It was one horrible interview.
When Zeinab Badawi was grilling Imran Khan on the BBC’s Hardtalk, the latter’s responses oscillated from the stupid to the downright irrelevant.
This stupid end of the spectrum doesn’t really bother the PTI or its supporters. It was the whole “gandum sawaal, chana jawaab” business that led to even the more rabid supporters of the PTI to criticise the party chairman.
If the reader has seen even only one clip of the interview, chances are that it would have been the question that Badawi asked about job creation; this is the one that went viral, with many cringewatching it multiple times. You claim that, if given power, you will create 10 million jobs, but opposition leader Khurshid Shah says that you have been unable to create jobs in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, asked Badawi. How many jobs have you created, tell me?
He started answering not this question but the one that he wanted. And not even a hamfisted deflection, this. He did not even try to segue the question to another question. No, he simply started saying how the surveys are saying that he is going to win. But you’re not answering my question, countered Badawi. Let me answer, he said, before spouting out that irrelevant bit about party popularity again.
Imran Khan is no Trump. For instance, regardless of what views his supporters might hold, he has never been a racist. His plea of compassion towards the Afghan muhajireen when there was a groundswell against them a year or two ago is sign of that. Imran Khan is genuinely religious, whereas Trump is clearly faking it; even his evangelical support base would begrudgingly admit as such. And Trump is wildly successful on the electoral front, steamrolling through all predictions, whereas Khan has proved all predictions about his electoral performance right.
But there are ways that they are alike. One, the deeply-rooted belief that they will magically solve everything just by virtue of being there. That intricate problems of, say, income tax or education, with their multi-layered complexities, will unravel and reveal their solutions just because it would be they who would be addressing them. King Arthur being able to pull out the Excalibur, not because he was the strongest, but because he was King Arthur.
And second, an obsession with polling numbers. Much after the Presidential election of 2016, Trump and even some of his staff would pivot almost all discussions to how he had won the elections and proved everyone wrong. It is also what Khan seems to want to talk about.
Or doesn’t. Because when Badawi pointed out that the surveys say that the League vastly outpaces the PTI in these elections, he said he doesn’t believe in surveys!
Not let us move towards the silly end of the spectrum. Whenever Khan (or anyone from the PTI, for that matter) talks about the development work in KP, they operate not in specifics or numbers but in unnamed surveys and “feelings.”
In surveys about health, “KP is number one.” In surveys about education, “KP is number one.” On the police front “people say” that KP Police is the best police force. Nothing by way of something to show for it, except “reforms.”
Khan is a pretty little thing, who doesn’t miss an exercise session and whose eyes glaze over in policy meetings. He gets bored with policy debates easily, something that he shares with Nawaz Sharif and doesn’t share with his fellow Oxon, the late Benazir Bhutto.
But Sharif, through the process of osmosis, has picked something up over the years. On policy debates, Khan probably doesn’t know which way is up.
There is another aspect of the interview that has been circulating as well. That of Khan’s rather complicated relationship with the Taliban.
You once said, addressing a workers’ convention, that you were impressed by the Taliban’s system of justice and that you would implement it if you were ever to get power.
Let me explain what the system was, he said. It is in accordance with the Pashtun system and every system has a jury; poor people get justice.
Grossly ill-informed argument. First of all, the local system wasn’t exactly an idea to be emulated in this day and age. Second, the Taliban system of justice was far, far removed from the tribal system. In fact, in Pakistan, they killed off the tribal maliks, one by one, imposing their own interpretation of the faith.
How silly is this non-Pashtun’s fetishization of a “Pashtun” culture that actual Pashtuns, abhor themselves.
In an article that PTI leader Shafqat Mehmood once wrote for The News – and one which can make him squirm on a PTI stage if it were to be read out loud today – he noted that “from the start of his political career, [Imran Khan] railed against something called western culture, which was a straight forward rejection of modernisation. In a country that was being pulled back by obscurantist mullahs, this was a strange choosing of sides. I will not even go into the personal choices he made while doing this.
His second fixation was the idealisation of a Pakhtun tribal culture. Again, I will avoid psychoanalysing a Punjabi’s identity crisis, but how a semi-literate and simple rural people could become a role model for a rapidly urbanising and complex Pakistani society was not easy to understand.”