What a Relief to Have the Caliph Back

Source: AP/Hindustan Times

Imran Khan’s PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf) has come to power for the first time in a general election after about 25 years of its formation. However, for the Pakistani Muslims, it feels like they have their Caliph back after such a long time. At least for the first time since the first term of Nawaz Sharif or the death of General Zia-ul-Haq. For many others, especially the ideologically correct Islamic Socialist, since the death of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

Yes, indeed. The Caliph syndrome is back in power again, particularly refreshed for the memory of the people by our Honorable Chief Justice Saqib Nisar. The self-important victory speech of Imran Khan, (which by the way was all about his person more than anything else, as usual) scored really big with the people of Pakistan. It had all the ingredients that they precisely wanted to hear. And it is a lesson for all the people who are going to attempt popular politics in Pakistan. If a leader has just the right charisma, they can captivate the imagination of the people of Pakistan without much effort. Otherwise, this urge is only fulfilled by ordinary people who are put into positions of power by accident just like the current Chief Justice.

Imran Khan’s personal merits and incompetence aside, pretending that Messiah syndrome is not involved in this election will just not be honest. The charisma of this undisputed national hero has always been a factor, inspiring a personality cult and left them wondering why such a person has not been coronated yet.

Like many times before, Imran Khan speaks of transforming Pakistan into a Medina welfare state. Besides the fact that no such welfare state ever existed, the founder of the country Muhammad Ali Jinnah is also alleged to have cited this benchmark for his vision for Pakistan. Turned out his vision remained true to the benchmark in so many other ways. Add the mention of the “dying dog or goat” quote of Caliph Umer I or II and your pitch to the socially conservative Islamic Socialist is complete. Considering how this is how Muslims are traditionally brought up as far as the ideals for governance are concerned, of course, the real world is going to fall short of their expectations. The Jamaat-e-Islami have also been doing this forever but since they are more honest about their intentions to enforce Sharia and lacks anyone who can be remotely referred to as a leader, it just doesn’t work for them. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto won hearts with more or less the same pitch albeit in a more secular manner.

Furthermore, Imran’s most disappointing aspect remains to be his massive ego and his almost unforgivable self-absorption. For the most part of his address, he referred to himself as the one who struggled against the odds to get the PTI here. A lot of people were reminded of the 1992 World Cup Speech which coincidentally completely ignored any mention of his teammates. The infamous “finally I managed to win the world cup” became a mantra that never left his side. But then again, with a person of Imran’s charisma, you can be forgiven to be a little narcissistic.

The success of the PTI is a double-edged sword, primarily because of the impossibly cynical fan base that they have built in their manner of “education” for the last decade. This is a fan base who believe in Imran or bust and probably would not even go out to vote if he is not leading his party. This makes me wonder what the future of PTI will be without Imran Khan and whether a personality cult is worse than dynastic politics or not because the PML-N and PPP followers have Maryam Nawaz Sharif and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari to look forward to.

Anyway, my congratulations to the PTI and I am rooting for them to do well and make Pakistan a better and more tolerable place. But I wish they would form the federal government with the PPP, which achieved legislatively more than anyone with the passage of the 18th amendment with a very loosely formed coalition government. However, it wouldn’t be inappropriate to expect much darker things in this term.

Pakistan’s Turn to the Dark Side

Source: ARY News

Source: ARY News

If the recent foreign policy developments for Pakistan did not have you worried, then it is time for serious reflection. Ever since President George W. Bush left office, you can feel a distance between Washington and Islamabad. The differences between the two countries were particularly seen at their worst when Pakistan decided to carry out nuclear tests in 1998 during the term of the Clinton administration.

While Pakistan and China have always had very strong ties since the 1970s, but nothing like the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor has ever been seen before. It promises great prosperity for the future, but skeptics see it as yet another neo-colonial scheme in the region which could bring more harm than good. Not to mention the control it could possibly offer to the Chinese authorities in Gwadar.

Of course, the irony is not lost on the Pakistani left progressives and former communists who have been struggling against the military establishment since the 1950s. They recall how Afghan Jihad was mobilized by Pakistani military and masterminded by American National Security experts, out of fears of Soviets reaching the shores of the Persian Gulf. They also recall the harsh bans they had to endure during the Cold War years.

But let’s face it. The CPEC is too grand to be said no to. The magnitude of the project is so grand that even India would have agreed to it, had it been a primary beneficiary. The fact that Pakistan is turning to partners other than the United States and Great Britain for its economic and trade development sounds perfectly fine. Though you can’t help but wonder if the economic development comes at the cost of military alliances and other illegible footnotes.

Especially since the killing of Osama Ben Laden at the hands of US Navy Seals in Abbottabad, a humiliating episode for the Pakistani state, Pakistan’s position in the Western alliance has never been more precarious. The difference of interest between Washington and Islamabad on military action against certain militant groups in Afghanistan and within Pakistan have even worsened the tensions in the Obama years.

With the gulf of military cooperation apparently widening with a more disinterested US administration, Pakistan is apparently seeking new avenues with more sinister powers. On the surface, it was a welcome development that President Zardari paid a rare visit to Moscow in 2011 and that for the very first time, the Russian military participated in joint military exercises with Pakistan on Pakistani soil. Such an occurrence would have been unimaginable in the 1980s.

There is only one problem. Vladimir Putin and his open intimidation of the Western world. Not only that, his close association with Iran and the brutal Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Assad. At a time when Aleppo has become the greatest battlefield for the conscience of the world, it may not be the best time to favor Russia over the Western world. So let’s just hope the military exercise is just a harmless affair of two old rivals on the road to friendship.

Probably it has been a long while that Pakistani nationalist commentators have been dreaming of Pakistani statesmen standing up to the US authorities on an equal standing. Even though we have had a tradition of strong diplomatic figures from Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to Abdullah Hussain Haroon. So you could expect that Senator Mushahid Hussein Syed’s recent comment at a Washington think tank about the United States no longer being the superpower of the world would see much appreciation.

The only problem is that the statement of the Prime Minister’s envoy could be tantamount to an needless provocation. It could work all very well in terms of harnessing diplomatic leverage and probably it would be unwise not to make soft threats, but if behavior such as this is overdone, it could surely affect Pakistan’s future with the Western world.

Furthermore, it is important to choose your words. Not sure how calling the United States “a declining power” is so flattering, no matter what your objectives are. It has only been a slight sign of Pakistan drifting away from and slipping into the Chinese and Russian camp, other than the usual cockiness of Senator Mushahid Hussain, who is free to get carried away after retirement as much as he wants. It is just that the China-Russia camp does not offer the best of values in human civilization.

It is only a fair point to make that it takes two to tango. Perhaps the United States does not require the partnership of Pakistan as it used to during the twentieth century or perhaps it is sick and tired of nurturing the Pakistani military without the satisfactory fulfillment of its objectives. However, the United States still favors Pakistan enough with its more traditional and liberal politicians largely refraining from supporting a Liberty Caucus resolution in the Congress to declare Pakistan a terrorist state.

Even though the situation is far from being apocalyptic, the direction Pakistan is heading is certainly not that bright. There is nothing wrong in stating that we are living in a multi-polar world today, neither is there any harm in pursuing trade and commerce ties with the likes of China and Russia. But it would be wise not to burn bridges with long-time allies, whose values and humanitarian record we need to identify with more than authoritarian powers.

On the other hand, Pakistan’s greatest strategic concern India has been significantly improving its diplomatic standing in the West, even reaching out to Israel, since the fall of the Soviet Union. At the same time, India has not been alienating rival China and old ally Russia in its pursuit toward a freer and more vibrant economy and strong defense. Pakistan surely needs to take its diplomatic lessons from its bitter rival, despite India’s petulant insistence to isolate Pakistan diplomatically. At least the missed diplomatic opportunity with Israel cannot be emphasized enough.

As citizens, we can only hope for Pakistan to pursue more liberal and democratic policies and to stand with global forces representing such values than otherwise.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.