A star politician’s unreal world.
At the very beginning of The Truman Show, Truman Burbank steps out of his picture-perfect house and is startled when a large spotlight falls out of the picture-perfect blue sky and slams into the ground next to his feet. Those who have seen the movie know the explanation for the mysterious occurrence: Truman lives in a fake world, a giant television set in which everyone he knows is actually an actor. Only Truman himself doesn’t know that his life is an elaborate drama.
I mention The Truman Show because I am not sure how else to convey the increasingly absurd world in which Imran Khan lives. Like the protagonist played by Jim Carrey, Khan is in a position where his picture-perfect reality no longer makes any sense, where large metallic objects fall out of a clear blue sky for no apparent reason. The only difference being that in the Imran Khan Show mysterious objects not only appear out of nowhere, they also blow up.
In the case of Truman, his failure to see the real world was because he had never known another. In Khan’s case, his failure to see reality seems to be driven by a romantic vision of the Pakhtun warrior. Whether Khan acquired his dewy-eyed vision through a love of Kipling or while living in the lesser-known tribal agency of Zaman Park is immaterial. What is material is that Khan appears permanently wedded to a deeply heroic view of the tribal areas as the Pakistani equivalent of the Sparta portrayed in 300—a hard land populated by hard men, flinty of eye and scanty of word.
Khan’s romantic delusions would not matter if he wasn’t also the leader of Pakistan’s third largest political party, entrusted with the governance of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province. But he is. And because Khan’s rose-colored views of Pakhtun culture and history are about as useful for governing that province as Beatrix Potter’s cutesy-poo Peter Rabbit stories are to understanding the biology of bunnies, the net result is a gigantic mess.
It is not as if the mess was not anticipated. Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s anti-terror policy has been the target of criticism from day one. For many people, the policy was reminiscent of the cartoon showing two professors in front of a blackboard filled with impressive looking numbers and equations, in the middle of which is written, “then a miracle occurs.”
To elaborate, the PTI’s strategy was built almost entirely on two points: an end to drone strikes and an offer of talks to the militants. However, the PTI was never going to have any control over the former and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan have never been interested in talks. The only other element of the PTI strategy was the pious hope that the Insafians’ mere presence in the corridors of power would lead to the Taliban giving up violence and embracing their Muslim brethren.
Unfortunately for the PTI, their taking over the reins of governance in the northwest has not prodded the Taliban into giving up arms. If anything, it has done the opposite; a development which has produced epic amounts of confusion within the party. The net result is that the relationship between the PTI provincial government and the Taliban resembles nothing more right now than that between a battered spouse and an abusive husband. I walked into a door. The media is responsible for the blasts. It was my fault.
Like most abusive relationships, this one too is destined to end badly. The only question is how many innocent Pakistanis will suffer because of Khan’s delusions. In the real world, stupidity has consequences. In the real world, stupidity is lethal.
Lest you think I am being too gloomy, that somehow everything will work out for the best, the fact is that everything doesn’t always work out for the best. History is full of monsters just like it is full of people who died because they didn’t believe in monsters.
Hitler forced World War II. That resulted in the deaths of 50 million people. Chairman Mao killed 45 million Chinese with his folly known as the Great Leap Forward. Stalin deliberately starved 10 million Russians to death. There are plenty of lesser known monsters, too. Remember Idi Amin? He supposedly kept his enemies’ heads in the fridge. Jean-Bédel Boukassa, the self-proclaimed emperor of the Central African Republic reportedly liked snacking on his enemies. Pol Pot exterminated more than a quarter of his own country’s population in a quixotic attempt to remake Cambodia from scratch.
These are not isolated events. Believing something does not make it so. If your policy is stupid, believing in it will not change the consequences of that policy. Alice Lakwena, the original leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army used to tell her followers that rubbing holy cocoa butter on their bodies would make them impervious to bullets. Lots of her followers believed in her and consequently lots of her followers died. Unstinting belief may not be a cure for stupidity. But death is.
As it turns out, death is a pretty good cure for extremism as well. Of course, the only thing our political leaders agree on is that there can be no military action against the extremists until that action is agreed upon by all and sundry. But that is a lie. Article 245(1) of the Constitution states in clear terms that the federal government is responsible for directing the armed forces in defending Pakistan against external aggression or the threat of war. That responsibility is not dependent upon a Parliamentary consensus or the consent of all parties.
Let us be clear. The call for consensus is only an excuse for doing nothing. There are those who ask for consensus because they profit from the status quo. And there are those who call for consensus because they are too scared to act otherwise. Either way, they are contemptible.
Naqvi is a senior lawyer based in Lahore. The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely his in his individual capacity.