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Thursday, September 21, 2023

Post-Avenfield case scenario: Jinnah’s message for Imran Khan

Farah Adeed |

“You are free; you are free to go to your temples. You are free to go to your mosques or to any other places of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion, caste or creed—that has nothing to do with the business of the state.”

These words were uttered by the founder of Pakistan almost 70 years ago. These words and a wonderful message do reflect two things; the vision of the person who played a decisive role in the creation of Pakistan and a political culture he was a part of.

Leaders are always careful to remember the context they are working in. Muhammad Ali Jinnah talked about an inclusive, democratic and secular Pakistan. The major chunk of the political elite and masses at that time, seven decades ago, absorbed his message and agreed to follow it. In this piece, my intention is to shed light on the present political culture of Pakistan and the role and place of Imran Khan. But prior to the main argument, I will offer a historical description of Pakistan’s political journey and the challenges to democratization.

Unfortunately, after the demise of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the elites in Pakistan formed an unholy alliance and made a mockery of his vision. Military, bureaucracy, feudal lords, and self-centered politicians got in to secure their respective individual or collective interests. People of Pakistan remained largely aloof from the political process for almost three decades after Jinnah’s demise.

Read more: Imran terms Karachi’s development key to Pakistan’s progression

Self-declared religious leaders, internally disorganized and non-democratic political parties, power-loving military and well-trained bureaucracy did not allow Pakistan to become a genuine democracy or to develop a culture where democratic values could flourish. This made Pakistan’s political journey shoddy and greatly imperfect.

Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto made attempts to restore the vision of Jinnah but his political agenda was too self-centered to be labeled as democratic. Political authoritarianism in his era exacerbated challenges for democracy in Pakistan. The civilian rule after ZAB’s assassination remained under the full control of the military in the country. Politicians and security agencies always helped each other to topple the party in power e.g. Nawaz Sharif did the same in 1990 to overthrow the government of Benazir Bhutto.

In Pakistan, after ZAB a mass movement was missing to mobilize people and politically train them for a comprehensive socio-political change. Youth lost interest in politics and political process largely became non-participatory. Meanwhile, cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan appeared at the scene and did what Jinnah and ZAB had done in the past. Imran Khan gave a new vision and a hope to re-start building Pakistan right from where Jinnah had left. He promised to make Pakistan inclusive and a genuine representative democracy. His idea and slogans appealed the disinterested youth. Khan kept on urging youth to come out to play their part and make Pakistan a real welfare state.

Read more: When Imran Khan Rules Pakistan

Pakistan has been witnessing a new wave of political change since the general elections 2013. People came out to demand their rights, political values, and a participatory political system. The most unique thing the youth demanded was ‘change’. This one word meant ‘everything’ for the forces of the status quo. Imran Khan and his supporters from Urban Pakistan and educated middle class remained united. Now Imran Khan and his party are the most powerful political force in the country. But the challenge for Imran Khan and his urban middle class is still lying ahead.

Imran Khan, unlike Muhammad Ali Jinnah, remained unable to aspire public in South Punjab or interior Sindh. Imran’s political base is either in Lahore or in Islamabad. This is ideally appreciable but politically it is dangerous.  For instance, the decision of the accountability court to convict the former first family and awarding them imprisonment does not reflect the overall political culture of Pakistan.

In Pakistan’s political culture reverence for the authority still exists at social as well as political levels. As a matter of fact, an unconditional political support creates a culture where emotions, beliefs and faith matter more than reason and empirical evidence. In such non-reliable political culture, political demagogues get opportunities to fool and blackmail people by using different ‘cards’.

In such a challenging state of affairs, what would have Jinnah advised Imran Khan to do?

In a largely parochial political culture where electable and money play decisive roles on the Elections Day, Jinnah would have said three words to Imran Khan; clarity, discipline, and struggle. The clarity of vision is very important for any leader of any social or political movement. This helps leaders in creating, controlling and exploiting events to achieve their set agenda.

Moreover, clarity is not important for the leader alone. The captain is supposed to make his team aware of what they are aspiring for. Imran Khan needs time and effort to help everyone clear their mind, as Jinnah did during the Pakistan movement, about what his vision was.

Secondly, movements do not become successful without following some strictly defined principles. Jinnah believed in rule of law, transparency and inclusive democracy, and always upheld them under any political conditions. Apart from the dirty business of politics and an ardent desire for political power, Imran Khan needs to be focused, strict and clear about his principles. If Khan fails to maintain the discipline of the movement, he will fail to achieve the objectives of the movement. Keeping discipline of the movement intact is also a part of movement’s expected success.

Read more: Is Imran Khan justified in naming and shaming lawmakers?

Thirdly, although youth in urban areas has become vibrant and politically assertive, yet Khan needs to continue his struggle to develop a participant political culture across Pakistan. A handful of supporters in Lahore and Islamabad may help Khan achieve his immediate political objectives, but he will have to struggle to institutionalize his vision at the social level. Pakistan has failed to establish a democratic political culture where accountability, rule of law and constitutionalism are primary ingredients of the political system.

Khan is expected to continue his relentless struggle to help Pakistan have an inclusive, accommodative political culture based upon the tenets of modern democracy. If Imran Khan adheres to what Jinnah would have advised him, he is likely to make a significant difference in the years to come. Khan needs to focus on, I repeat, clarity, discipline, and struggle.

Farah Adeed is a Senior Research Analyst in GVS. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s Editorial Policy.