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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Is Imran Khan becoming the Machiavelli’s Prince?

Pakistan’s parliament voted out Prime Minister Imran Khan in a no-confidence motion, capping a month-long political turmoil that gripped the nation of 220 million. It's the first time a Pakistani prime minister has ever been ousted by a no-confidence motion put forward by the opposition.

One might read Machiavelli’s Prince and find it quite familiar with the political strategies of Imran Khan in the current political turmoil. Who could’ve known that Khan is following the footsteps of Niccole Machiavelli in order to become an ideal leader? ‘The Prince’ is a book written by a political scientist named Niccole Machiavelli in the 16th Century. It won’t be wrong to say that the Prince is one of the finest books on politics and governance and scholars of political science is not alien to the book in any manner. It is as popular as Plato’s Republic, but bearing in mind, being popular does not in any way mean it must be followed in practical life.

Imran Khan’s politics is often criticized by political commentators, analysts and of course his political opponents, but observing Imran Khan from an objective and neutral lens might give it a whole different perspective and one may realize we might be dealing with someone even more lethal than we expected. One who has read The Prince will most definitely see the similarities between Machiavelli’s advice to the prince and Imran Khan’s meticulous and sometimes nefarious political agendas.

Read more: Imran Khan finally apologizes in contempt case

Try not to be good

Some argue the book is a guideline to becoming a tyrant, it might not be wrong. Niccole Machiavelli although wasn’t a successful politician but wrote this book to advise future politicians and leaders on how to attain power, govern and sustain. He provides them with blueprints to counter internal and external threats and what to do and what not to do while being a leader or in this case, the prince. From the start Machiavelli advises the prince to not be good, he says; Any man who tries to do good all the time is bound to come to ruin among the great number who are not good.

Hence a prince who wants to keep his authority must learn how not to be good. The confrontational stance of Imran Khan with state institutions during his government can be extracted from this statement. We are all aware of Imran Khan’s dominating personality, to the extent that some political analysts also claim that Khan is not accustomed to hearing ‘no’ from others, hence adding to his rigid nature, he is a very difficult person to deal with.

A good politician in Machiavelli’s view isn’t one who is friendly, honest and kind. It’s someone who knows how to defend, enrich and bring honor to the state, and the overwhelming responsibility of a good prince is to defend the state from external and internal threats to stable governance. This point can relate to Imran Khan’s recent propagation of a conspiracy narrative.

It seems that Imran Khan is the only person who is aware of this somewhat foreign-sponsored conspiracy and everyone else is either ignorant or is part of an even bigger conspiracy, and the ultimate duty to save the state’s honor, dignity and security is up to Imran Khan and his party alone. Imran Khan has gone to such an extent that now he believes he himself is the state and any political threat to him as an individual and his government is deemed by him as a threat to the state and its sovereignty.

Read more: Security beefed up ahead of Imran Khan’s indictment in contempt case today

Be cruel but not too cruel

Machiavelli then says that people should neither think he is soft and easy to disobey nor should they find him so cruel that he disgusts his society. He should be unapproachably strict but reasonable. Imran Khan’s use of the good cop bad cop strategy has shown both sides of his character. At one point he can be seen as the executioner, with his statements that he himself will hang the ones who are involved in corruption, and on the other hand, the same corrupt individuals like Nawaz Sharif are released scotch free to foreign lands on a ‘humanitarian basis’.

Then Machiavelli further continues to say that; “while it would theoretically be wonderful for a leader to be both loved and obeyed but prince should always err on the side of inspiring terror. For this is ultimately what keeps people in check.” Even being in opposition Imran Khan tends to adopt a rather aggressive and offensive stance against his political rivals and individuals and intuitions he deems to see as his enemies. The threatening tone Imran Khan adopts while referring to a female judge and the chief of the election commission can be seen as a brilliant example of it.

Virtue or violence?

Machiavelli suggests that a leader would do well to make judicious use of what he called vertu (virtue). Machiavelli’s concept of virtu for politicians involves; wisdom, strategy, strength, bravery and when necessary, ruthlessness. In fact, at one point Machiavelli uses the delicious paradoxical phrase “criminal virtue”, to describe the necessary ability of the state, and yet, still good as leaders. He also says that any violence must be strictly necessary for the security of the state.

As discussed above, there is no reluctance in Imran Khan’s use of offense and even violent political strategies, to the extent that he has also threatened the state by claiming that he is becoming dangerous day by day. In another recent example, Imran Khan has ordered his followers to threaten those unknown callers who he is projecting to be state agencies. In the past Imran Khan has also started civil disobedience movements, inciting people against civil armed forces and use of violence against police in political protests and rallies.

Read more: The problem with Imran Khan

The book further talks about violence and says that “It must be done swiftly, often at night and it shouldn’t be repeated too often, or else the reputation for mindless brutality builds up.” Machiavelli gives reference to when Cesare Borgia conquered the city of Cesena, he ordered one of his mercenaries named Ramiro de Lorca to bring order to the region which Ramiro did through swift and brutal ways – men were beheaded in front of their wives and children, the property was seized, traitors were castrated. Later on, Cesare turned unto Ramio himself and had him sliced in half and placed in a public square just to remind people who the true boss was.

Not something this dramatic but just as Cesare Borgia used his man Ramiro to do the dirty job for him and later removed him from the scene, making him a scapegoat. In the direction of Imran Khan, Shahbaz Gill tried to malign the armed forces of Pakistan by giving controversial and somewhat treasonous statements on live TV, making him a scapegoat to do the dirty job for him. Later Shahbaz Gill’s statements were disowned by his own party members distancing themselves from this extreme narrative.

Emotions can be deceiving

Machiavelli also states that; We may have to lie in order to keep our relationship afloat. We may have to ignore the feelings of certain employees to keep a business going. And that, insists Machiavelli, is the price of dealing with the world as it is. Politicians should know how to scare, intimidate, cajole and bully, entrap and beguile. One cannot be good and act good all the time and, in all situations, the one who insists on acting nicely and virtuously all the time will only pave the way towards his own destruction, one must know when to be ruthless, violent, sly, deceitful and cunning in order to preserve himself.

Read more: Why Pakistan’s strongman Imran Khan has failed

Khan’s obsession with power, and thirst for revenge while following the precise footsteps of Niccole Machiavelli is something that even Khan’s voters must think about multiple times before voting. Emotions can be deceiving and may bring about grave destruction, be it social or economic. What was thought to be Khan’s political immaturity and lack of political sense is in fact a step-by-step plan to becoming a somewhat tyrant with the ruthlessness of Machiavelli’s prince.


The writer has a master’s degree in Mass Communication from the National University of Modern Languages, Islamabad, and often writes on geopolitics, international developments, and strategic affairs with a special focus on Af-Pak affairs, Asia, and the Middle East. 

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.