Pakistan & Imran, A Person, A History

Mr Khan seems to be a great fan of Allama Iqbal and his founding ideas for Pakistan- “land of the pure” and believes “rediscovering” Iqbal to be “the future of Pakistan”.
File Photo
File Photo

Imran Khan represents the "golden mean" in Pakistan's ideological political spectrum. His party, PTI, though  not a classic "Islam-pasand" party striving to implement Allah's Shariah through state power, ( As they say, Al mulqu lillah, wal huqmu lillah) believes in Islamic democracy and its welfarist propensities. His denunciation of both religious extremists who want to "implement" Islam through coercive state apparatuses as well as "unabashed" liberals, who falsely believe that religion has no role to play in politics, makes him a unique political figure in todays Pakistan. Thus, he is against  both Zia ul Haque's "Islamisation" as well as Pervaiz  Musharraf's "enlightened moderation" because both of these were imposed from above ("imposing outward observances will neither instil a sense of religious faith nor propel a country into the twenty-first century"). His recent emphasis on realising the modal of welfare "state" of Medina suggests that he believes  Islam can/has a role to play in a modern state albeit in non-coercive ways. However, like his "Islamist" counterparts, he too uses the cliche of Islam being "a way of life, not just a religion to be practised privately by individuals". Nothing brings this forth more clearly than his book, Pakistan: A Personal History.

The book, in the words of the Independent, is "an intelligently written mix of Pakistan's history and his own autobiography". The book is replete with metaphors from his cricketing career to emphasize that the way he never lost spirits and continued to struggle as a cricketer only to emerge as one of the greatest cricketers, he could rely on his fighting spirit to turn around things for Pakistan as a politician. He hates Pakistani Generals who ruled Pakistan often as well as the political families for letting Pakistan drift from  being an 'imagined' Islamic Welfare State "to implement the ideals of Islam based on equality and socio-economic justice….. a democracy, as Jinnah said, not a theocracy" to the one "where politics is a game of loot and plunder". While the liberal class in Pakistan tirelessly quote Quaid-e-Azam, MA Jinnah, the founder, to bring home Pakistan's 'secular' foundations, the author has his own arsenal of statements of the Qaid to buttress his claim that Pakistan was an aspiring "shining example in the Muslim world of what Islam could achieve were it allowed to flourish". As rightly put by the author, this never signified a narrow theological position but as Iqbal, the ideological founder believed, the "natural" tendency of Islam towards social justice, tolerance, peace and equality. He finds it "strange that  in Pakistan, people who stand up for Islamic values are called rightist" when "Islamic values have actually more in common with leftist ideologies in terms of social equality and welfare".  Apart from the alternating military and civil rule, he says, one of the causes behind the failure in this regard was division between Pakistani elite and the masses. The intellectual epicentre of Pakistan movement eventually didn't become part of Pakistan like the northern Indian province of Utter Pradesh.

The author candidly  admits Pakistan's failures in tackling issues related to tribal areas and East Pakistan. The west Pakistan elite didn't want to give the Bengalis an equal share in power even as the population of the latter was larger than that of the former. Besides, experiments like the 'one unit system' were introduced. These together helped sow the seeds of Bengali resentment. This was despite the paradox of "golden period" of economy and a well-run administrative system. The author dedicates a separate chapter to the question of tribal areas titled The Tribal Areas: Civil War? My Solution. Quoting Winston Churchil, a war correspondent in 1898, that "the frontier tribes will never accept foreign occupation", he tries to remind the readers that in 1948, the tribal areas became part of Pakistan "only" on the condition that they would be allowed to continue to live by their own laws and that's why FATA was semi-autonomous and ruled by the "colonial- era system". "The loyalty of Pashtuns is clear-cut…For them, the international frontier is irrelevant. So no government, Pakistani or foreign, will ever be successful in stopping them from crossing over the border( to Afghanistan) to  support their people or offer them shelter if they venture into their territory". That's why the post-9/11 war against Afghanistan infuriated them and anyone who helped USA in its War on Terror were dubbed as American lackey including the "lashkars" raised by Islamabad among the willing tribesmen. When Pakistan joined this war which Mr Khan believes was never Pakistan's, in a bid to flush out a few hundred foreign fighters just to get "US dollars", it effectively created thousands of pro-Taliban fighters and killed many innocent civilians. This is what gave rise to TTP and to liquidate this insurgency, Pakistan did exactly what an occupying force does- propaganda, lies, deception and even killing journalists to prevent independent reporting. This was compounded by American drone attacks. Mr Khan's solution to this that either USA withdrew from Afghanistan or Pakistan pulled out of the war ( recent developments in  this regard have naturally led Imran Khan to boast about "his"success). This section of the book is tremendously helpful in understanding what ails Pakistan's tribal areas contrary to the triumphalist state claims after military operations like Operation Zarb-e-Azab creating a dangerous undercurrent of discontent. The recent Pashtun Tahfuz Movement amply demonstrates that.

Mr Khan seems to be a great fan of Allama Iqbal and his founding ideas for Pakistan- "land of the pure" and believes "rediscovering" Iqbal to be "the future of Pakistan".The author despises intellectual stagnation in Pakistan, even as, for Iqbal, all search for knowledge was essentially a form of prayer. It was in line with his idea of "spiritual democracy". However, a medieval attitude to religion distorted it and "Islam was used a political tool". This is a stand hardly any politician in Pakistan dares to take without being  "liberal" which Mr Khan believes denotes a class of people essentially anti-Islamic "using the image of Mullah and fundamentalist to attack Islam".

The greatest challenge Imran Khan faces as a Prime Minister is to fix Pakistan's economic woes. He has been a strong advocate of saying "no" to US dollars which is a form of beggary. In this book, he demands an end to the IMF once and for all as its "conditionality enriches the rich and impoverishes the poor. Without foreign aid, the government will be forced to balance its revenues and expenditure which would lead to the long overdue reforms that our country so desperately needs to survive." He calls for a massive austerity compaign, which could build the tax-payers' confidence and which he tried to start after assuming office. According to him a very little percentage  of GDP is Pakistan's tax revenue. One of his hopes is the mighty proportion of charities given away by Pakistanis. However,  recent overtures of the Pakistani government towards IMF bail-out has disappointed many and given his detractors a whip to beat him with.

On foreign policy, Mr Khan has not much to say beyond the need for maintaining sovereignty and  a review of relations with neighbours  especially India. He maintains that "the activities of the intelligence agencies- of both the countries- must be curtailed", a wish, he might have realised as a Prime Minister, very difficut to fulfil. Several commentators have so far rued the way deep state is not allowing PTI government to run an independent foreign policy. He is being taunted as a "military establishment-backed" PM, never able to work on his own.

The author also touches some sporadic issues. He narrates, how Mian Bashir, his spiritual guru, helped him in his transition towards understanding Islam which was that "one cannot force external demonstrations of religosity as otherwise they are just empty rituals". Mian Bashir's observation that "Qura'an only makes sense to those who are searching for the truth not those cynics who read it to disprove it" is very inspiring.

The author bemoans the degeneration of Islami Jamiat u Talaba, a students' wing of Jama'at e Islami "once known for their ideological views and great discipline, into a kind of mafia, or fascist group operating inside the universities bearing guns and beating up people". He calls Z A Bhutto "a true Pakistani nationalist who could have changed Pakistan completely" but "had a fatal flaw in his character- his feudal mindset couldn't tolerate dissent…. It's a great shame that he himself couldn't live up to all of his words". Imran Khan reminds his readers of General Zia ul Haque's call to him to give up retirement plans from cricket in 1987, when he agreed. Mr Zia's legacy was devastating, the author learned later, and "like so many of Pakistan's leaders, he (too) was motivated purely by his desire to stay in power, oblivious to the country's decline or the long-term consequences of his policies….However, unlike Musharraf, he never allowed the CIA to spread its network within Pakistan". The author recalls the aid that Aghan Jihad  received from the US and Gulf states which was used to promote "Jihadi" culture. "Text books were published in local languages by the University of Nebraska to help indoctrinate young minds in the madrassas and refugee camps…"

This book is not a new addition and its first issue was out of print in 2011. However, it assumes importance given Imran Khan's success in taking charge of the country trying to realise his dream for Pakistan (Whether he succeeds in bringing the millennium for Pakistan remains to  be seen). The students of Pakistani politics might benefit from this book to understand current policies of PTI government in Islamabad. It's published by Bantam Books and has 430 pages. 

Syed Shafiq Ahmad  isTeacher Govt. High School Wani Doursa( Lolab)

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