In the wake of the recent popular protests in Islamabad, quite a few cultural and political writers have opined upon the nature and potential of these protests. Some have even compared these events to the Tahrir Square.
In this excitement to valorize popular protest, we should be careful with our labels and with our assertions. By and large most commentaries assert that Imran Khan, the erstwhile cricket captain of Pakistan, has somehow tapped into the hopes and aspirations of Pakistani middle class and has singlehandidly inaugurated popular politics in Pakistan.
There is no doubt that Imran Khan, along with Maulana Tahirul Qadri, has been able to mobilize the people against the current government. But the question one needs to ask is simply this: Is the timing right for such a movement and is this what is in Pakistan’s best interest?
Imran Khan, in his public speeches, increasingly mobilizes the cricket metaphor: in this metaphoric engagement with the political realities of the Pakistan, he is the captain, the government the competing team, and, he somehow, hopes that his political bowling will “clean bowl” Nawaz Sharif. Occasionally he has also referred to the third umpire. The third umpire, it must be noted, is the on camera umpire who is refereed to if the players disagree with the decisions made by the ground umpires. One has to ask, what does he mean by it? If he is already against the government and cannot trust the judiciary—the two ground umpires—then the third umpire could be no other than the Pakistan army, and if that is what happens to be the force behind these protests then nothing good would come out of this whole experience.
Pakistan can do without these agitational politics, especially since what Pakistan needs is a continuous and uninterrupted political system. Imran Khan, sadly, has disrupted the progress of democracy and even if he declares that this fight is not against democracy, by weakening the current government and thus the political system, Imran has damaged the very thing—democracy—which he hopes to bolster.
Furthermore, even though he claims to clean the government and enhance Pakistan’s political potential, his stamens are increasingly isolationist and rely on a politics of personal and political assassination of all those who oppose his views. Such unbending attitude to issues of leadership and such crafting of a public self as unbending and uncompromising might work well with his followers but cannot be considered an asset for parliamentary politics. By its very structuring, the parliamentary democracy relies on tactical and strategic compromises and if one were to enter the arena with a fanatical certitude, then chances are one would not be able to accomplish much. Thus, while Imran Khan’s daily pronouncements might keep his followers spellbound, his brand of politics can have no long-term impact in a fractured and divided political landscape of Pakistan.
Furthermore, while Imran Khan sits in Islamabad and harangues his followers and exhorts the prime minister to resign, his own government in the KPK province has not much to show for their one year in office.
As a politician Imran Khan won the government of one of the most important provinces of Pakistan, and that is where he should have tried to deliver. What better way to prove the effectiveness of your political party than to do great works in the most riven and strategically important provinces of Pakistan.
Sadly, though, while Imran Khan continues to relive his glory days and constantly talks of this current political impasse as a game of cricket, the reality of Pakistani politics gets reduced to a game, a game in which Imran Khan sees himself as a captain and we all are reduced to the level of engaged, but voiceless, spectators. And while all of this is happening, the economy is at a standstill, most of the functions of the federal government are disrupted, and the lives of every day Pakistanis—the very people Imran Khan claims to represent—are becoming increasingly harder.
In the current circumstances, considering the security and economic interests of Pakistan, we could use more of silent diligent work and less of these cricket metaphors.