Spare SKMCH — one of the few institutions still functional
Before inaugurating the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital in 1994 and setting up Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf in 1996, Imran Khan was into the ears of fellow compatriots, trying to invoke the spirit of Iqbal’s khudi (self-realization) and Brand Pakistaniat.
As he inched closer to the dream of realizing the hospital — reinforced no doubt with a spiritual reawakening — he gave nothing away in terms of his future even though rallies organized by Pasban, the-then youth wing of Jamaat-e-Islami, meant for nationwide collection of donations for the hospital were filled with earsplitting slogans of Wazir-e-Azam (Prime Minister) Imran Khan.
Anyone in his place would have been hard-pressed not to feel like a million dollars given the kind of rapturous welcome he received. Men, women in particular, and children — young and old — were virtually at his feet, doling out whatever meager resources some of them could pull, with hearts of gold. It was a wave whose tremolo was felt across the country.
I suspect somewhere in the middle of this fund campaign, Khan’s political instincts were born even though he continued to deride politics as a “profession of degeneration.” Eventually, he stopped fighting himself on that front, especially after a blast at his hospital in 1996.
Khan himself admitted that he realized there was no way to fight back other than to enter the fray. In subsequent years, he saw his wife Jemima Khan being charged of illegally exporting artifacts, which only invited ridicule for its Machiavellian mien.
In 1997, the funding of the hospital was heavily compromised thanks to another smear campaign by the Nawaz Sharif government, which according to Khan, thwarted efforts to collect charity to such an extent that he was forced to globe trot and even invite Princess Diana to make up for the shortfall.
In short, Khan has a raison d’etre for running through the political maze. Khawaja Asif’s allegations of financial impropriety accruing from money invested through the Endowment Fund of the hospital last week were as stunning as these were low-brow.
Since then, Imran Khan and the man at the center of the storm, Imtiaz Haideri, who headed the investment firm, have clarified their positions.
From what has been reported by the media, Khan does not have a place on the Board running the Endowment Fund to begin with; the practice of investing funds thereof is neither illegal nor unique; and the principal amount was safe since the investor had guaranteed it on ‘profit-for-SKMCH, loss-all-mine’ basis. The charges of laundering/gambling the hospital’s funds remain just that — charges.
We, in Pakistan, who know politics like the proverbial back of our hands have been hard-pressed to think why a respected political animal like Khawaja Asif would take the agricultural route — even if he was dictated to.
The veteran enjoys the sort of standing in his party that he could very well have passed on the baton, if the PML-N, indeed, found it irresistible to strike at the root of what makes Imran Khan tall in the eyes of apolitical Pakistanis, not to say even those who disagree with his politics.
Khawaja Asif’s presser, one could only conjecture, was meant to undermine the very foundation that so heavily influences the hoi polloi in terms of what they imagine Khan will bring to the table. It is standard PTI discourse, at any rate.
Apart from the military — their controversial primacy deserving of a separate debate — it is one of the few institutions, built let’s not forget with toil and sweat, in this country that is still functional, that has merit, and whose institutional discipline is nothing if not exemplary.
The PML-N may have its reasons — there’s nary an individual one has come across since the charges were leveled who doesn’t reckon these are politically motivated — but patients who are figuratively on death bed before hope arrives at SKMCH, deserve better than the tirade launched in a frenzied bid to hurt a rival.
Even allowing for the fact that politics is not for the faint of heart in Pakistan and where mud-slinging is virtually de rigueur for kicks, Khawaja Asif’s attempt to run aground his party’s nemesis was decidedly devious.
It makes one wonder if any thought was given to how such reckless abandon would go on to hurt not so much the object of his ire, but steady stream of patients finding hope at SKMCH, a vast majority of whom don’t have a chance in hell to make it otherwise.
These very patients are entirely dependent on the charity donated — particularly, in the month of Ramzan — for their treatment. It is one thing to target a rival but hate for him should not have overridden the compassion these patients deserve.
We may or may not agree with his political philosophy, but few can deny Imran Khan’s public record — significantly, all achieved without political patronage that power brings.
The World Cup triumph made possible thanks to his inspiring leadership is worth remembering alone for how he pushed and willed his ageing body to the point of hurting himself — taking Cortisones only to play on for the sake of the hospital.
I’m a personal witness to the physical agony he endured even weeks after the Waterford Crystal trophy came home. Knowing the man’s integrity and diehard mien for achieving the impossible, I reckon it would take a mad man to set store by what Khawaja Asif let loose.
The writer is a senior journalist based in Islamabad and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org