By Dr. Haider Mehdi
D-Day is the abbreviation for the Day of Deliverance for the common citizens of Pakistan. It is the day when hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis from all walks of life and from every corner of the country descended on Lahore’s Minar-i-Pakistan to attend Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf’s “Jalsah” on this historic day of March 23rd.
But we need to exercise caution, apply a reality check, demonstrate maturity, show political wisdom, and use intellectual capabilities and reason to appreciate what has actually happened in Minto Park grounds (as historically known to Lahoris) on this fateful day. Let us be careful. Let us not turn Imran Khan into a personality cult in the aftermath of the Lahore “Jalsah” of March 23rd.
This nation and the majority of its people are temperamentally inclined to worship personalities and view their leaders as larger than life. Ayub Khan was hailed as a “Messiah” for his towering handsomeness and economic “miracle’ that eventually turned into a national political mess. Zulfikhar Ali Bhutto was adored for his personal elegance, emotional oratory and a nationalist political movement – but it all ended up in a political disaster because of his personal temperament and political view of exercising power. Zia Ul-Haq was considered another “Messiah” who was to bring about an Islamic welfare state in Pakistan. Instead, he gave Pakistan a “Kalashnikov culture” due to the lack of political vision and ideological disorientations.
Benazir was revered for her political brilliance and was considered a political saint that she never was and could never be. She ended up giving this nation the horrible gift of the NRO, Zardari-ism and Bilawal-ism. Nawaz Sharif, viewed as a genuine progressive politician by his “mutwalas,” was going to proclaim himself “Amir-ul-Momeneen” – how ironic and inappropriate for a politician who honestly believes in the politics of “haves” and “have-nots” and practices it with absolute dedication to date. Musharraf also had his “jiallas.” The fact is that without Musharraf, Pakistan would never have known suicide bombers, drone attacks, the Lal Masjid massacre, and the implementation of the NRO – the ultimate legitimacy of political corruption and the overall destruction of national institutions. Musharraf should be explaining himself to the nation rather than preparing for a political comeback.
The fact of the matter is that all of those so-called political leaders were/are mortal human beings like all of us – ordinary people with all the human shortcomings and with all possible human limitations. All of them ascended to political power because of a dysfunctional political culture and regressive political environment at the time and purely on the basis of accidents of history rather than for any personal qualities of leadership or visionary ideological parameters.
Consequently, all of them failed in the nationalist mission to serve the Pakistani masses, bring about economic prosperity and political stability, promote national self-reliance, sustainably and economic development, frame an independent national foreign policy, and turn this country into a viable Islamic welfare state.
Let us say it as it is: Imran Khan is different from all of the past political leadership and all of the contemporary politicians of our time. Imran, uniquely, is not a product of the traditional political culture of this country nor a product of any specific civilian or military political environment, neither is he a product of an accident of history. Imran is a political activist, initiator and inventor of a political movement that promises a vision for a fundamental change in the way this nation has been governed by unprogressive, ultra-rightists, reactionary and political status-quo-oriented forces. All in all, Imran Khan has given a fresh, progressive, nationalist, pro-masses narrative on Pakistan’s political landscape.
However, it does not mean that we as a nation should put Imran Khan on a towering pedestal and create a personality cult. We should look at him as a mortal human being like all of us, a human being who has limitations, is likely to commit errors and mistakes, make bad judgments from time to time and even fall to personal temptations. Imran Khan is not larger than life. He is an ordinary person like all of us but brilliant at whatever he does. He’s honest, dedicated, loyal, and his personal determination in any cause (whatever cause he decides on) is legendary. Imran Khan does not give up. He does not manipulate. He knows how to resolve issues. And his approach to life in general and politics in particular is optimistic and non-defeatist.
Hence, we as a nation should carefully analyze Imran’s political agenda with dead seriousness. We should look at Imran Khan as a person of immense political capabilities: Indeed, Imran’s political management capacities have been proven undisputed. Imran has successfully managed intra-party elections unprecedented in Pakistan’s political history. It is not party elections in themselves that are important. The vital factor in this respect is civil society’s participation and representation at the lowest levels of urban-rural population. This process will achieve more transparency, credibility, and accountability in the democratic political system. It will lead to people’s political empowerment. This fact, in itself, is a monumental achievement in a political culture which has to date denied the common people the ability to build a political system from the bottom up. It is also a testimony to Imran Khan’s political vision compatible to the urgent needs of transforming the political structure, culture and system in the country. We must credit Imran Khan with the mass mobilization of people, most particularly the youth, and his clear public stance on foreign policy, drone attacks, and so on and so forth.
Personally, as a political scientist and a student of Pakistani politics, I would have liked to see Imran Khan inclined more to the LEFT of the political spectrum. However, I realize that ideologically Imran is more tilted toward a Central-Rightist economic political doctrine. Is that a flawed direction in his political agenda? I’m not sure. Perhaps the Central-Rightist ideological approach is appropriate in a society which is fundamentally and temperamentally unprepared to accept a Leftist political systemic orientation as a state ideology. We will have to wait and see how the Central-Rightist doctrine works in a future Pakistan.
I’m also aware of the political baggage that Imran Khan carries in terms of some traditional political heavyweights at the top of his party’s hierarchy. Will they deliver? Will they hijack the party? Will they compromise the party’s progressive political agenda to the callings of their past political experiences and expediency?
Not if PTI’s new party structure from the bottom up operates with efficiency, competence, and with Imran Khan’s strong and resolute leadership. The burden of proof of his leadership capabilities is on Imran Khan’s shoulders.
Imran has offered the nation a political platform for an eventual D-Day – the deliverance of people from the yoke of a traditional political culture of oppression, deceit and endless manipulation.
We, as a nation, should be prepared to put him in political power and then demand absolute accountability from him for the enactment of his promised political agenda.
The days for personality cults are over – including that of Imran Khan!