Big factors behind Khan’s rise include a huge youth bulge and mass media. Minor factors include failure of incumbent political parties to better lives of people and rise of anti-Americanism
The arrival of Imran Khan has created a euphoric mode on the political theatre of Pakistan. He has created ripples of hope amongst the disgruntled youth of urban areas of Pakistan. His fiery talks and furious interviews on television talk-shows capturing the public mood and couching people’s sentiments into his political lexicon have rendered him a kind of celebrity politician—available for talk-shows every now and then. How Khan was able to get political prominence? What are his priorities in political realm of Pakistan? Does he understand the dynamics of political order in a state which has undergone recurrent military coups, fractured democratic interregnums and over-laden with reactionary discourses about politics?
Imran Khan is the first political figure who made his political capital via television screen by constantly appearing in various current affairs programmes and having solo performances—good or bad. He transformed tactics of blaming into political strategy by raising the issues of corruption and mismanagement, making them into a national discourse and accusing politicians in power of these ailments being inflicted on Pakistan. To his credit, he has created for himself space in the praetorian political structure of Pakistan, but to his discredit, he is also in the search of power in existing political structure without transforming relationship between capital, labour and land. His absence in rural politics is a conspicuous for his absence. His tsunami is urban-driven and anti-politics in orientation. He is impinging his hopes on the winds of change in cherished ambience without recognising that three-decade long negative discourses intruded in educational, political and social edifice of Pakistan rendering it an anti-critical and intolerant state unsettling with fast changing global realities like power of capital, production, population planning, human resource development, rural development, decentralisation of power and information age.
A multitude of factors have come to play an important role in the emergence of Imran Khan on political scene. Big factors include a huge youth bulge and mass media. Minor factors include failure of incumbent political parties to better lives of people and rise of anti-American sentiments in recent times. Pakistan has undergone a massive demographic shift in recent times. More than fifty percent of people are young. They need education, jobs, and housing and health facilities. In urban areas, these problems compound as most of the urbanities know that the world outside Pakistan is very different. They see India not only an enemy state, but also an emerging economic power. They see China not only as Pakistan’s friend, but also a global hub of manufacturing.
‘Externalized world view’ affects internal conditions in a depressive way on the psychology of people which drives them towards emotive political ideologues. The emergence of National Socialism in Germany and Italy after the World War I is an illustrious example of this trend. Imran Khan’s drive to capitalise this depressive lot of people through rhetoric of revolutionary tsunami points towards this changing trend in the political realm of Pakistan. Khan has moved from erstwhile practice of sloganeering to inculcating hope in the masses based on hypothetical suppositions like curbing corruption in 90 days and ending terrorism by asserting sovereignty before Washington. In this moralistic project, central and northern Punjab have become consumer of his hysterical rhetoric.
Mass media played a significant role in the rise of Imran Khan from an obscurity to prominence. Media in Pakistan cater to the needs of middle-class consumers by presenting to it sensational and exiting news items rather than rational and balanced political and policy alternatives within legal-institutional setup of the state. Media rely mainly on populism and populist figures—political and apolitical alike—to attract masses as viewers and consumers of products. Khan’s loud and vociferous diatribe against the elected representatives of Pakistan after 2008 general elections provided media a coveted political figure to assimilate him into their framework. His assimilation into mediatized politics has provided the media an oppositional force to challenge the democratic set-up by questioning the moral standing of those who are in power. Khan’s articulate power of expression suits media to degrade other incoherent political figures belonging to the PML-N, the PPP, and the PML-Q. Khan and the media are at war with major political forces of Pakistan. Both take a moralistic instead of realistic view of politics.
Democracy usually emerges in Pakistan from transitional moments. In transitional societies, the balance of power remains relatively uncertain between opponents and supporters of democratic transition. Those who come into power through transition have to formulate power-sharing formulas with coalition partners as well as preceding dictatorial regimes. Long-held ideological positions or pre-elections promises by anti-authoritarian actors usually do not congeal into reality and state masks a cloak of democracy without democrats. Thus survival of transitional setup becomes the first priority amongst incumbents in power. Pakistan, after 2008 elections, has undergone the same transitional experience. The inevitable result of this politicking has exhibited itself in the shape of poor governance, fragile ruling setup and neglect of masses and their sufferings. Imran Khan has successfully capitalized on the short-comings of the current regime without understanding the problems associated with political transition in post-dictatorial setup. His overwhelming emphasis on corruption and promises for its eradication seems to be an offshoot of post-coup promises made by military men into which Khan was trapped once.
Anti-American sentiments in Pakistan have spewed beyond proportion due to people’s perception that indifferent ruling elite in Pakistan is tied to Washington’s apron strings. Other plausible factors include the war on terrorism, betrayal by Washington in 1960s, after the war of 1971, and 1990s and drone attacks in the tribal belt of Pakistan and recent killing of Osama bin Laden and Pakistani troops by the Americans. Imran Khan has successfully played on public sentiments to gain political mileage on the pattern of MMA’s anti-American stance in 2002 elections. He has imbibed war hysteria in the youth of Pakistan. Many people think that we are at war with Washington not with ‘friendly’ Taliban.
Imran Khan’s lack of understanding of comparative politics, history of Pakistan and nature of civil-military relations in transitional societies has raised many questions on his political maturity and policy formation. Mushtaq Gaadi brilliantly wrote in the daily Dawn in his insightful article Against Populism, ‘logic of representative democracy presumes plural interests and factional divisions in society. Hence, it emphasises participation, representation and democratic accommodation.’ How Khan would come up to this logic of democracy is to be seen yet. In this age of coalitional politics and constituency system prevalent in Pakistan, Khan should reconfigure his political priorities by accepting political realities, incubating an inclusive approach to politics, softening political stance, taking into account rural vote bank in political calculation, focusing more on pragmatism than idealism, coming out of negative populism and, last but not the least, rethinking discourse. His eagerness to coagulate ties with Islamic Stalinists would do more harm to democracy and Pakistan in coming times and benefits extra-constitutional and reactionary forces operating inside with impunity than his project to make Pakistan corruption-free, sovereign state.
|The writer works as Project Report Writer with Center for Research and Innovation UK. He holds a M.Sc degree in International Relations. He has worked as Coordinator to the VC of the University of Gujrat.|