- To disrespect democracy is to disrespect people
There are two things Imran Khan claims to know well: cricket and democracy. Regrettably, the latter has never been demonstrated in action.
The PTI leader has touted that he understands democracy better than most Pakistani politicians; certainly better than his opponents. He frequently calls for “real democracy”, but it is not always clear what Mr Khan infers through this term.
PTI’s historic 2014 protest against the PML-N government raised serious concerns about his acceptance of democratic procedure. Of course, these concerns coincided with doubts over the legitimacy of the election and the reliability of the existing democratic procedure. Many democrats, although quietly impatient with Imran Khan, held their tongues simply due to uncertainty over the fairness of the election. Maybe Mr Khan really did have a point, they mused.
Since 2014, Imran Khan has done little to alleviate anxiety among the moderate and semi-liberal sections of Pakistan. Its alliance with Jamat-i-Islami was worrying enough, without its own spasms of regressive declarations and theocratic policy-making. Right in time for the upcoming general elections, Imran Khan doubled-down on his support for the blasphemy laws – perhaps the most visible intersection of state and religious violence in the country today. It was a matter of time before the firebrand cleric, Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil of Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, jumped aboard the PTI bandwagon. Most egregious, of course, is Imran Khan’s well-known apologia for Taliban; at least until the APS massacre when anti-Taliban sentiment peaked so rapidly, that any hint of sympathy towards religious extremists became virtually impossible. The public has nearly forgotten that in 2014, the Taliban nominated Imran Khan – alongside Maulana Abdul Aziz of Lal Masjid — to speak to the government on their behalf in the peace talks.
Democratic politicians cannot afford to call the people “donkeys” and “scum”; nor can they justify any effort to deprive people of their voting rights
PTI’s Islamist tilt can be easily mistaken for a democratic move, knowing that a sizeable proportion of this country’s 96pc Muslim population prefers further Islamisation of the state. However, PTI’s political posture is anything but democratic.
Imran Khan believes that a good dictatorship is better than a bad democracy. Let’s ignore for a moment what might constitute ‘good’ democracy in Khan’s mind. To Khan, the act of outright overthrowing a democratic government and essentially seizing the ‘kursi’ at gunpoint, is somehow better than an imperfectly-structured democratic system. Instead of a vote at risk of miscounting or manipulation, it’s preferable to have no vote at all!
Khan’s antipathy towards democracy is easily reflected in his election campaign ads. Featuring excerpts from some of his famous speeches, Imran Khan is heard scolding the public for lacking ‘insaaniyat’ (humanity) and ‘sharam’ (shame), and electing greedy politicians that harm this country. The fact that the public has had no say in its leadership for a great chunk of its history, enduring dictatorship after dictatorship, does nothing to ease Khan’s indignation towards the “besharam” (‘shameless’) nation.
In another statement, Imran Khan declared that whoever comes to welcome and greet Nawaz Sharif upon his return to this country, is a ‘donkey’. This, again, is not uncharacteristic of Imran Khan, who frequently directs insults not just at his political opponents; but at the Pakistani people who support with his opponents.
Khan’s cynicism resonates with that of the educated upper-middle class, particularly Pakistani expatriates abroad. Those examining Pakistani politics through a neocolonial lens are the first to announce their lack of confidence in the masses. Rather than directing blame at the power centers that control the systems, vitriol is spewed out at the disempowered Pakistani citizenry. Pakistanis are corrupt. Pakistanis don’t think. Pakistanis are ‘jahil’.
Every Pakistani is trained to believe that all other Pakistanis are untrustworthy; and none more so than the ‘educated’ class. This anti-democratic sentiment of the bourgeoisie is championed by Imran Khan. It’s essentially Musharraf-era ‘enlightened moderation’ enthusiasm being rebranded and repurposed as PTI’s campaign strategy.
This is all part of a circular exercise. Power is wrestled away from the masses and concentrated among the ‘enlightened’ elite. The elite use this power to their own advantage while few, if any, growth opportunities trickle down to the masses. The elite use this manufactured inequality to reinforce their ‘enlightened’ status and justify their retention of power.
Imran Khan is not a democratic politician. A democrat wouldn’t be caught dead saying what Khan did in a 2016 demonstration: “People will celebrate the military takeover in Pakistan.” While anti-democratic forces would surely be found distributing sweets the day the people’s mandate is overruled, democratic politicians – and people who value their right to vote – would not be the ones in the streets lighting firecrackers.
Democratic politicians cannot afford to call the people “donkeys” and “scum”; nor can they justify any effort to deprive people of their voting rights. In short, a democratic politician who relies wholly on people’s votes, would denigrate neither people nor votes. A politician who draws his power from institutions instead, is far more likely to have a dismissive attitude towards the people.
To disrespect democracy is to disrespect people. Pakistan is an ‘awam’, not a flag. And to show contempt towards the awam’s will, is the most anti-Pakistani thing you can do.