Critical appraisal, Is Imran Khan an extremist ? NO, He is not, An article by Taimoor Jhagra.
Twenty two years ago, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf performance in these recent elections would have been difficult to even imagine. In the last two decades — a turbulent time in a turbulent political environment — Imran Khan’s PTI has grown and evolved, amidst its ups and downs, from its role as a minor, if aspirational, spectator, to a mainstream political force: the leading party in this year’s general elections.
While many are jubilant over PTI’s victory, investing their hopes in the promise of a ‘Naya Pakistan’, some remain sceptical. Much of this scepticism is directed at Khan himself. With a political history like ours, it is not difficult to be a sceptic in Pakistan.
Certainly, the critical appraisal of political figures and elected representatives is the right of every citizen — after all, Khan himself has been one of the loudest voices in the call for accountability for the politically powerful.
Perhaps the issue that the liberal intelligentsia has with Khan is that they believe he ought to be their spokesman and espouse their views, and when he fails to live up to their expectations or their particular worldview, they are disappointed.
However, if the purpose of critique is to push forward, help build rather than destroy, it is worth remembering that working towards change through the messy world of practical politics can sometimes mean making compromises on individual actions, in the service of a larger principle.
One may or may not agree with each and every one of his views and decisions. However, from everything I have seen, I find it hard to doubt Khan’s intent. Real life is not black and white. Khan understands that, and chooses to both try to fight for the rights of all Pakistanis and stay true to his beliefs, at the same time — as a courageous leader should.
Perhaps the most important accusation that has stuck to Khan, most significantly in the period between the 2007 state of emergency and the 2013 elections, manifests in the title ‘Taliban Khan’, alleging his support of the Taliban.
Picked up by the Western press, the moniker paints the alarming picture that he is somehow sympathetic towards forces of terrorism that have wreaked devastation in the country, with the poorest and most marginalised segments of the population suffering the most.
But Khan has clarified his position on the Taliban time and again. He condemns the killing of innocent people and believes that rising militancy and radicalisation are a grave threat, that stopping terrorist activities is a matter of utmost urgency.
However, he was also passionately against the initiation of military intervention in the tribal areas. He believed that military action was not the only way to solve Pakistan’s terrorist problem, and that a great proportion of terrorists from the area were not motivated by an ideological bent, but rather driven to extremism by marginalisation and violence.
Khan believed that there were elements in Pakhtun culture, such as the jirga system, that could prove a more effective and economical means of justice against terrorism than our formal systems. Khan had, and has, passionate views about how to solve Pakistan’s problems on its western front, but that does not make him a Taliban apologist. I think it is to his credit that he stands up for them.
Khan has also come under fire for his ‘extremist’ conservative religious views. The truth is that there is nothing wrong with having and adhering to particular religious beliefs — much of Pakistan is deeply religious in one way or another; it is only a small percentage of people who are not.
Often, it is in relation to this conservatism that Khan is branded anti-woman, or anti-minority. Given his strong personal and religious convictions, it is not surprising that he disagrees with a certain kind of Western feminism that devalues traditional and cultural maternal roles.
Whatever intellectual differences may arise on that point, to imply that this means he, or the party, is anti-woman is disingenuous.
It belies the rich history of prolific women leaders within the party from its inception, such as Shireen Mazari and Yasmin Rashid, as well as the emphasis on women’s development within the agenda.
The party has prioritised women’s education and economic empowerment, as well as their access to justice, focusing on increasing representation of women at all levels of the justice system, and developing specialised provisions for victims of gender-based violence.
The initiation of the women’s development project is intended to occur within the first 100 days of government with the formation of a taskforce of women professionals.
In a similar vein, what is important to note here is that Khan’s Pakistan, and PTI’s Pakistan, has plenty of space for religious minorities, and for the emergence of a tolerant nation.
Khan has spoken time and again against the curse of sectarianism, which may be Pakistan’s biggest religious challenge. He was the first to condemn the brutal murder of Mashal Khan at Abdul Wali Khan University in Mardan last year. He has also spoken out against the forced conversion-by-marriage of Hindu women, and this year PTI was the first party to ever reserve a minority seat for a member of the Kalash community of Chitral.
Khan has also taken a brave stand on a number of other topics that perhaps no one else could have taken. In 2016, he was brave enough to speak against the national sentiment hostile to Afghan refugees, being the only national leader to say — even against the sentiment in his own party — that we needed to respect Afghan refugees as our guests.
The accusation, then, that singles out Khan for allying himself with hardcore religious elements during his election campaigns, can only be made by people who look at politics, as it is now, as a utopia where reality is depicted in shades of black and white only. This is not true.
What is true is that at no point has Khan or PTI formally allied with any banned organisations. As a centrist party, like all Pakistan’s mainstream political parties, PTI has similarly had to draw on both the left and right for support. However, the important thing is that the party leadership does not become a mouthpiece for extremist or intolerant views.
It seems to many Khan supporters that he is held to a different yardstick than other political figures. Benazir Bhutto’s government sponsored the creation of the Taliban in the mid-1990s under Naseerullah Babar; Nawaz Sharif reportedly wanted to change Pakistan’s governance fabric, wanting to change his title to Ameer-ul-Momineen; and Pervez Musharraf also engaged with the Taliban, and with religious elements, throughout his tenure. And yet by far, Khan attracts the most criticism for any perceived contradiction in his views.
Perhaps it is true that Khan attracts more criticism because he has campaigned so vocally about bringing change. But change is a long process and, in the present, one can only work towards it while considering the complexities of the social fabric we occupy.
The real test of Khan’s Pakistan will not be conducted in the armchairs of the critics, but during the next five years of government. If, in five years, Pakistan is more peaceful, more prosperous, and more tolerant than it is today, as is Khan’s intent, then there will be plenty who owe him an apology.
Critical appraisal, Is Imran Khan an extremist ? The writer is a member-elect of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Provincial Assembly from Peshawar, head of the Policy Unit of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf and a former Partner at McKinsey and Company.