Imran Khan, where do you stand on Taseer?

Published in The Daily Times on January 6th 2012

The founding father’s secular ideals have been sacrificed for the penumbra imagined and read into his ambiguous and general appeals to Islam. Imran Khan has already said enough that is open to misinterpretation

After the Karachi jalsa (rally), Imran Khan has become a truly national force, but with his tsunami the tide has brought in a lot of debris that he needs to clear up.

It has been a year since one of Pakistan’s bravest sons, Salmaan Taseer, was killed in Kohsar Market in Islamabad by his religious fanatic elite guard. That, for supporting the cause of a wrongly convicted Aasia Bibi under the draconian blasphemy law of Pakistan. The reaction to his killer, Mumtaz Qadri, shocked the world. Greeted with flower petals, Qadri was met outside the courts by the jubilant lawyer community.

Meanwhile, we have seen everything hopeful be defined by Imran Khan as he swept the political front with his rallies and TV appearances. No longer a party described as a one-man-show, powerful politicians have flocked to the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). What we have not seen however is some clarity on what brand of Islam Imran Khan wants in Pakistan when he prays on stage, starts his speech with Scripture or when his youth wing on Twitter quotes the Quran instead of Chomsky. Disturbingly, there was a fudging comment by Imran Khan about Pakistan not being a secular country.

Not only is there a lack of clarity, there is actually a contradiction. On the one hand Imran Khan condemns the killing of Salmaan Taseer and on the other he sends his representative to a rally of Qadri supporters.

If the biggest tragedy of 2011, Salmaan Taseer, died for something he believed was an important question for the country to resolve, then the biggest litmus test for where Pakistan is heading is what Imran Khan has to say about this. Being the party of change, youth and clean revolution, we need to know what he thinks of the blasphemy laws, the overuse and the perverse overprotection of the sentiments of the Muslim majority in the country and the second class status of minorities in Pakistan.

Charmed by Imran Khan but not by his post-rally politics we are fearful that the ‘Children of Zia’ who have grown up with a warped sense of history and form the bulk of the party will push Imran Khan to take a reactionary approach — create a ‘security state’ essentially run on an isolationist agenda. Then comes the question of Pakistan’s nuclear safety, which is a free world obsession. What safeguards will Imran Khan put in place to ensure that our nuclear assets do not become leverage and that our establishment does not use them as a gun to our head to bargain with the rest of the world?

Run on perception, international investments are like sparrows that will fly off to more peaceful pastures, especially if we keep clamouring on old themes of ‘honour’ and ‘national sovereignty’. Mr Khan must not forget that he has come with the promise of justice, education and accountability. He also promises a modern and progressive polity that Jinnah envisaged for this country. Clearly then he must also realise that in Pakistan, Jinnah’s words have been ignored and twisted beyond recognition. The founding father’s secular ideals have been sacrificed for the penumbra imagined and read into his ambiguous and general appeals to Islam. Imran Khan has already said enough that is open to misinterpretation and therefore it is time that Imran Khan comes out openly and unequivocally about where he stands on these issues.

The population bulge of under-30-year-olds that are likely to use social media and the global village to be exposed to progressive elements will be influenced by Mr Khan’s religious inclinations and demand that their country be saved. A level below these champions of a perverted sense of middle-class morality are people who reject modernity as ‘westernisation’. Modernity, which encompasses social justice, egalitarianism and freedom of expression, is a prerequisite to civilisation without which Pakistan will remain hopelessly out of step with the changing realities of our world. Ultimately this will prove to be a tsunami of destruction. After all, what will stop the flailing millions marching against modernity from turning their guns on Imran Khan, whose relationship with Jemima Khan, his ex-wife, both during their marriage and afterwards is already the subject of criticism by these narrow-minded practitioners of faith.

Today he screams that he will save Pakistan from American hegemony but one hopes that it does not translate into an isolationist worldview. Today he claims that he will give justice to women who are oppressed by feudal and cultural laws, but tomorrow how will he stop his religiously charged party goons from preventing women in getting the top slots in a future administration?

Salmaan Taseer gave the ultimate sacrifice for minorities who have no voice in this country. As supporters of Imran’s manifesto of change, we want to know whether under his administration, will those who stand up for human rights, be crowned rather than assassinated and will murderers be punished rather than garlanded with flowers?

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