Imran Khan is the greatest sportsman that Pakistan has produced. One can also only admire his accomplishments as a philanthropist in building and then running the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Hospital. There can be little doubt about Mr Khan’s sincerity towards his country and his desire to see Pakistan better than it is. Like most people who are much blessed in so many ways, Imran Khan also has the curse of a monumental ego. And that ego has led him into politics. Egged on by that other of god’s charges to Pakistan, the F-sectory/Defence/Gulberg/Hayatabad elite, Imran has become a spokesperson against Pakistan’s ongoing fight against the Taliban and extremism. Imran has religiously maintained moral and political ambivalence in the face of Taliban’s inhumanity and has instead unhelpfully laid all the blame at the foot of—who else—but the Americans.
Maybe a history lesson is in order for our good friend, because while he was an international star, yours humbly was doing research in central Punjab. During that time, Imran Khan’s ex-guru General Hamid Gul was also in the neighbourhood addressing rallies of thousands of Lashkar-e-Tayyaba recruits in Shorkot, Multan, Khanewal, Mian Channu and so on. Those were also the days when every other day a mosque congregation was being gunned down or blown up in central Punjab. That was also the time, when dispossessed, oppressed and exploited rural masses in southern Punjab were seeing their children finding a semblance of dignity through their association with the Kashmir Jihad. Young men, who could not raise their eyes in front of the landlords and Police, could walk down the streets of Kabirwala brandishing weapons with no fear of interference from the civilian state machinery. Arms caches were openly being maintained in seminaries all over southern Punjab. One could not go to a mosque without being accosted by a Lashkar, Sipah or other jihadi outfits’ recruiters.
I often say to people that I am more optimistic about Pakistan today than I have ever been in my adult life. This is because my adulthood was synchronous with the post-Zia dawn of democracy in the country and the earnest beginnings of the Kashmir Jihad. Anybody with even one eye could see our intelligence agencies piloting the country towards an abyss. Collection pots everywhere for the jihad, bearded zealots cruising around in twin cabs brandishing weapons, known sectarian assassins, e.g., Masood Azhar being sprung from police custody by men in shalwar kameez and military haircuts, Qiyas and Diyat bill, Islamization and so on. Well folks twenty years of our military and civilian elites’ exertions bore fruit in the shape of Punjabi, Pathan and Afghan Taliban and something called a strategic depth for Pakistan.To digress a little, as a geographer who knows a thing or two about geopolitics and in fact even teaches it to goras, I am absolutely stupefied at this notion of strategic depth. In my classes, we spend some time debunking these old early twentieth century geopolitical myths as largely atlas gazing nonsense. Our military intellectuals, however, have apparently not updated the curriculum at the Command and Staff College, Quetta or the National Defence University in decades.
But returning to the optimism part, on the American dictate — which was absolutely the wrong reason for doing the right thing — we reversed twenty years of self-destructive Afghan and Kashmir policy. Finally today, Pakistan is confronting its demons of its own creation, and by God it is painful. But then what did we expect it to be? Poor people in central Punjab, women in Khyber Pakthtunkhwa and families in Kashmir have been paying the very real price of our jihadi adventures for the past two decades. Now it is time for the politco-military elites including the wily mullah diesel to pay the price of their misdeeds. In this moment of reckoning and painful national exorcism Imran Khan is telling us that we shouldn’t have picked a fight with the Taliban at the American’s behest. He is correct we shouldn’t have — we should have picked a fight with them and destroyed them long before the Americans had ever asked us. Even with one less after the death of Osama bin-Laden, we cannot morally or practically afford Imran’s way.