The year 1982 witnessed the entry of a new God in Pakistan named Imran Ahmad Khan Niazi. The adulation was the consequence of his accomplishment in the game of cricket. He was an all-rounder who captained the Pakistan cricket team that won the World Cup in 1992. He enjoyed a cult-like status in the cricket crazy country and the larger cricket circle of the world. A lot of the hero worship was also because of his good looks.
On retirement from cricket and post marriage to a British heiress that did not last too long, Khan took to philanthropy by taking on the cause of cancer patients and some other issues. In the next stage of his evolution, he decided to jump into politics.
He approached the political field with a distinct flavour of romanticism while speaking about resurrection of nationalist and Islamic values in an environment of growth propelled by eradication of corruption and establishment of a neat clean government. To further his political aspirations he created a new political party and named it Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI).
His political rivals from powerful political families like the Bhutto’s and Shariff’s looked upon him with genial indulgence and brushed aside the PTI as a fringe organisation. In doing so they miscalculated the grit and determination of this international level sportsman who had experienced the pinnacle of glory. They failed to appreciate his God like status and communication skills developed by remaining for decades in the media limelight.
Khan’s philosophy of Islamic resurrection found favour with the radical elements of the Nation, especially the Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP). Added to this was his huge following among the youth of the country whose revolutionary aspirations were met by this new age tech-savvy messiah. The support buoyed Khan and he was successful, to an extent, in creating a small hint of suspicion against the traditional parties among a segment of people.
Khan fully exploited the rift between the army and Nawaz Sharif and convinced the former of his undying loyalty. The Pakistan army then did what it does best, it orchestrated a soft coup by using the judiciary to implicate Nawaz Sharif in the Panama Gate scandal and sent him on exile. In the subsequent election Khan’s victory was inevitable. Thus, he was “selected” by the army to become the prime minister of Pakistan.
It did not take Khan too long to fall face down from the God-like persona. It soon became evident that he was a weak administrator with no magic-wand to eradicate the problems that the country was facing. Instead of the upward trajectory that the people were looking for, what came across was utter chaos. COVID put the last nail in the coffin.
Soon enough, Pakistan was left staring at a phenomenal economic meltdown that witnessed a critical reduction in forex reserves leading to virtual bankruptcy. Naturally, inflation galloped out of control and left the people gasping for breath as purchasing power of the Pakistani Rupee hit rock bottom. The harassed Awaam (citizens) of Pakistan took to the streets leading to large scale rioting, unrest and civil disobedience. Pakistan today is rated as one of the ten countries in the world that are likely to collapse in the current year itself.
It is said that a characteristic can lead to the success of an individual and also become the cause of his downfall. Cricket gave Khan a cult-like status but it also gave him a huge ego and arrogance. He actually saw himself as a messiah who could take on the entire world and emerge victorious. In doing so he miscalculated the power and reach of the Pakistan army. To add fuel to the fire he also developed friction with Pakistan’s all weather friend, the United States.
The face-off with the all powerful Pakistan army was at the highest level. He developed a running fight with the former Army Chief General Qamar Bajwa who had been responsible for having him “selected” to become the prime minister. Bajwa responded by ensuring that General Asim Munir, with whom Khan had a long standing antagonism, replaced him as chief and thus the face-off became even more vicious than before.
It did not take long for the opposition to smell an opportunity. The traditional rivals Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) and the Pakistan People Party (PPP) joined hands to form a Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) and challenged Khan constitutionally. Imran Khan became the first premier of Pakistan to be ousted from power after losing a no-confidence vote.
Once again the fighter in Khan emerged in full form. He launched an acerbic attack on his opponents. He alleged that his ouster was part of a US-led conspiracy that targeted him because of his independent foreign policy decisions on Russia, China, and Afghanistan. He openly blamed the army for his ouster. His followers ran amok and even attacked military establishments.
For a moment there was a perception that Khan would succeed in unseating the Pakistan army and would finally curb its vice-like hold on the country. There was a feeling that Pakistan would move towards momentous change.
Nothing of this sort has happened. The Pakistan army did not take long to get its act together. Thousands of Khan’s supporters and devotees were arrested by the army under the Army Act for entering and attacking army buildings, and under the Official Secrets Act for revealing the location of military facilities on social media. This act is quite questionable in a democracy, but then, who will question the Pakistan army in Pakistan? As the army initiated its crackdown, the senior leaders of Khan’s party were quick to jump from the sinking ship – they resigned from the party. There is even a proposal to ban PTI for the mayhem its supporters had unleashed in the wake of his arrest. Presently, Khan is facing more than 145 cases that are likely to lead to his arrest or exile.
Clearly, Khan took his God-like persona too seriously and overplayed his hand. His adversaries know very well that if, by chance, he comes back to power he will get all the more confident about his God/Messiah persona and unleash an unprecedented wave of vindictiveness. Therefore, his adversaries in the political arena, the army and those created by him in recent times are unlikely to give him much space to raise his head again.
But then, a God is not expected to go down without a huge fight. Khan will definitely wish to fight the elections that are due in September, however, there is every chance of the polls being postponed till such time that Khan is not firmly and irrevocably jailed or exiled.
Khan had an opportunity to set his country on the right course, sadly, he let his conceit get the better of him. Ultimately, he will be looked upon as a prime minister who let his nation sink into the depths of desperation and one who pursued disastrous foreign policies that antagonised his most enduring allies. He also went against the very organisation that placed him on the exalted chair.
To his credit goes the fact that he questioned, contested and exposed the “holy cow” image of the Pakistan army and showed his countrymen its true colours. This is how the seed of revolution and change is sown.
Khan may not be active within the country to see the impact of his actions but definitely things will not be the same in Pakistan. No political party can afford to ignore the economic crisis, the various insurgencies, lack of governance, and political turmoil.
The Pakistan army may have check-mated Khan but it has not emerged as a righteous winner. It will need to bring about a course correction in its policies and its relationship with the political dispensation if it wishes to maintain its place within the country.
The Pakistani God, Imran Khan, may have fallen but his legacy is likely to remain alive for a long time. Ultimately, history will look upon him as the engine of change that he always wanted to be. After all, the angel of luck invariably smiles upon a God.