Imran Khan’s die-hard fans refuse to acknowledge the infinite contradictions in the man and his less-than-holy rise to the top

by Gul Bukhari

Imran Khan has promised to deliver to his citizens a Naya Pakistan based on Medina, a city founded by Prophet Muhammad in the 7th Century. Cynically manipulating the sense of prevailing deprivation and inequality, Khan offered them a grand mirage by locating the country in the golden era of a perfect Islamic society.

In his victory speech, he referred to the humanitarian and egalitarian grounds on which Medina was built and the rights given to the downtrodden, the widows, the orphans in the city.

Khan invoked the traditional Islamic Hadith about the Khalifa Hazrat Umar (one of the most powerful caliphs) who had said he could not sleep easy at night even if a dog went hungry in his administered state. I immediately thought of Imran Khan’s own poor dog, who he is said to have almost run over and not given a toss about while driving home with his second wife Reham Khan.

Of course, the responsibility of a hungry dog was also invoked by Gen Zia ul-Haq in his post-coup speech.

I also thought of the donkey his supporters painted Nawaz Sharif’s name on and tortured to death – and the lack of any statement from Imran Khan over the inhuman and cruel treatment of a helpless animal in a vile and puerile game of political scoring. Such is his detachment in reality from the notions of a kind society that he did not even think to condemn supporters of his arch-rival and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif when they shot a dog after painting Imran Khan’s name over its body.

Setting aside donkeys and dogs, Khan has never raised a voice for human rights activists and journalists abducted and tortured for dissenting against or criticising his patrons’ political meddling. He has not stammered out a defence once for the Pakistani media, which is in fetters because it is instructed to censor speeches and events of his opponents and protect Khan and his party. Khan has implicitly encouraged attacks, abuse and threats against his detractors on social media by never condemning them and he has encouraged vigilante violence on his opponents by accusing them time and again of blasphemy.

Khan speaks of Medina as a utopia, a heaven for human rights and an egalitarian society that he wants to replicate in Pakistan. If his records on these issues in the recent past are any indication of his future conduct, one shudders to think of the Medina he will create.

It would be too embarrassing to mention all the nominated speakers and cabinet members of the new Medina, but to name just a few: the speaker of the Punjab assembly Pervaiz Elahi is someone Imran Khan had nicknamed ‘Punjab ka sabb se bara daku’ and is now busy taking back corruption charges he filed against the man back in the day. The chief minister of Punjab Usman Buzdar has criminal records for murdering six men and getting off by paying blood money. The chief minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Mehmood Khan was kicked out of the KP cabinet for corruption charges against him, proven by Imran Khan himself. Defence minister Pervez Khattak is someone who has massive cases of corruption against him.

In his widely-praised victory speech after the elections, Khan remained at pains to drive home to the audiences that he drew his inspiration for a new Pakistani state from the welfare state created by the Prophet Muhammad; that his government policies would revolve around upliftment the weak, like the labourers and farmers who do not get their due and are not able to feed their children.

The mention of farmers brings to mind Khan’s right-hand man for the past five years, Jahangir Tareen, a prominent actor within the sugar producers’ cartel in Pakistan. The cartel is alleged to have regularly cheated farmers out of their due by refusing to buy crops on time to depress prices. Tareen is also a convicted insider-trader, having bought and sold stock market shares through his cook and gardener after having manipulated prices whilst being a minister in General Musharraf’s regime. He got away by simply returning the swindled money to the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan instead of being fined and jailed, because he was part of the dictator’s cabinet. The ‘weakest of the weak’ mention also brings to mind transgenders in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa who were killed with impunity throughout the Khan government’s tenure in the province. KP was the only province which caved into Islamist pressure when it came to legislating against violence that women faced, and sent the women’s protection bill to the Council of Islamic Ideology instead. All other provinces fought to successfully legislate for protection of women, children and minorities.

Khan also made an abrupt reference to China’s success in alleviating poverty, rather incongruously, while talking about his mirage of an Islamic welfare state. He mentioned ‘rule of law’ and ‘equal before the law’, but he has trampled upon it and climbed on the shoulders of those not considered ‘equal before the law’ to reach the top.

It is ironical that this ‘rule of law’ and ‘equality before the law’ exonerated Imran Khan and his cronies. No matter how many offshore companies, undisclosed properties or bank accounts, fake no-objection-certificates or affidavits, perjury in court, undisclosed offspring in election nomination forms, the ‘rule of law’ smiled upon Imran Khan and his party. Conversely, it frowned upon opponents for supposed misdemeanours 30 years ago, or it simply arrested his opponents to prevent them from contesting elections before charges were framed against them.

Khan has climbed the rubble of the Pakistani constitution, law, institutions, and democracy created by military gunships and tanks to reach the top of a pile of a sorry mess to croon of a Medina to a divided country. His die-hard fans refuse to acknowledge or reconcile the unforgivably infinite contradictions about the man and his less-than-holy rise – in an era where he could have fought an honest battle.

The author is a columnist and human rights defender based in Lahore