By Mirza Khurram Shahzad –
Will Imran’s emotional flight take him to the skies or push his party for making a crash landing?
A lanky wayward pace bowler, a reliable all-rounder, a successful and shrewd captain, a most sought after playboy, a sincere social worker, a son-in-law of the Jews, a darling of the West, a sympathiser of the Taliban and an (un)fit politician.
This is all what he had been known as over the last almost 43 years.
Imran Khan – Pakistan’s most talked about celebrity, today has embarked upon his last voyage to achieve his final ambition at the age of 61. To become the ‘Messiah’ of this crippled and corrupt to the core nation!
Bracing the struggle in practical life as a reserve player in Atchison college cricket team, Khan has carved a long list of successes. At the same time he has not shied away from picking up an even longer list of controversies from being a rude team-mate, killer of the careers of competitors, the one who instigated rebellions against the settled captains, a dictator captain, the inventor of ball tempering, a match fixer, a father of “illegitimate child”, an accuser and a master of U-turn.
When he won the World Cup in 1992, his mistakes, blunders and mischief in his cricket career were all washed away. He ended up his career as the most celebrated and loved sports hero in the country. He was pupil of the eyes of the fellow countrymen and more particularly the countrywomen.
His campaign to build a cancer hospital further enhanced the love of people for him. People contributed generously towards the noble cause. But what was most motivating was the support he mustered from young students in schools who eagerly bought 10 Rupee denomination tickets for his venture. It was not the money but the message these young students carried back home to their parents. And the elders started doling out whatever they could to help him in his mission. He succeeded again. He gained more respect among the masses and elite, too.
People loved to see him. They were crazy to talk to him. They would pay whatever the price was to dine and spend time with him. No matter what position they themselves had. He was offered to join the governments, become minister in the cabinets of dictators and the democrats. He declined all.
The “Agent” Allegation
Then he married Jemima Goldsmith, the 21-year-old rich daughter of the British billionaire James Goldsmith. The hearts of more than half of his female fans were broken that day. The ones, who were in line to be his bride, started hating him. Few others praised him for bringing home Gori Dulhan and few others for converting a Jew into a Muslim.
Then, he jumped into politics. His rallies attracted mammoth crowds in the build up to the 1997 elections and he posed real threat to the conventional political powers like Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League (then N & Q together with Chaudhries of Gujrat very much part of Nawaz Sharif). His opponents tried and to a greater extent succeeded in blocking his way by leveling charges of a “Jews Agent” against him and he faced the deadliest propaganda that he was planted into Pakistani politics by the Zionist lobby. The only argument his opponents had was his wife from a Jew family.
And instantly he paid the price. The hidden parts of his private life were splashed all over in the media. The political opponents were far too experienced and ruthless. They dug up the dirt and the mudslinging soon saw him swamped in a foul and filthy quagmire of personal accusations.
He lost the status of hero with the rival politicians including Nawaz Sharif who earlier wanted him to become a key minister in his cabinet. His campaign and loud accusations of corruption against the leading politicians were countered with the charges of moral corruption and his out of wedlock relationship with Sita White.
He lost those elections badly, without winning even his own seat despite contesting from several constituencies. “There were two main factors for our defeat in those elections: inexperience and huge propaganda of moral corruption against Khan,” says Akbar S. Babar, a former secretary general of Khan’s political party Pakistan Tehreek-I-Insaaf (PTI).
“We mismanaged the mass support in 1997 elections because of our inexperience. We also failed to counter negative media campaign by PML at that time,” he added.
Khan welcomed General Musharaf’s military coup against Nawaz Sharif in 1999 publically. He even supported him in a national referendum in 2002 allowing the military dictator to continue ruling the country as president for next five years.
He went in 2002 elections in the shadow of his support for the military government, but his party failed again and he could manage to win only his own seat – for his critics ‘that too was a gift by the establishment’. “Khan committed another blunder by first supporting a dictator and then not joining an alliance of other associates of the establishment. As a result, party landed in a no-man’s land and we were sidelined in the 2002 elections as well,” Babar said.
Khan was befooled by Nawaz Sharif in 2008 when he boycotted the elections on Sharif’s advice and Sharif himself announced to contest at the eleventh hour. But the poor cricketer-turned politician could not judge the move and failed to follow the suit, and was left out of the parliament once again.
Hero In The limelight
But in 2011, he got the much needed ‘kick’ after a huge public rally at the historic Minar-e-Pakistan ground (Minto Park), a venue even the most popular political leaders would think twice to select. A number of political figureheads joined his party.
Public rallies ahead of the May 2013 elections attracted mammoth crowds and it was felt as he was emerging as a key runner. Hundreds of expat Pakistanis flew in to vote in his favour as he fell down from a stage a few days before the polling on May 11, 2013 breaking the momentum of his campaign.
The polling results were not encouraging for him again as his party could manage only 33 seats (26 general and seven reserve) in National Assembly. Once again unexpectedly, Khan decided to accept the results amidst charges of massive rigging and formed the government in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and joined opposition in the centre.
The Hasty Move
While he tried to introduce reforms in KPK to bring about the promised ‘change’, he kept hollering blood about the massive rigging in elections, particularly in the province of the Punjab. And after one year, he eventually announced a long march and sit-in to oust the Nawaz Sharif-led government on the basis of rigging in May 11 elections.
Surprising was the fact that he decided to launch this protest when all the signs were in government’s favour as the PML-N government seemed to be well settled in its strides and was performing pretty well. Hence, the long march and the sit-in protest failed badly, putting Khan to another crucial turn of the history.
All political parties have alleged that he and his ally in the protest Dr Tahir-ul-Qadri are supported by the military establishment, while the establishment has not come out to help him probably because of low turnout of protesters and that left him out in the cold.
Khan’s stubbornness and unwillingness to step back has once again pushed him to crisis as he refused to give up the protests despite being offered many chances. However, one must concede that the crowd in his sit-in is constant, though losing interest because of its lingering on and on with objective still elusive.
“The way PTI has resorted to Dharnas, it will finish the party,” said Javed Hashmi, the president of PTI, who was suspended because he alleged that Imran Khan was following establishment’s line to bring political unrest in the country.
“But the ongoing protests have also exposed the political immaturity and opportunism of the PTI leadership. The party seems to have based its entire strategy on the hope or maybe some kind of assurance of intervention by a third force to oust the Sharif government. Unsurprisingly, a feeling of triumph was palpable when the army chief entered the scene to play the role of arbiter. But the moment was short-lived,” wrote Zahid Hussain, a senior analyst. “Imran Khan seems to be in a hurry to wrap up the present dispensation and force early elections. What he is trying to do is to create a state of anarchy. And it is certainly not so difficult given the collapse of the government’s authority anyway.”
For Babar, Imran Khan’s efforts will finally force the government to go, today or tomorrow. But, he is still unsure that he would be able to come in the government or not even after. “It’s clear that Nawaz Sharif will have to go. Establishment will force him to leave the government and announce elections in 2015, though it’s unclear that they will let happen the next elections and will not linger on the interim ‘technocrat set-up’ in the name of reforms. As far as Imran Khan is concerned, educated class is getting away from him. I’m unsure about PTI’s chances until and unless they reform the party into a real democratic force and institutionalise it,” said Babar.
Khan’s lack of political understanding, inability to operate at the grass root level, stubbornness and ill-timed actions may push an able leader away from the power circle.
Failure of The Nation
If he fails, it will be a failure of the whole nation, which now deserves an alternate and honest leadership and particularly the youth yearning for a change.
He has been on the road for a long time now. The journey has been arduous. But the climb is always so. What he needs to keep in mind is that it needs only a feeble push to start the downward slide to an unfathomable abyss.