In the seduction of the classes, love potions are in plenty. Of them, glamour is the most dissimulating; often poison disguised as nectar, killing reason and character. Those who swear by the Social Bible need to be reminded of the snake in the garden, even as backbiters and bitchy gossip play snakes in the grass. In the greenhouse of India’s partying classes Imran Khan was the guileful gardener of egos, mesmerizing Indian celebrities with his glitzy global reputation of a dashing cricketer, wealthy feudal lord and ladies’ man who partied with Mick Jagger, married British aristocracy, schmoozed with cricketers, corporates, Bollywood and queen bees.
However, the 65-year-old Pathan politician and chairman of the 22-year-old Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) has plucked the reins of power in Pakistan as smoothly as he would grab a cricket ball mid-air. It’s not Imran’s Taliban tag that poses a danger to India, but the Indian cabal of admirers which would paint him as a messiah of peace and prosperity. In Pakistan he is the darling of the radical Islamists. Here, he is the elite’s sweetheart. Salaciously speaking, ex-wife Reham Khan’s book reveals he has fathered many illegitimate children in India. The cricket legend had boasted of his cross-border ties, claiming, “I’m the Pakistani who has the most familiarity with India. I have been all over the country”.
No idle boast. Imran’s legitimate and illegitimate connections extend to every field, from politics to glamour in India. There is hardly a major city he hasn’t visited. Or hardly a member of the bold and beautiful of high society he hasn’t charmed. During his cricket career, he was the most admired sportsman both for his skills and looks. Even today he is a much sought-after celebrity at snotty occasions, birthdays and weddings. For the past two decades, the Indian High Commission has been treating him like a god, granting him visas without raising an eyebrow.
He could walk in and out at will and move from one city to another without seeking the prior permission required from other Pakistan nationals. His spellbound sycophants are part of the Indian establishment; including some in Modidom. Many of these are taking out their mothballed suits, hoping to become umpires in the age old Indo-Pak game of shadows; this time between the new dispensation under Imran and India led by Narendra Modi. Nawaz Sharif, too, had backers in the Indian corporate world and media but their influence over Prime Minister Modi didn’t last long. Imran’s constituency is much more widespread and effective. Its adherents see the advantage of promoting the political interests of the socially compatible prime minister of a hostile country than serving the national interest. They are masters in camouflaging their personal affiliations in the name of improving cross-border relations.
Last week, when Imran was all set to lead Pakistan, the Indian elite and liberals exulted as if one of them had become Pakistan’s ruler. Though they decry rabid Hindutva voices and backers, they also ignore the fact that Taliban Khan (as some call Imran in Pakistan) has now provided democratic endorsement to merchants of Islamic terror. Ironically, they overlook the fact that he is the ‘ladla”(as his supporters call him) of the Pakistan Army, which grinds under its well-polished boot heel freedom of expression and lifestyle—PTI members are contemptuously called boot polishiyas.
To polish Imran’s political credentials, the military ensured that all of Hafiz Saeed’s candidates were defeated. According to Pakistan experts, the generals have been looking for an alternative charismatic personality who can dilute the political dominance of the Bhutto and Sharif dynasties. In the 30-odd years of civilian rule, it was their members or vassals who were prime ministers of Pakistan. For the remaining 45 years, the Army ruled directly or by proxy. Four Army Chiefs—Ayub Khan, Yahya Khan, Zia-ul-Haq and Musharraf—deposed duly elected governments and suspended civil rights. It was under Sharif that the 10th Amendment to Pakistan’s Constitution was passed to prevent the president from dismissing an elected government.
Having failed to use democratically elected governments to carry its agenda forward unopposed, the Army, with ISI’s help, changed its strategy from direct intervention to searching for a leader to defend its nefarious and undemocratic deeds in public. The ambitious Imran, after having lost all previous elections, made a deal with the Devil. The uniformed ventriloquist then spoke through its cricket puppet’s voice; “India’s main objective has been to weaken the Pakistan armed forces.”
Going by media reports, Imran is the first Pakistani prime minister to give Army rule a presentable mask. So far the Pakistan military has blatantly influenced the decision-making process and bent the judiciary to its will. However, Imran’s chatterati glamour will ensure he receives more overt support from Indian opinion makers than from his promoters at home. In the new euphoria is lost the truth that Imran does not represent the whole of Pakistan. Over half the provinces such as Punjab and Sindh have rejected him, defying military pressure, thereby making him a vulnerable prime minister.
He could win in only Talibanised parts of Pakistan, which are part of the terror network; PTI swept the Pathan-dominated NWF with massive support from the radicalized youth from poor and middle-class families. Imran’s vote base and his Army protection make him a major threat to India. During his entire campaign, he never once criticized terror thriving in Pakistani territory; it was America he blamed for the death of innocent civilians and the rise of fundamentalism—proof of the pact he had signed with the Army for its support in stealing the elections. After the results, Imran blamed India for human rights violations in Kashmir. Neither dialogue with India was mentioned nor the militant camps operating from Pakistan; but just a token offer to not let Pakistan Army or non-state actors to encourage and support terror attacks on Indian citizens.
Imran Khan is no experienced administrator but has vast experience of the good life. Reham presented him as a man “who led a life of ‘sex, drugs, and alcohol’”. With such a stellar record of fame and shame, Imran is a true all-rounder. Unless India guards herself from the smiling and affable mask Imran Khan wears, he could strike the stumps of Indian diplomacy and politics even as our liberals and party pashas play the field to keep his wicket from falling.
Follow him on Twitter @PrabhuChawla