The Imrandan: Political Pawns from a Container
For the past three and a half years, an overwhelming number of my peers condescendingly criticised the Pakistani working class for voting in their interest against an authoritarian, disrespectful, know-all, holier-than-thou, cricketer-turned political deity. To them, the choice was clear between a corrupt political elite who loots the public coffers and a political outsider who demonstrated his leadership, winning abilities on the cricket ground. To me personally, Imran Khan’s alleged political acumen turned into a facade the second he called the Taliban— ruthless murderers of innocent civilians—“our estranged brothers”. Ironically, during all their criticism of a “jahil awam” who couldn’t make a clear “educated” choice of electing the great leader as their prime minister, they maintained that the entire election was systematically rigged against their great leader and brewed an entire conspiracy-machine narrative that they still haven’t been able prove, in courts or in the public domain, to this day. They came out on the streets, wreaked violence not just on state buildings and the institutions they represent, but also on public discourse. All that supposed drama-for-democracy, we later found out, was an actual conspiracy to execute the democracy derailing my educated friends always purported the elections, and the political system by extension, accomplished.
Now that that failed-conspiracy attempt and its perpetrators are out in the open and back in the public discourse, I hope my friends and patriotic “Justifiers”— for their overflowing passion for justice and their ability to rationalise bad political strategies—acknowledge the unwarranted (and bad) faith they put in a leader with simplistic solutions for complex systemic problems. More importantly, however, I hope these Justifiers and the nation as a whole see that Imran Khan was only the symptom of a larger problem of an almighty Imrandan and its never-ending supplies of Imrans. These Imrans have come, and as it is will keep coming, in all shapes and forms: bald, hairy, brown, white, athletic, feudal, articulate and even some non-decipherable ones. But whatever shape they take, Imrans are all delusional at best and self-centred at least. In the end, nonetheless, they are just pawns of one expansionist institution and a(n allegedly small) number of ambitious (rogue) elite in the leadership that work against the declared and elected will of the people.
As the political veil on behind-the-scenes of the two-dharna fiascos lifts and all the top brass who actively encouraged it are exposed, we can see the dangers unaccountable institutions, with good intentions or not, pose. In the almost 70 years of Pakistan’s existence as a nation-state, every civilian government has been scrutinised publicly or otherwise. From the day I took interest in politics, I can name only a few politicians who haven’t been accused of corruption. In fact, governments were overthrown on these charges, some of which were unquestionably shady. Even today, despite all the flaws in the electoral system, the public can vote nonperforming governments out, as they did in May of 2013. But the Imrandan, on the other hand, despite their countless historical and political blunders that had dire and often fatal consequences for average Pakistanis, remain loved and above criticism. Hardly have any of these so called “small rogue elements” in the institution been prosecuted for meddling with the political process, remaining unaccountable to the public and still feeling empowered to intervene.
All of this is not to say that we have a perfect political system that serves the needs of the people best or even that any democratic system has the potential to be perfect. But democracy is the best humanity has done to organize. Indeed there is corruption in our bureaucracies, although not exclusively in the civilian ones. But at least the civilian policies and bureaucracy are subject to public criticism and scrutiny. It will take ages but Pakistani political parties will deliver—don’t put Pakistan People’s Party in parliament for a couple more terms and they will have to.
Unfortunately that’s the downside of a democratic system. It’s always mired in useless paperwork that is created by competing interests of political agents: the electors, the elected and the rest. But alas, no one can get rid off them. It takes ages for everyone, the politicians and the public alike, to learn how to fill out old forms and even longer to create new ones to improve the bureaucracy. But at least there is room for trial and error in the process: politicians can be deserted if their public experiments fail.
Consequently, only elected officials are capable of making amends for their poor policy choices because they have an incentive in the form of public vote and support. Pakistanis should have learned from experience what happens when a powerful, unaccountable institution makes the public’s choices for them. In the 70 years since Pakistan’s independence, the Imrandan and their political pawns have constantly failed the public during their rule, directly for at least half that time and indirectly for the rest. Yet, each time they failed, they have left on their own terms only for the civilians to inherit their failed legacies because they never had an incentive to deliver. They always come back after a short hiatus, remaining powerful and omnipresent in the public discourse and policy-making process even when they are outside the capital. No wonder they dare to interfere!
I find it ironic that a politician who became famous for being a sportsman lacks the very essence of being one. In sports, as much as your talent counts, equally important is the gracefulness with which you accept your defeat when the talent doesn’t deliver the expected outcome. To draw a Pakistani fan-favorite analogy, when the English cricket team plays Australia on their home turf, they know the Australians have an advantage. Still, they fight against the odds and shake hands at the end no matter who loses. I doubt they illegitimately try to gain favors from the 3rd empire, who sits behind the scenes, to shift the odds. Thus, for Pakistan and for his own sake, Imran Khan needs to be the one thing he is admired for: a sportsman. He needs to accept his loss and pad up for the next series instead of being a complicit in destroying to shred the little progress we have made in the past eight and a half years. Otherwise, Imran Khan will end up in the Imrandan like the rest of them did, only at the expense of progress in Pakistan. As for the Imrandan themselves, unless the public voices their opinion, actually for democracy this time, and bring them under public accountability, these rogue few will keep daring to decide our future for us. I am not endorsing for an all-out-Justifying-Dharna style violent protest. I realise it will take years, maybe even decades, for civilians to get control of the barrels. But the public can catalyse the process by holding the almighty forces to the same standards they hold elected officials. No institution that runs on public support, financially or otherwise, should be above criticism. Yes, the coercive power of the state needs loving and respect. But attachment and criticism are not mutually exclusive—it hurts when parents scold their children for making a mistake but that’s never a sign of contempt, it is in fact the opposite. The moment Pakistanis realise the virtues of open dialogue, that will be, unlike the facade, a true, non-complacent hope. Till then, I expect more Imrans to come from and end up in the Imrandan.
The writer is studying economics, international studies and political science at Macalseter College, Minnesota