On average, Imran Khan appears in an exclusive interview on television twice a week. Additionally, the chairperson of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) holds at least one press conference every week to share his point of view with the people of Pakistan. Besides that, somewhere in the middle, the former cricket captain also addresses a seminar or a rally of his supporters to describe the salient points of his party’s agenda. In short, if you watch television in Pakistan, you cannot escape Imran Khan. He is present on every channel every day talking about all issues, all the time, throughout the year. The only politician who can remotely compete with Imran Khan in this race of public gatherings and ‘inspirational’ speeches is Altaf Hussain, the leader of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), although he lags far behind in getting exclusive interviews and holding press conferences.
In contrast to the omnipresence of Imran in the media, the co-chairperson of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the former president of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari, in the last six months has not given any personal interview and may only have addressed a public rally three times. Mian Nawaz Sharif, the prime minister, on the other hand, has appeared in one personal interview, has not spoken at a rally for months and has once addressed the nation, while the leaders of the Jamiat-e-Ulema-i-Islam Fazlur Rehman (JUI-F) and Jamaat-e-Islami’s (JI) Syed Munawar Hassan typically appear in an hour long interview once a month.
Every week, if not more frequently, we hear the chairman of the PTI getting angry with Pakistani liberals for picking on him and criticising his stance against the drone strikes and his policy in favour of negotiations with the Taliban. He claims that other political parties, like the PML-N and JI, also have a similar ideology but liberals exclusively attack him and malign his agenda. His accusation is probably true and secular critics, in their attacks, are more likely to mention Imran than any other right-wing party. Honestly speaking, who can blame them for being selective?
The former cricketer is, without a doubt, probably 50 times more vocal on television than the prime minister and at least 100 times more outspoken than Asif Ali Zaradari. On top of that, his party supporters, who probably get inspiration from their leader, are omnisciently hyperactive on social media as well. After a single remark from the chairperson, one can see hundreds, if not thousands, of posts from the followers of the PTI, competing with each other on vulgarity and profanity to prove their point and show their loyalty to the party. Their language is horrible — to put it mildly — and the personal attacks by its supporters on others, including women, is despicable, especially after their tall claims of being the representatives of the educated people.
Immediately after complaining about the attitude of liberals, Imran switches gears and goes on the attack mode: he calls them names like “American parrots” (totay), blames them for selling their conscience to get rich, accuses them of working on a foreign agenda against the interests of Pakistan and incriminates them for getting paid in US dollars to promote western values in the country. Unlike his careful attitude on censuring the terrorists — not terrorism — for killing innocent civilians when he is eager to provide an explanation of such attacks as a reaction to the drone strikes, he does not mince his words when it comes to the condemnation of the liberals even when he does not have any evidence of such charges.
It is true that most Pakistani liberals believe, for one reason or another, that the PTI’s stance on the war on terror is not based on reality. They also believe that negotiations with the terrorists will not work and military action is necessary to curb their rising insurgency. They disagree with Imran on drones as well. Some of them even think that drones are more productive than being harmful in effectively taking out the leadership of the terrorist organisation.
However, the liberals — as unpatriotic as they are depicted and as western as they are portrayed — still do not suggest directly or indirectly that Imran is an enemy agent. Even when Imran has crossed the lines of decency on numerous occasions, even when he has rudely called them names and even when he has accused people who ideologically differ from him of being traitors, I have not heard any of the liberals calling him an agent of Zionism. He has been accused of being an agent, no doubt about that, but it was done by the party that politically stands on the same side on almost every issue as does the PTI: the drone attacks, negotiations and the war on terror. Liberals, on the other hand, might disagree with Imran on almost every point but they still think he is honestly misguided and sincerely wrong, nonetheless a patriotic leader who cares for the people of Pakistan.
I wish, in this highly charged environment when there is a rat race between the various media outlets to encourage sensationalism and when it is extremely important for the politicians to be prudent and careful in making unsubstantiated claims and provocative statements, Imran Khan could abstain from using such language against the people who hold a different opinion than his. I know it is too much to ask for an apology because the right-wing is always right but a change in attitude would always be welcome. I hope the Oxford graduate can learn some of the values of being well mannered, soft spoken and respectful to the opponents that are part and parcel of one of the world’s most prestigious organisations.
The writer is a US-based freelance columnist. He tweets at @KaamranHashmi and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org