chief justice for legitimising the 1999 coup and allowing Musharraf to change the constitution, and then again, after being restored once, allowing a serving General Musharraf to run for president?

3) Imran Khan says true democracy will rid Pakistan of people like Nawaz Sharif and Asif Zardari who run their own parties like dictators.

But Imran Khan is also a bit of tyrant in his own party. How many local elections has his own party had in the last 10 years? How many times have Islami Jamiat Talaba dissidents been appointed ad hoc to important positions in his hometown? In the larger political parties, second-tier leaders can always exercise their niche influence or group together to pressure party leaders into considering new options and making decisions they might not have otherwise made. But that is not possible in a party that has no second-tier leadership to speak of.
4) Imran Khan promises change, and that appeals to everyone not happy with the status quo.

But at the heart of the policies he claims to adopt are people responsible for the status quo. He gets his security and foreign affairs advice from people who are, or have been, part of the establishment that is responsible for the situation we are in, especially with national sovereignty and terrorism. His past and potential future candidates have been part of the mainstream parties he blames for Pakistan’s political problems, many of them joining him because of real or perceived signals from the establishment, or because their own parties rejected them. How will these people bring a change?

5) The fate of Imran Khan’s party, and if he wins, the fate of Pakistan, depends very heavily on one individual.

For such an icon, Imran Khan has very little personal credibility. In his personal life, he is an icon of hypocrisy. In his political life, he has always switched positions – from the War on Terror that he had not criticised until he parted ways with Musharraf several years later, to the tactical position on Blasphemy Law before and after Salmaan Taseer was murdered. Can we trust such a man, even if he is honest?

But the most important problem with Imran Khan’s promises is that they are not grounded in concrete policy plans. That, as I said, is the problem with hope. It is always a promise, and never a policy. And it is fine that way. That is why we must not elect Imran Khan. – PT