As you rise so shall you fall. One must have heard such a maxim with some variations here and there.
Imran Khan had promised moon to Pakistanis. The helpless citizenry believed him. But the fact of the matter is Pakistan’s “Prime Minister till midnight of April 9, 2022” had banked and exploited a lot of his cricket field image and the making of a cancer hospital.
“Imran Khan worked relentlessly for decades at self-promotion. His growing cult swallowed story after story: corruption would end in 90 days; the national treasury would overflow ….and never again, would Pakistan see the dirty politics of horse trading,” says a piece in the Dawn newspaper.
But all that has failed. He even could not ensure a cordial and formal bilateral relationship with India despite being a popular ‘cult’ like figure among thousands of cricket fans in both the countries.
Some Foreign Ministry officials in Delhi did not mind confessing that a few of them grew up trying to emulate Khan’s bowling gestures. Others preferred Kapil Dev but there was no dearth of Khan’s popularity.
Khan’s exit was messy and un-cricket like approach. Reportedly, he and his left National Assembly post midnight, but there was no word of his stepping down.
One thing was clear, he had lost numbers in Parliament long back. Reportedly, Khan said he will not accept an “imported” new government.
This may sound bravado, but it does not augur for common people in Pakistan. Democracy was never its pride possession but Imran should have made the exit with a parting smile ! Cricketers are well known for playing the gentlemen game like “gentlemen”. But here was a Pathan, madly in love for power and he has his dosage of ego too.
No less than Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi once lamented about the “failure” of Khan.
On February 23, 2019, at Tonk in Rajasthan, Prime Minister Modi had dared his Pakistan counterpart to stick to his own words as a ‘Pathan’ and dedicate all efforts to fight poverty and illiteracy in the two countries.
“Aaj Pakistan ke pradhan mantri ke shabdoan ko kasauti pe kasne ki jarurat hai… (Time has come for him to prove his own words) Let me see whether he can prove to be truthful to his own words,” Modi had said addressing a rally.
Recalling his first phone coversation with Khan after his poll victory in 2018 and said: “I had told him you are from the world of sports… Come let India and Pakistan get their act together and fight poverty and illiteracy.”
“In response, he had told me that he (Imran) is a son of a Pathan and he will always speak the truth and also do things in the right manner…. Thus time has come for him to prove his own words,” Modi said amid escalated tension between two neighbours in the wake of the Pulwama attack.
But all those talks came a cropper. Khan failed to host SAARC Summit and so his last minute batting during the slog over trying to applaud India’s “foreign policy” does not make much sense.
Khan also failed to give his country an effective government. He believed in army machinations and perhaps presumed lot of things from Kartarpur corridor and cricket star of India – Navjot Singh Sidhu.
Sidhu himself lost the polls recently and now his “yaar dildar” Imran may vanish into oblivion too.
But according to some, Imran tried to fight back when the no-trust motion was not taken up and the National Assembly was dissolved. The Speaker, Deputy Speaker and even the President sided with him, but the Supreme Court of Pakistan did not.
Strategic expert C. Raja Mohan writes: “Khan has qualities that his predecessors lacked, except Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, whose charisma moved the Pakistani masses in the early 1970s. He is deeply aware of Bhutto’s defiance which ended with execution in 1979. He now invokes Bhutto’s name and the dangers he faces from the system that he has challenged”.
Nevertheless his major failures were essentially three-fold.
In January 2022, Transparency International announced that perceptions of corruption had taken a quantum leap under “honest captain”.
Dependency on the US was “traded” for equal and critical dependency upon China.
“Today, the Pakistani passport is no more desirable than before and the only foreign tourists are intrepid mountain climbers,” says Islamabad-based writer Pervez Hoodbhoy.
His articulate statement highlights the obvious.
“To save his sinking ship, Captain Khan has invented the cock-and-bull story of an American conspiracy to oust him. This, he said, owes to his independent stand on Ukraine. So why hasn’t Narendra Modi, also ambivalent on Russia’s aggression, alleged the same? Khan’s groupies cannot explain why this weeks-old ‘revelation’ came only after a no-confidence motion threatened his survival.”
What happens next?
Well, Imran still remains a popular figure.
“The truth is, price rises have been significantly sharper in Pakistan than in most of its neighbours. Yet however disgruntled many may be with Khan’s policies, the move to oust him is not based on a sudden wave of popular sentiment. It’s down to elite political manoeuvring,” says a BBC report.
One understanding is also that Imran Khan would show preference to “power” as did the likes of Adolf Hitler, Mao Zedong and Joseph Stalin.
The xenophobic nationalism and radical religious sentiment could be his next few cards – up in the sleeves.
“Imran Khan wins out on this. Chasing money is not his first priority,” says Pervez in reference to public perception that Paksitani politicians are generally corrupt.
(Nirendra Dev is a New Delhi-based journalist and author of “The Talking Guns: North East India” and “Modi to Moditva: An Uncensored Truth”. The views are personal)