Why does Imran Khan disapprove of a large-scale army operation in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA)? Some of his opponents claim that he has a natural alliance with the Waziris because of his ethnic background. But ethnicity must not be discussed here: it is too subjective to evaluate and too controversial to expound any further. I cannot believe any national leader of his stature would make political decisions based on heritage, even though I do believe, if such emotions are not subdued, they could cloud objective analysis. Let us see how they have influenced the founder of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI). First, Imran’s narrative is partial and fragmentary, without substance. Mostly, he alludes to the irresponsible statements made by a retired general of dubious reputation. Then, he cites some out of context paragraphs from a book and refers to a few patchy segments of his conversations with an old foreign diplomat. All of them, as you have guessed, are anecdotes not real evidence. On top of that, claiming to know the tribal areas very well, and being the only politician who has travelled through the Agencies, Imran is convinced that the Waziris — who provide the bulk of fighters to the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) — are invincible just like General Musharraf who had a similar opinion of the US after 9/11. And exactly like the General who used to frighten us with the power of the US, the former Captain has accepted the defeat of the Pakistani nation at the hands of the terrorists as he keeps on scaring people with the history of ‘Waziri warriors’ who have never capitulated to foreign forces and fought the British for decades till the partition of India.
As we examine his narrative further, we find more similarities between Khan’s rhetoric and the policies devised by General Musharraf, except that the General’s policies were underpinned by more wisdom than Khan’s out-of-fear polemic. At least he was intelligent enough to cave in to the most powerful country of the world that had a mandate from the UN to attack Afghanistan. On the other hand, if we were left to the whims of the former cricketer, regrettably, we would be at the mercy of thugs, common criminals, murderers, warlords, gang leaders, banned religious organisations and some pimps with a maximum education of no more than middle school. Khan also boasts about the courage and determination of the Waziris. He speaks of their pride in tribal traditions (Pakhtoonwali) and their perseverance to stay independent as if he is not talking about the poorest, one of the most underdeveloped areas of the world with the lowest literacy rate (17 percent). Nor does it seem like he is talking about a society with living standards from the nineteenth century without any modern resources, nor about a place where terrorists (criminals) from all over the world have found sanctuaries. Instead, it looks like he is discussing supermen, men of steel who have never been defeated or overpowered, demigods who can commit no crime and do nothing wrong, even when they have held the state of Pakistan and its 190 million people hostage with their suicide bombers and cowardly attacks on civilians. The situation gets even trickier when his opponents hear him criticise the indiscriminate killing of civilians without condemning the perpetrators, despite his loud claims that he does. They also hear then, after a brief condemnation, Khan’s rationalisations of those barbaric acts. For sure, it sends an encouraging signal to the terrorists who feel elated as his explanations achieve both of their objectives: gaining popular support through a powerful narrative, and sending a message of terror across the nation.
Although I disagree with name calling, and find it counterproductive in the political discourse, I can understand those angry people who have lost their loved ones who say there are two wings of the Taliban: the violent and the apologetic — the latter referring to Imran Khan. The former kills people and the latter provides a justification for the massacre. The former attacks them in movie theatres and the latter tells the world that the victims were watching porn and sexually explicit material. The former butchers them in mosques and the latter calls it a response to drone strikes. The former sever the heads of army personnel and the latter calls it retaliation against the invasion in Afghanistan and Iraq by the US. The former kills politicians and the latter calls them corrupt and robbers, people who have plundered the wealth of the nation. And the former destroys schools and the latter calls them western, secular and anti-Islamic to begin with. In short, while the war of words is led by the latter, the war against the people, their families and children is championed by the former.
Imran should realise how the victims of terror perceive his partial views. They hold him accountable for indirectly aiding the terrorists by enabling them to build a viable political platform, which has caused enormous problems in combating terrorism and rooting it out from the country. Some of them are certain that once the talks have failed, if there was a decision in favour of a military operation, the PTI will claim that we have not given a fair chance to the dialogue process, that the demands of the terrorists are reasonable, that the US was the real enemy responsible for the failure of dialogue, that the liberals were fascists and that the Waziris were patriotic Pakistanis who liberated Kashmir for us in 1948. In response, what I want to tell PTI is that they may have been quoting an accurate history of the Waziris in defeating all the military powers that attacked them, including the US, but they have never fought a battle with an enraged nation before. And if there is an army action now in Waziristan, it will not just be the military that will be fighting the war it will be the Pakistani nation standing behind their soldiers to bring the perpetrators to justice.
The writer is a US-based freelance columnist. He tweets at @KaamranHashmi and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org