Sunday, November 23, 2014

Furious Confusions



A PTI supporter I know on-line sent me the piece “An Ode to Fury” by Fahd Husain in the Nov 19 Express Tribune, with the implication that the fury discussed in this article justified the “revolution” being fomented by PTI and PAT. The following is an extended version of my response, which may also address critiques by others on my earlier piece, “The Tragedy of Imran Khan and the Insafian Revolution”.


The people of Pakistan have every right to be furious. They should be furious at those who have led them for 67 years and have brought them to their current state. But they should be even more furious at themselves for allowing this to happen: for electing incompetent leaders when given the chance, and for welcoming dictators with celebrations when they grew tired of those they had elected; for their worship of personalities and their ignoring of institutions; for buying into a toxic and bigoted ideology in the name of faith and patriotism ; for teaching their children mythology dressed as history; and for swallowing the propaganda of civilian and military governments without ever checking for its veracity. The deaths of children in Thar is indeed an incredible tragedy, but these children didn't just start dying this year; they've been dying for decades - even centuries. It is a sad fact that the society at large in that part of the world has not cared much for the plight of the poor and the powerless. I'm glad that the people of Pakistan are now furious about it, but will they respond by repenting of their own ways, or will they again go looking for fantasy solutions peddled by snake oil salesmen with big words and no ideas? As the poet Iqbal Azeem said eloquently:
 badalnaa hae to rindoN say kaho apnaa chalan badlayN
 faqat saaqi badal dayne se maekhaana na badlay gaa
(For true change to happen, tell the drinkers to change their own ways; the tavern will not change just by replacing the one serving the wine)
What I see is that some people, furious at the country's conditions, are looking to yet another savior running on the cult of personality. To the extent that Imran Khan is embodying the justifiable fury of the Pakistani people, he is serving a useful function. But history shows that those who embody such fury seldom, if ever, turn out to be actual saviors, or even good leaders. The best – though extreme – examples are Hitler and Mussolini. I do not imply that Imran Khan is Hilter or Mussolini, but he poses a similar danger to Pakistan. A revolution driven by anger always leads first to incredible horrors, as was seen in France, Russia, China, and, to some extent, in Iran. Only in the long run do such revolutions move to their different outcomes – in most cases, disillusionment. Once people are brought to a frenzy, they cannot be controlled even by the leaders who led them there. The spark of fury that ignites revolution turns easily into fires of vengeance and hate. Is that what Pakistanis want? If so, Imran Khan is their man – though he should remember that the first people such revolutions consume are many of their own leaders. And in almost all cases, the end result is not a democratic system, but a strongman dictator.
However, I am comforted by the fact that, while understandably furious, the people of Pakistan are not in a revolutionary mood. Imran Khan can gather a few tens of thousands - occasionally a few hundred thousand in large cities - for a one-night stand with music and entertainment, but there is no ocean of humans out in the streets of Pakistan day and night, as there was in Iran in 1978 or in Egypt in 2011, even though neither revolution produced a particularly desirable outcome in the short term. Most people still seem to understand that, all said and done, Imran Khan is yet another politician promising the moon. And they are strengthened in their opinion when they see the opportunists surrounding Imran Khan, and his own feckless behavior. Gravitas, though much ridiculed by those who lack it, is indeed an essential component of a true leader's make-up. It is what gives them the dignity to command respect and expect loyalty. Washington and Lincoln had it, Ataturk had it, Gandhi, Nehru and Jinnah had it. Imran Khan, bless his heart, just doesn't. It is worth noting that all the gentlemen I mentioned achieved far greater ends without once resorting to the kind of personal insults and empty threats that issue forth every night from the roof of the PTI container. Can anyone imagine Mohammad Ali Jinnah or Mahatama Gandhi speaking in the idiom that Imran Khan, Shah Mahmud Qureshi and Shaikh Rashid use? They were erudite, dignified and hyper-intelligent individuals with the self-control and depth necessary in true leaders. They spoke firmly and eloquently, but with civility; their ideas moved not only their followers but also their foes by the force of their logic and conviction, not by the use of locker-room trash-talk. Today, one can disagree with their ideas, but no one can deny their stature – and this was apparent even before they had succeeded in their causes.
I think that the passionate defenders of Imran Khan conflate two distinct things. The first is a justifiable feeling of frustration with the current order and the desire to change it. The second is the belief that, because they are giving voice to popular frustration,  Imran Khan and PTI are going to fix the problem. Unfortunately, the latter does not follow automatically from the former. Just because your pain is real and someone gives voice to it does not imply that they can heal it, or even have the first idea of how to do so. Everything I have seen suggests to me that Imran Khan does not have the knowledge, character, judgment or temperament to do what it will take.
In the article, Fahd Husain says, “A state and a government that has lost the ability to care, has lost the mandate to rule.” Perhaps so, but by these standards has any government in Pakistan ever had a mandate to rule? And who can say that those who rule post-revolution will truly care? If history is any guide, the revolution will probably lead to an even less caring government by an even less accountable group. I could be wrong, of course ... and indeed, would be happy to be wrong. But at this point, I can only modify Iqbal's words to say:
  na Qadri meN ne Imran mayN numood is kee
  ye rooh apne badan kee talaash mayN hae abhee

(neither Qadri nor Imran provide what is needed; the spirit [of change] is still in search of a body it can inhabit)

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Burnt Offering: The Martyrdom of Shama and Shahzad Masih


Shama and Shahzad Masih were poor Christians who lived in the small village of Chak 59 in the Tehsil (subdivision) of Kot Radha Kishan near Lahore. It is not a remote area (though some orientalist in the BBC has managed to describe it as such), being a well developed center of the leather industry lcoated only 60 kilometers from the provincial capital of Lahore on a major national highway (and is the home of 2 former prime ministers of Pakistan!). Like many other poor people in their village, they worked as modern-day slaves in the local brick kiln. This, by the way, is not an exaggerated or poetic description of their employment status; bonded labor in brick kilns in India and Pakistan is internationally recognized as a type of modern slavery and involves many of the abuses known to us from books and movies about slaves in the days of yore. 


The young couple had 4 children: Solomon (8) and Zeeshan (5) had been given to an uncle for adoption, probably due to the parent's poverty. Sonia (4) and Poonam (18mths) lived with them and Shama was pregnant again with her fifth child. Her father-in-law had died recently and a few days later Shama cleaned out his room and disposed of his old papers by burning them. He had been an "amil" (a folk healer) who used various religious texts in his amulets and suchlike, and the burnt papers apparently included some with arabic writing on them. Shama, who was illiterate and so could not read them in any case, burnt the lot and threw the remains on a nearby garbage heap.What happened next is best described in this report from World Watch Monitor (corroborated to me by a friend in the police as the best description of the event):



Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Islamicate civilization: It will get worse before it gets better...

by Omar Ali

First published at 3quarksdaily.com

1.1_compressed
At about 6 pm on Sunday evening, a young suicide bomber (said to be 18 years old) blew himself up in a crowd returning from the testosterone-heavy flag lowering ceremony held every evening at the India-Pakistan border at Wagah, near Lahore.

Presumably this young man (a true believer, since a fake believer would find it hard to explode in such circumstances) had wanted to target the ceremony itself (usually watched by up to 5000 people every day, most of them visitors from out of town) but the military had received prior intelligence that something like this may happen and there were 6 checkpoints and he was unable to get to the ceremony, so he waited around the shops about 500 yards away from the parade site and exploded when he felt he had enough bodies around him to make it worth his while.
About 60 innocent people died. Many of them women and children. Including 8 women from the same poor family from a village in central Punjab who were visiting relatives in Lahore and decided to go to the parade (whether as entertainment, or as patriotic theater, or both). The bombing was instantly claimed by more than one Jihadist organization but it is possible that Ehsanullah Ehsan’s claim will turn out to be true. He said it was a reaction against the military’s recent anti-terrorist operation (operation Zarb e Azb: “blow of the sword of the prophet”), that his group wants "an Islamic system of government" and that they would attack infidel regimes on both sides of the Indian-Pakistani border.




The Indian authorities decided to suspend their side of the parade for the next three days. But on Monday evening, the Pakistani side decided to hold their parade as usual and a crowd was on hand. Cynics have pointed out that most of the “crowd” looked like soldiers in civilian clothes, but that is not fair. The “show of resilience” meme is a very ancient and well-developed meme and has solid credentials and should not be easily dismissed. I personally wish both India and Pakistan end this ridiculous ceremony someday (soon), but on this particular occasion a show of resilience was the smart move. But then, the respected corps commander of the Pakistani army corps in Lahore, General Naveed Zaman (an outstanding officer, himself on the Taliban’s hit list for his role in various anti-terrorist operations) made a statement and beat his chest a bit about how we are a brave nation, we are back the next day and “look, on the Indian side it’s like a snake has sniffed them”, the implication being, they are cowards, they didn’t show up, but look at us, we are back and we are strong.
Naveed zaman on wagah blast
This is par for the course for the Pakistani army (whose propaganda software was designed and built for only one enemy, and whose soldiers are motivated to attack Jihadi terrorists by being told that the Jihadists are all Indian agents, I am not kidding) but is still telling: the day after one of the biggest massacres of civilians by a Jihadist terrorist bomber (there being no other kinds in our area these days, though the Tamil Tigers showed that a Tamil Hindu version is indeed possible, and in fact preceded the adoption of this particular weapon by Islamist terrorists) the senior army officer in the region could only taunt the Indians across Eastern border.
Meanwhile, in Nigeria, the Boko Haram terrorists announced that most of the 276 girls they kidnapped have been “converted to Islam” and married off. So the matter is settled.


And in Iraq, the “Islamic State” has been buying and selling captured Yezidi girls as slaves in the best medieval Arab tradition. In the video below, the young men of IS can be seen joking about the topic (the translation is by Jenan Moussa, an Arab journalist, not by MEMRI, so discerning viewers can view it without violating any of the standard guidelines):


Boko Haram has also gone ahead and blown up some Shias in Nigeria as they commemorated Moharram, while their fans have apparently shot a Shia in the face in, of all places, Sydney.
My point is this: the Salafist-Jihadist meme, so carefully nurtured and brought together in the Afghan-Pakistan border region by Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the US in the 1980s, is now global and will soon come to your neighborhood if your neighborhood happens to be in the core Islamicate territories of the Middle East, India, Southeast Asia, Londonistan or Mississauga. Many different narratives about this phenomenon are in the market, ranging from Neocon propaganda and Fox News to Islamist apologetics and Marxist “class-based analysis”. For Western and Westernized liberals of a particular disposition, there are also “commentators” like Pankaj Mishra, who can be relied upon to press all the politically correct buttons without committing to anything resembling a coherent description, prediction or prescription. I would like to add some random thoughts to this mélange:

 1. We are all human beings. And in the great Eurasian landmass, we have been mixing, biologically and culturally, for thousands of years. It is not possible that a relatively recent religious movement (Islam) has somehow significantly altered the biology of the people involved. This is a trivial observation, but some people on both sides of the liberal-conservative divide seem to have some misapprehensions about this, so it is worth reiterating. Going beyond that, I would add that even as a cultural phenomenon, Islam is not from some other planet. It evolved within pre-existing cultures, borrowing and altering already existing cultural memes. Much of “Islamic history” is the history of an initial (very successful and very extensive) Arab conquest, followed by some further conquests (primarily in Central Asia and India) by Islamicized Turkic invaders. Only in Indonesia and Malaysia did the initial wave arrive as traders and the subsequent conquests and conversions were almost entirely the work of local converts. This makes early South East Asian Islam a bit of an outlier, but that is another story. Only by disregarding most of history can we regard these conquests (and their associated missionary activities) as somehow completely unique. There are some peculiar features of Islamicate civilization, but not as many as its fans or its detractors would like to claim.
2. That being said, Islamicate civilization developed a remarkable degree of consensus on it’s core doctrines in the Islamic heartland. Even Shias and Sunnis converged on similarities in daily life and communal attitudes towards non-Muslims, towards women, towards apostasy, towards blasphemy, towards the notion of holy war. While agreeing with Razib Khan’s views about the relative unimportance of theology in general, I think modern life and the recent experience of colonization, decolonization and its associated psychopathologies have led to an unusual situation in the Islamicate world: while the pressures that cause religious revivalist movements or “fundamentalist” movements may be similar in non-Muslim communities (hence Sikh, Hindu and Buddhist identity-based semi-fascist  fundamentalist movements), the material that is available to these movements and the historical background of the religions involved, makes it difficult to associate a detailed “shariah” with any of those movements. Sikhs can ban tobacco and kill blasphemers and traitors, Buddhist mobs can kill Muslims without compunction in Myanmar and Sri Lanka, Hindu nationalists ban beef and carry out pogroms, but the notion of a Sikh state or a Hindu state or a Buddhist state is mostly the notion of a state where their co-religionists hold sway (or even hold exclusive title), but lacks consensus on any well developed legal code or even theology.  This is not the case with Islam.
3. There is such a legal and theological framework in Islam and it has wide support in principle. In principle is, of course, not the same as in practice. Most Muslims know as much about Muslim theology as Christians know about Christian theology, which means they know very little. But because of widespread beliefs about blasphemy and apostasy, this “in principle” support translates into an inability to frontally challenge those who come armed with more detailed Islamic knowledge. For example, most Pakistanis may have no idea that classical Islamic law permits slave girls to be captured, used for sex (without marriage) and bought and sold as desired. If and when IS comes to Pakistan and wants to talk about buying and selling slave girls, most people will probably be shocked. It is possible that most people will initially even find some way to say this is wrong. But it is also my guess that when face to face with an IS ideologue, most people will be unable to argue for too long. Because he will have classical Islamic texts on his side and his opponent will have nothing beyond his human intuition of fairness and good behavior. Intuition will not stand against argument. And there will probably be no argument for too long because to argue too much would cross over into the zone of blasphemy.  And most people (except maybe for the tiny sliver educated in Western or Western-style universities and out of touch with their own traditions almost completely) believe that blasphemers should be punished, and at least for the most extreme kinds of blasphemy, the punishment should be death. This, by the way, is just a simple empirical fact, easily checked if you step out among the people in that region.
4. Whenever the existing state order (in almost all cases, the product of recent Russian or West European colonization, so somewhat suspect in any case) falls apart, the next common denominator tends to be Islamist. And among those Islamists, the ways of the golden age are not some distant myth. Those books are still around, still honored, still relevant, still protected against criticism by blasphemy and apostasy memes. And those books include rules for holy war, for slave holding,for female legal inequality etc. that are no longer fashionable in the modern world. That is just how things happen to be.
5. The ruling elites in most Islamicate countries are not Islamist in practice and may not be so in principle either. But having taken the path of least resistance (or having received their Islam from Karen Armstrong or post-Marxist theorists) they have acquiesced in the glorification of medieval Islamicate norms, not as past history but as guides to present behavior. They will now be (literally in many cases) hoist on their own petard.
6. Elements of the ruling elite (especially in South Asia, where penetration of Western postcolonialist/postmodern/post-Marxist garbage has been most extensive within the elite) are vigorously opposed to many of these medieval norms, but have disappeared into an alternate universe where only White people have agency and therefore only White people are responsible for all events. This has effectively taken them out of the equation for now. They remain mostly harmless, but the opportunity cost of their withdrawal into la la land is not insignificant.
7. As the Bill Maher-Ben Affleck affair has shown, Western Liberals are generally clueless about Islamic history and the status of (most of) the Islamicate world with regard to issues like freedom of religion, freedom of speech, feminism and suchlike. This is NOT to endorse a particular Whiggish vision of history as the only valid path, with every community situated somewhere along the timeline from barbarian to Western liberal democracy. But it is to emphasize that opting out of this linear timeline is one thing, pretending that everyone is already at point X on the timeline while paying lip-service to multiculturalism is another. If Ben Affleck thinks that Western standards of “liberal democracy” (however defined and whether regarded as an endpoint or not) are not to be applied to everyone on the globe and that these standards are being used to demonize and colonize those who hold to different values and models, then he has a leg to stand on. But he (or others like him) seem to lose this admirable level of “nuance” when they get to specifics. Instead of saying that Pakistani Muslims do not permit free speech when it comes to X, Y and Z and who are we to comment or interfere (especially when we are just using this commentary to justify our invasion of this or that country), they are saying “there is no real difference in free speech norms between X and the US”, which is patently absurd. Other liberals (too numerous to list) will look at history as if European powers have real histories (with colonization, oppression, invasions, decimations etc, also with progress, emancipation, democracy, etc.) and everyone else lived on some other static planet with no history, no past and no future. I don’t have to go into detail, Wikipedia can solve this issue for anyone these days, but it is still surprising how few people will bother to even read Wikipedia before brandishing absurdities in this matter. The opportunity cost for this (loss of some Western liberals) is perhaps insignificant in real life, but since I tend to interact with some of these (very nice) people, I obsessively comment about them. Hence this comment.
8. More after I get some feedback; many or most of these comments are very likely to be misinterpreted by many people. This is partly because I am not a good enough writer, but partly because all of us use various heuristics to slot every commentator into pre-existing boxes. To see a little of where I am coming from, some of the following articles may be helpful. Thank you.
http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2014/10/the-roots-of-the-islamic-states-appeal/382175/

http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp/2013/04/against-the-seriousness-of-theology/#.VFb-nPnF9DI

http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp/2006/09/atheism-heresy-and-hesychasm/#.VFb-4PnF9DI
http://www.3quarksdaily.com/3quarksdaily/2013/01/-some-notes-on-the-shia-sunni-conflict-by-omar-ali.html
http://www.3quarksdaily.com/3quarksdaily/2012/10/from-innocence-to-mohammed-joyce-by-omar-ali.html
http://www.3quarksdaily.com/3quarksdaily/2011/01/one-thousand-year-writers-block.html

Monday, November 3, 2014

The Tragedy of Imran Khan and the Insafian Revolution



Looking back at Pakistan’s history over the last forty years, he represented the country’s best opportunity to transform itself from a third-world kleptocracy to a modern democracy, which is why the failure of Imran Khan and his revolution is such a tragedy. I do not mean to imply that he has failed in narrow political terms: It is much too early to say that, and I would not be surprised to see him as Prime Minister of Pakistan in the near future. What has failed, rather, is the vision that he had once promised. It has been tainted irredeemably by his alliances with obscurantist forces like the Jamaat-e-Islami, his rationalization of Taliban extremism, his willingness to act as the instrument of anti-democratic forces, his poor judgment of character, his limited grasp of history, his opportunistic embrace of bigotry, and his inability to organize his movement into a meaningful force rather than a rabble of unthinking acolytes. Ultimately, Imran Khan’s revolution has been limited by its leader’s inability to transcend the limitations of his own character. At one level, this is just a tragedy, but at another, it is an unforgivable betrayal because, by promising gold and delivering dirt, Imran Khan has set back the cause of true reform and strengthened the very forces he had originally wished to counteract. Many of his supporters are delighted that he has weakened the current government, which they see as corrupt and illegitimate, and indeed he has. But this government represents only one aspect of the rot in Pakistani society – and not even the most salient one. What Imran Khan’s actions have really weakened is the institution of democracy in Pakistan.

Among the factors that have brought Pakistan to where it is today, corrupt politicians may be the most visible, but are certainly not the most significant. They are the scavengers picking at the corpse, not the original killers. The true source of Pakistan’s problems are the forces that, over the country’s entire history, have not allowed the institutions of governance and socioeconomic organization to establish themselves, and have precluded the emergence of a stable social contract between the state and its citizens. These forces are given many names – “the Establishment”, “the Deep State”, “farishtay” (angels), “secret agencies”, etc. – but the only thing certain about them is that they pervade all aspects of the state. Corrupt politicians are, at best, servants and enablers of these forces – a symptom, not the cause, so to speak. And this is reflected in the fact that, while the political system in Pakistan has been extremely unstable since the country’s inception, the ideological orientation of the country has been remarkably stable, and has moved only in one direction. This is evident in the policies towards India and Afghanistan, the Kashmir issue, the nurturing of extremism as a geopolitical weapon, the untouchability of the military-industrial complex, the use of the educational system as an instrument of ideology, the suppression of civil society and civil rights, the dehumanization of minorities, and – above all – in the periodic disruption of the democratic system.

Democracy is a fragile thing and does not come naturally to humans. Its success in the West and the East has depended on being given the space and time to establish itself. Good democracy – if it arises at all – requires many generations to take root, and is often preceded by decades of poor, imperfect, corrupt and just plain bad democracy. Those decades of bad democracy are absolutely necessary for the ultimate emergence of good democracy, which explains why the latter has never occurred in Pakistan. Every time the democratic experiment begins and takes its natural imperfect course, a possibly well-meaning “reformer” upends it in the name of bringing order, thus resetting everything to square one, which is where the process starts again after a period of political stasis. There is no time for democracy to establish itself, and for true reformers to emerge from within the system, which is the only way the system can ever be reformed. And this brings us back to the tragedy and betrayal in Imran Khan’s revolution. His diagnosis of what ails Pakistan, while partial, was (and remains) correct: The democracy that exists now is terrible. As the leader of the second most powerful party in the Parliament, and the party in power in one of the four provinces, Imran Khan the reformer had a golden opportunity to begin exactly the kind of “reform from within” that Pakistani democracy needs. However, such a process would take time – years and decades of bad but slowly improving democracy, if the reformers could persevere. It is quite likely that, while he would begin it, Imran Khan would not be the one to complete the process. And this is where his character was tested and found wanting. Like many would-be reformers, Imran Khan obviously believes that he, and only he, can accomplish what is needed. It is a delusion common in the leadership business, but is seldom warranted. In this case, realizing that he was already nearing “retirement age”, Imran Khan chose to short-cut the process and to attack the system from the outside. The claim is often made (by his supporters) that he first spent a year – a whole year! – demanding reforms within the system, as if a process that requires decades can be judged on the results of a few months of half-hearted noise-making! I have no insider knowledge of who – if anyone – pushed him towards adopting this course, but it is obvious who benefited from it: The forces that do not wish to see the institutions of democratic government stabilize. Whether he has weakened the PML-N government or not, he has done incalculable damage to these institutions, which represent whatever future Pakistan might have. That is his greatest betrayal … but it isn’t all.

Imran Khan emerged upon the political scene as a widely admired sportsman, a determined fighter, a dedicated philanthropist and, above all, an honest man. He is still all these things, though the last attribute must perhaps be qualified now to apply only to financial matters. Those who followed him enthusiastically and those, like myself, who wished him well with some caution, all hoped that he would transform the social and political landscape of Pakistan with a thoughtful, well-organized and systematic movement. What has emerged instead is empty sloganeering, shallow thinking and dangerous impatience. One would expect the leader of a true reform movement to surround himself with thinkers, intellectuals, technocrats and organizers – people who know, understand, think and act with judgment. Instead, Imran Khan is surrounded by rank opportunists of little expertise but grandiose ambitions, the refuse of the same system that he seeks to overthrow. One common theme that unites them is their reluctance to criticize their leader and their willingness to rationalize his most absurd actions. And there have been plenty of these. One may recall the exhortation to transfer money from abroad using a “hawala” scheme that violated international law, or the ridiculous (and counterproductive) edict to stop paying tax and utility bills, or forcing all his party’s members to resign from Parliament (much to their chagrin). No prominent leader in the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) – with the exception of the now departed Javed Hashmi – has dared to criticize these ideas as impossible, counter-productive or both, though many of them must surely know this. However, they also know the boundless narcissism of their leader who cannot abide criticism any more now than he could when he was captain of the cricket team. A little autocracy was not bad for Pakistan cricket, but it is poison for national governance!

The party created by Imran Khan – the PTI – should have been a haven for rational, thoughtful Pakistanis who could change the country through the force of their ideas and their exemplary behavior. That has always been the key to reform: Ideas and character. Instead, he has created a party characterized by paranoia, demagoguery, defensiveness and abusiveness. Every untoward event is quickly attributed by the party faithful to vast international and domestic conspiracies, variously involving the US, India, Israel, internal traitors, former judges and generals, government functionaries, and Fakhroo Bhai’s lack of spine. Whatever befalls the PTI is always someone else’s fault – the Dear Leader never makes a mistake. When – in spite of many irregularities – the 2013 elections were deemed to be generally fair, and the results turned out to be almost exactly what all serious pollsters – as opposed to PTI kool-aid drinkers – had predicted, the response was to serially blame officials and politicians at every level. Every journalist who criticizes PTI policies is immediately deemed a “dollar-khor” “lifafa journalist” traitor on the take from nefarious entities. Anyone who dares to challenge Imran Khan’s “ideas” is labeled a bully, traitor, pervert, and worse. The picturesque language that issues forth from the social media accounts of PTI youth is just an amplified reflection of the attitudes implicit in their leader’s rhetoric – the same lack of decorum, the same inability to accept criticism, the same alacrity in blaming everything on others, and the same lack of prior thought. The river of incoherence, factual errors, empty threats and false predictions that has issued forth from the roof of the PTI container on D-Chowk would long ago have drowned any rational political movement, but froth floats even in a flood.

Then leaving aside style, let us turn to substance. Through 2012 and 2013, as Pakistan was engulfed in violence perpetrated by jihadi Taliban, Imran Khan and his party kept up a steady drumbeat of apologetics for the extremists, calling them “our alienated brothers” and suggesting they open offices in Pakistani cities. To be sure, the PML-N of Nawaz Sharif was no better on this, though the two differed slightly in their choice of preferred extremist outfits. However, this was a much more problematic position for a party supposedly championing reform. When it came time to form a government in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, PTI forged an alliance with the mother-ship of religious obscurantism and political thuggery in Pakistan, the Jamaat-e-Islami. They were given only two ministeries, but one of them was education - an area fraught with ideological conflict. Predictably, the need to mollify Islamist coalition partners has resulted in devastating changes to the educational curriculum in KP. PTI still does not dare to criticize Islamist militants as terrorists. Even as I write this, PTI mouthpieces are out on social media and TV news shows trying to deflect the blame for yesterday’s deadly blast at Wahgah away from the Taliban (who have already claimed responsibility) and towards India. One has to ask: Whom is this benefiting? And once we have an answer to this question, many things will become magically clearer.

 I am often asked why I am so adamantly opposed to Imran Khan’s leadership if I think he is not corrupt and means well (I do). Why not give him a chance as opposed to the corrupt lot currently in power? My answer is that, given the stakes, I prefer corrupt, incompetent opportunists to committed, single-minded ideologues. The former are not harmless, but are incapable of being truly dangerous, because the success of their “business” depends on the system’s survival. The latter scare me because they are the type who would gladly burn a village to save it. I fear that Imran Khan today is unleashing forces within Pakistani politics that even he will not be able to control in the future, and sadly, they are mainly destructive ones.

In the hard-fought and bitter American presidential election of 1960, more than 68 million votes were cast nationwide, and John F. Kennedy won by only 112,827 votes – 0.165% of all the votes cast – and winning only 23 states to Nixon’s 26. It was well-known that Mayor Richard Daley’s “machine” in Chicago had conjured up thousands of questionable votes, including votes from dead people. The state of Texas was delivered by JFK’s running mate, Lyndon Johnson, by means still shrouded in mystery. Yet, that most greedy of politicians, Richard Nixon, accepted defeat with grace and left the field to his opponent, living to fight another day. Then in the election of 2000, the Democratic nominee, Al Gore, actually won half a million more votes than his opponent, George W. Bush, and clearly should have won the state of Florida – and thus the Presidency – had all votes been counted properly. However, the US Supreme Court, with a majority of Republican judges – including three appointed by Candidate Bush’s father or President Reagan (when Bush Sr. was Vice-President) – arbitrarily stopped the recount and delivered the Presidency to George W. Bush. Many urged Gore to challenge this, but he stepped aside gracefully to show respect for the system. This is how mature leaders behave. In both cases, the losers’ supporters (myself included, in the case of Al Gore) gnashed their teeth and stamped their feet in frustration, but no one talked of overthrowing the government. Contrast this with the behavior of the Republican ideologues after 1994, who ended up impeaching Bill Clinton, or the even more reckless ideologues of today’s Tea Party, who have repeatedly brought the US government to the brink of disaster because of their personal hatred for President Obama. In this, and in too many other things, the party created by Imran Khan resembles the Tea Party of today and the ideologues of 1994: The same unwillingness to listen to contrary facts, the same paranoid conspiracy theories, the same indiscriminately abusive language towards critics, and – most sadly – the same preference for ideology over Reason. The PTI has become the party of “you’re with us or against us”, the party that trusts its gut feelings more than objective facts, and the party that seeks to “reform” the system by demolishing it. For all his claims of being an honest reformer, Imran Khan has turned out to be yet another well-meaning authoritarian wannabe – albeit in civilian clothes for a change.